THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

22 July 2019

Our highlights from Digital Humanities 2019: Nora and Giorgia

We've put together a series of posts about our experiences at the Digital Humanities conference in Utrecht this month. In this post, Digital Curator Nora McGregor and Dr Giorga Tolfo from the British Library / Alan Turing Institute's Living with Machines project shares her impressions. See also Mia and Yann's post, and Rossitza and Daniel's post.

Tivoli
Lunchtime at TivoliVredenburg music hall, viewed from Cloud Nine

Nora McGregor

My most exciting discovery was the Libraries & Digital Humanities Special Interest Group (@LibsDH) of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) (@ADHOrg). I found my PEOPLE! This is a loosely joined cohort of folks from Libraries across the world with a peculiar passion for all that is supporting digital scholarship. We held a casual, brief and efficient gathering over lunch where talk turned to joining forces to develop a summer school (in the vein of popular and prolific Rare Books, and Digital Humanities week long affairs) to address the specific digital skills training needs of Librarians.

Giorga Tolfo

What talk were you most looking forward to, why? 

DH2019 offered a huge plethora of panels and workshops to choose from. When I first read the program I felt like a hungry person at the supermarket, craving everything on the shelves. Since I couldn’t eat everything, I had to focus on the panels whose topic I knew was or sounded relevant to the Living with Machines project, an interdisciplinary project at the crossroad between historical research and artificial intelligence in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute.

As my role involves an in depth knowledge of digitisation strategies for newspapers and data models, my attention was immediately drawn to the Oceanic Exchanges panel, which focussed on some case studies around the spread of news and/or the translation of concepts across the atlantic ocean as it emerged in newspapers. Among these studies, one I was particularly interested in was on the concept of italianità (= italianness) in italian and US-based italian ethnic newspapers at the time of the unification of Italy.

What did you learn?

What I found most interesting, beyond the content of the singular research cases presented, was that regardless of the focus of the project, in the digital humanities community there are an underpinning shared methodology, as well as common known concerns and issues that we are trying to face both independently and together.

Among the latter there is certainly a problem with the availability and access to datasets. Due to copyrights limitations or lack of funds to digitise new material some possibly relevant datasets aren’t available, forcing in some cases the research questions to be reshaped according to what is available. The impact of this is the blurring of the distinction between historical research and storytelling. Which stories emerge from data analysis and visualisation? Are these universal or just some among the many possible ones? Are the sources biased or reliable? These are epistemological problems that need to be addressed carefully.

On the other side, in terms of shared methodology, there is an increasing awareness of the need (and effort) to focus on integration, sustainability and shareability. Hence the interest of many research teams on common data models, open linked data, use of standard languages and methodologies, scalable and reusable components.

Anything else?

Well, the fun run! I was one of the enthusiastic 25 people who set the alarm clock at 6am just to run.. for fun!