Last September, the Bodleian Library organised a conference entitle Revolutionising Early Modern Studies? The Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership in 2012 to mark a decade of the Text Creation Partnership (TCP)’s work producing searchable, full-text transcriptions of works in Early English Books Online (EEBO).
JISC was pleased to support this conference by sponsoring two students bursaries. In return we asked the students to blog about their impressions and thoughts on the issues raised at the conference.
This first post is by Jacob J S Halford, University of Warwick.
There are few scholars who would deny that the terrain of academic scholarship is being changed radically by digitisation. Like any new thing embedded in digitisation is both optimism and fear concerning its use and potential abuse. There will always be those who laud novelty and its apparent improvement upon the old methods and resources, for such people the digital documents created by the EEBO Text Creation Partnership are a powerful new tool that will revolutionise the world. Others are, however, less praising in their evaluation of it; with digital tools, such as the EEBO-TCP, seen as threats to the tradition and craft of historical research; a threat to the book as a material object, an easy way for people to gain a shallow knowledge of texts, and a means to allow bad copies of books to become entrenched by users as the platonic copy of the book.
The Oxford conference on the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership was so stimulating because despite being full of converts and prophets of this technological development, it still considered the different perspectives and problems that the more ‘traditional’ type of scholars who see digitisation as a danger may harbour. Speakers from the conference highlighted both the giddying heights and possibilities that the resources created by the EEBO-TCP and ProQuest resources give whilst remaining conscious of the limitations and problems that they may also present its users. In doing so it provided a wonderful opportunity for scholars in the early modern period to reflect on the implications and ramifications of digital resources and the methods that we use to interrogate them without getting too caught up in abstract theoretical knots. The following are a few insights that I gained from the conference.
Many of the papers highlighted the potential research that can be done using the EEBO-TCP texts. The team of researchers from CREME at Lancaster University for instance highlighted the way in which EEBO-TCP texts can be used for corpus linguistic analysis of historical texts on a scale never before seen and some of the powerful corpus linguistic tools that are being used to interrogate the texts. Others such as Simon Davies, Peter Auger, and myself, highlighted how using key-word searches enabled researchers to consider a greater breadth of sources then would have been possible pre-EEBO-TCP. Others were using the EEBO-TCP texts as a springboard for larger projects such as creating critical editions of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, or creating a database of poetic form.
EEBO and Teaching
One of the most enlightening sessions was the EEBO and teaching strand with Heather Froehlich, Mark Hutchings and Leah Knight. They elucidated upon the ways in which EEBO and the searchable, key-stroked texts allowed educators to use texts with students in new and exciting ways. Heather demonstrated the wealth of tools that her students were using to trace patterns within texts. Mark Hutchings spoke about how, at the University of Reading, the existence of key-stroked texts gave students the chance to consider editors’ impact on how texts are read, with each student using a key-stroked text as the starting point for their own edition. Leah Knight finished the session with a passionate paper that explored the pitfalls and benefits of EEBO, derived from using it over the past ten years of teaching using EEBO with her students.
The limitations of EEBO
Not everyone at the conference highlighted the benefits of the EEBO key-stroked texts. Some drew attention to some of the limitations it has as a resource. There will always be a fair share of pedants at any gathering who spend, in my opinion, far too much time searching through everything with fine-grained combs for errors. The EEBO conference was a great place for such pedants to come together and share in the minute errors they have spotted in the transcription of the texts. The efforts of these people should be praised as it takes a degree of fastidiousness that I will never possess to notice the obscure mistakes made by the transcribers and such work is a helpful reminder that the EEBO-TCP texts, like anything else, are not a perfect resource. As the presentation by Rebecca Welzenbach from the EEBO-TCP team reminded us, these texts are made by humans and whilst the error threshold is set at 99.995%, errors will, and do, still occur. Perhaps all users of EEBO-TCP texts should remember Martin Mueller’s words concerning them: “Messy at the edges is better then nothing.”
Now that the dust has settled and the multitudinous ideas from the conference have had time to distil in my mind, I am more able to reflect clearly on the question the conference posed namely: is EEBO-TCP is revolutionising early modern studies? Whilst I remain optimistic that the EEBO-TCP corpus provides an exciting resource that allows different questions to be asked about the past I am, however, less naive in this optimism. I realise that the digital humanities, whatever that even means, is not a tool that will replace the more traditional forms of research. It is not a surrogate for archival research, close reading of texts, and a deep awareness of the social and political contexts of books and documents that only time, effort, and knowledge can provide, but it is a powerful tool that provides new perspectives and different forms of analysis of texts. These new analytical strategies are not threats to historical research but they can, and must, be used to complement and enrich our current modes of analysis. Of course, one could say digital humanties is simply a current fad that will pass away, as neon tights did in the 80s and Tamgotchis and Pokemon did in the 90s, that conventional forms of scholarship will prevail against modern trends in the long term. Yet, from looking at the research being done using tools displayed during the conference I can’t help but think that those who chose to neglect them, who fail to utilise these fruits of modernity, are depriving themselves of a form of analysis that can enrich any study of the early modern period, and do so at their own expense and loss.
I would like to thank the supporters of the EEBO-TCP 2012 conference namely, JISC, ProQuest, and the Bodleian Libraries’ Centre for the Study of the Book for generously providing me with a bursary to attend the conference.
Thank you, Jacob!
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This post highlights some recent updates from individual project blogs which are authored as part of JISC’s current Content Programme. The programme is divided into strands, some of which will be completing in January 2013 and projects were asked to articulate what they perceive as their value and to describe their strategies for sustainability, topics which are red-hot at the moment. There are too many recent updates to fully summarise here, so the following provides only a flavour of what is happening in the programme. You can find all programme blogs aggregated here.
A recent blog post from The Welsh Experience World War One project based at the National Library of Wales highlights the truly national nature of the resulting digital resource. The project has worked closely with academics, the Welsh Government, museums and the library and archive community in Wales to ensure the resource becomes fully embedded. This demonstrates how projects can reach out widely in order to disseminate and hopefully secure their future by becoming key national resources. The content, created over the lifecycle of the project, presents a multitude of opportunities for new research in a variety of disciplines. The post highlights themes which might be developed by research communities in subjects such as sociology, languages and art history.
By unearthing and re-purposing interview material that had been produced as part of a research project with political Spanish émigrés, the OpenLives project, at the University of Southampton has developed innovative approaches to curriculum design and the creation of student-centred teaching resources. The project has taken great effort to engage students in the process of content creation. It also curates its content on platforms such as Humbox, a resource created as part of a previous JISC initiative. This is a prime example of projects using existing resources as part of their sustainability strategies.
Manufacturing Pasts, a project which is being delivered by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Urban History, proposes that contributing to ‘something bigger’ (beyond the project) should enable its Open Educational Resources (OERs) to remain relevant and become sustainable long-term. So sustainability is not necessarily about identifying resources (people, material and time) or developing business models; it could equally be about reaching out and finding others to help disseminated and embed resources created during a project lifecycle. The article goes on to say that dissemination is also aided by becoming part of larger aggregations, such as JISC Media Hub and iTunesU; ultimately this too should support a sustainable future. The post suggests that the project has contributed to the University’s strategy for digitising its special collections.
The impact on institutional capacity and strategy is something we are keen to measure and this post from the Object-Based Learning for Higher Education project at the University of Reading indicates that the programme has contributed to the university’s strategic objectives. This again demonstrates that content creation projects might be a catalyst for improving an institution’s overall capacity to deliver digital material to its users.
The Old Maps Online project, at the University of Portsmouth, suggests it has started to influence how libraries think about their geographical holdings. This illustrates how content projects can create impact beyond the delivery and use of materials. The project has delivered fantastic results, not least an early launch of the website back in March 2012. The post highlights the implementation of new map software, persuasion of digital map libraries from around the world to contribute, helping UK libraries to add geo-metadata to collections and encouraging map libraries to think about improving their geographical map metadata. Hopefully these achievements will have a longer term impact on the discovery and access of maps in the UK and internationally.
As we head towards the conclusion of this programme, it is becoming evident that these kinds of project are becoming savvier about adding value and are building on the lessons learned from previous work to build a digital portfolio for the HE and FE sectors. We can now look forward to some very exciting resources and enhancements to the UK capacity for digital teaching, learning and research.
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On 5 October JISC’s Content Programme 2011-13 projects will assemble in London to share knowledge about communication and dissemination. There will also be opportunity to hear about best practice approaches to marketing using traditional and new media channels.
This event will be led by Rosemary Stamp of Stamp Consulting with contributions from EDiNA’s Social Media Officer Nicola Osborne and our own highly experienced Communications Team. Here is a list of resource for this workshop:
Communicating effectively – Rosemary Stamp
Project communications support leaflet – Projects Comms Guidev3
Communications proposal template – Comms proposal form
JISC’s social media top tips - Social media top tips
EDiNA’s Nicola Osborne’s YouTube video is embedded but can also be accessed here
Nicola link for Friday’s questions can be found here
Press and PR
Working with JISC Communication Team – 051012 RWh Oct 2012 slides final.ppt
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Last week some of the JISC Programme Managers met with representatives from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, Digital Culture department.
Our Brazilian colleagues talked us through their ambitious plans for setting up, among other things, a National System of Cultural Information and Indicators (SNIIC), a new platform that will push the open data agenda and citizen participation activity in a range of areas from culture to political life (a detailed blog post on this meeting is here).
As such they were interested to know more about JISC’s work in the areas of resource discovery, identity management and community collections.
The slides below provided a high level overview for discussion on the challenges of setting up community collections and crowdsourcing initiatives, based mainly on the experience of the JISC Community Collections programmes:
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It is customary for many digitisation projects to undertake user consultation activities during their development as a way to ensure that the content that is being digitised is relevant to the needs of target users. And so it should be.
However, while this activity is useful to ascertain the potential use that people might make of the content, in itself it doesn’t necessarily guarantee actual use of the content.
We need to raise the stakes of what to expect from digital content creation in relation to its use and the impact it can make.
Innovative approaches that are often adopted in the technology deployed for large scale digitisation projects, workflows or project management style, need be mirrored by innovative embedding activities from the outset of a project, so that resources start getting used soon after they become available online, at least by a core group of users – of course there will always be unexpected ways in which content will be used.
The opportunities for incorporating innovative embedding activities during a project are plentiful, especially with regard to how digitised collections can be used within teaching and learning.
- OpenLives, part of the current JISC Content programme 2011-13, Strand A: Digitisation and creation of Open Educational Resources (OER), has digitised oral testimonies, images and other ephemera that had been gathered through a previous research project on the experience of Spanish migrants to the UK and returning migrants to Spain.
The project’s blog describes how the team is embedding open research data in teaching and learning by creating OERs on research skills for oral history. Year 2 students have also been involved in creating interactive magazines based on the life experiences of the émigrés. A new module will be available at the University of Leeds based on the newly digitized collection, Discovering Spanish Voices Abroad in a Digital World. The project is lead by the University of Southampton in partnership with Portsmouth and Leeds.
- D-TRACES (Dance teaching resource and collaborative engagement spaces), funded under a previous JISC programme on Impact and embedding of digitized resources) incorporated the use of the Siobhan Davies digital dance archive in students’ Personal Development Plan (PDP), initiating the trend for students to keep digital scrap books and a blog about their work. The impact of this work is documented in the project’s final case study.
This inspired ArchitectUS (University of Birmingham) – which is digitising and creating OER from architectural drawings and models from a number of architectural practices – to follow D-TRACES’s example, as discussed in their blog.
- the University of East London has created a module on Performing the Archive based on the JISC-funded Online Theatre History Archive (OTHA), which investigates the use of archival research to document performance practices. Part of the students’ coursework is to create a documentary theatre performance responding to the OTHA material.
Digitisation is now mature activity but more could be done to encourage imaginative take-up of content from the outset of a project – ultimately this is why we digitise.
There are well-established digital resources out there that are being used in teaching, but we don’t necessarily know how. Let us know if you’re using them in your teaching and how. Thank you!
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This year the Consortium for European Research Libraries (CERL) will be holding their national seminar on Accessing heritage research collections through digitisation: models and use at the British Library on Tue 30 October 2012.
The programme includes contributions on licencing models, working with commercial partners, Google Books in Spain and the JISC Historic Books platform.
Attendance is free but delegates need to register at email@example.com
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If you use digitised newspapers or other large-scale digital collections in your work, research or for personal interest, then please fill in the survey at https://opinio.ucl.ac.uk/s?s=15519.
This survey is part of a research project being undertaken at UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, which aims to learn more about users of large scale digitised collections, and in particular digitised newspaper collections. The project is considering the impact of large collections of digitised material upon researchers, the public and the cultural sector, and is very interested to gather opinions from users of these collections.
The project is looking in particular at the British Library’s 19th Century Newspaper Collection, and this survey is one of a number of methods that are being used to gather data on how researchers are using the collection, how they access, view and store digital material, and the impact that digitised resources are having upon their work.
Additionally, if you have been involved in creating or managing large-scale digital collections, then the experience of your users would be invaluable; anything that you can do to disseminate this survey more widely would therefore be greatly appreciated.
The closing date for this survey is Friday 14th September. It contains 40 questions, and will take no more than 30 minutes to complete. Participation is, of course, entirely voluntary and anonymous.
If you have any questions, you can contact Paul Gooding at firstname.lastname@example.org
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There is an increasing focus within JISC’s Content Programme on social media, mobile technologies and multi-channel communications. We have moved away from being merely concerned with the practices of digitisation, and with core technologies such as metadata or website development. Projects are discovering that the way people use and interact with resources is critical to success and some, such as British Library Sounds, and Connected Histories, are developing multiple communication channels as part of their endeavours to reach out to their users.
Sophisticated marketing approaches have become essential to getting the word out about our offer. But then what? Once the word is out, what else can we do to ensure happy customers? Are we going to be able to manage day-to-day interactions; to respond to new demands for content or just deal with simple enquiries? Getting your resource to actually perform as a forum for scholarly pursuits requires a lot of planning and might need dedicated staff to look after communication channels. If we want to encourage scholarly interaction, it becomes vital to have people dedicated to responding to queries and seeding communications. Brian Kelly suggests we are moving towards a time when social media might impact scholarly research in profound ways and we need to be ready to respond the challenge.
Having said all this, I think high quality content is the vital starting point for effective communication. The act of digitising is still the first action which makes physical objects into items that can be shared and examined in so many new ways. It is easy to forget how much effort goes into making high quality digital images and ensuring that the original object is best represented in digital form. Current work on the Zandra Rhodes Style Bibles provides a fantastic example of the rigorous methods required to get the job done, whilst ensuring technical processes are adhered to, objects are well captured and most essentially digitally preserved. Releasing such valuable material is the first step in a long journey to developing a dialogue about it. When people enter into discussion (either on or off line) about the material, we can really say we have started to make an impact, but the more impact we make, the more we need to plan in order to keep our resource alive and supported long term. For some this is a virtuous circle for others a vicious one.
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Yesterday we ran an evaluation and impact synthesis workshop and I must say it helped me see that, rather than being dry topics, evaluation and impact are actually practices which we can all benefit from. To achieve good results it is essential to plan ahead and try to stand back from what you are doing to establish some measures of success; ultimately something we all want. The first half of the day was taken up with exploring approaches to formative and summative evaluation but with the emphasis on thinking long-term towards how one might measure impact. It was very interesting to observe how people are thinking about the processes of evaluation they might deploy. Suggestions ranged from purely numeric analysis through to full-on focus group deployment. Embedding activities within a project obviously offers the most effective way of carrying out evaluation, but not every project can spend time on implementing such an approach, so it is really about trying to evaluate key elements of a project and then develop a portfolio approach to impact.
The second half of the day was given over to three presentations from projects which have now moved on to become business as usual (to use some jargon). The first presentation from Sarah Whatley focused on the impact of D-TRACES a project run by the University of Coventry and funded by JISC. This presentation explored the development of an online community around dance practice. The thrust of the presentation was about user engagement and, in particular, getting students to use the resources provided on Siobhan Davies Replay. Dance students were encouraged to create their own resources (Personal Development Plans) by developing blogs but also to feedback on their experiences in a continuous feedback loop. Ultimately it is about reflective practice but also professional development. What I found most interesting was that no formal evaluation was necessary; the results of the project are evidenced by the number of blogs the students are employing to develop their PDPs, something they may wind up doing for the rest of their dancing days. The blogs provide all the evidence needed.
We then heard from Bruce Tate of the Institute of Historical Research about techniques deployed to evaluate the impact of British History Online. This was a more technical presentation focusing on aspects of using online tools to help in evaluating impact. I was most interested to hear that Google Analytics, though great for specific monitoring of web resources, tells one nothing about the use of metadata. If you want to explore how people are using your site you need to become adept at weblog analysis. Again it was horses for courses; deploy the right tools for the job in hand!
You can find more information about evaluation work for these projects and a number of other projects here.
The final presentation by Liz Masterman of Oxford University Computing Services looking at the use and re-use of digital resources, in particular to do with Open Educational Resources (OERs). The presentation explored an in-depth and scholarly way of evaluating impact, focusing on how lecturers use OER materials. The researchers deployed a mixture of qualitative methods, ranging from surveys through to the deployment of focus groups. The project was obviously purely about evaluating impact but it provided a good overview of qualitative methods which could be deployed in the current Content Programme projects.
All in all the day left one with a sense that these rather dry topics become quite interesting once they are no longer seen as an adjunct but rather as something we need to consider when planning our projects and, where possible, seek to embed some activities in the project to enable evaluation and impact analysis. We all want to demonstrate why we are putting up digital resources, to find out who might be using them, to identify how they are being used and to learn what this tells us about doing a better job in future.
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It is nice to see project blogs packed with interesting facts and updates. I recently enjoyed this post on musical and sculptural uses of Seal Level data from Rescuing Historical UK Sea Levels Data, a project being undertaken at the British Oceanographic Data Centre (see some more recent posts as well).
Then there is this lovely post about presenting historical maps using Google Maps technologies from the already launched Old Maps Online project (Google think it’s cool!). I really did not know that you could use so much free technology to provide your customers with an enhanced visual experience, though the post also shows that it is hard to please everyone all of the time.
Finally the Integrating Broadside Ballads project posted something a bit more technical regarding the quantification of Broadsides as part of the process of ensuring one-to-one representation between the catalogue record and the physical manifestation of the item.
This reminds me of my own experience of counting things in Libraries! During the Archival Sound Recordings project we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to ensure we had an accurate count of the hours of audio we had digitised. Our target was 4,000 hours, but how does one account for instances where a recordist has forgotten to press stop when taking a break from an interview, or gain an accurate count of 78 rpm discs where the original holding estimates were less than accurate? Then there was the instance of a single reel-to reel-tape containing 100+ edits; each edit could have constituted a recording or multiple parts thereof. Get your calculator out!