“According to Manuel Castells (1996, 1997, 1997a), the dynamic complexities of the information age are giving rise to both new forms of state organisation – ‘the network state’ – and new forms of societal organisation – ‘the network society’. In both cases, although the Internet and associated technologies are not conceived as simple causal mediums of change, they are certainly central in enabling these to emerge in this particular formation. In Castellian terms…where the older communications networks of the nation-state system were vertical, hierarchical and one-directional, the digital information industries made possible by the Net promise horizontal and inter-actional patterns of circulation and flow…the digitally democratised state will be multi-centred, networked and decentralised in form. As informationalism becomes the axial principle of the network society, the previously demarcated spheres of culture, society, technology and politics become de-differentiated when reproduced through the ‘logic of the network’ (Castells, 1996)” | Taken from Making Cultures Digital: Access, Interactivity, and Authenticity by Martin Hand/Ashgate Publishing

Is it more worrying that I understood this?

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Archives, Artefacts & Literary Culture | National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

For the last two days I have been in attendance at the National Library of Wales/Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, at a fantastic Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities workshop in medieval studies. I was fortunate enough to not only participate in the event as an attendee but also as a speaker on the first day. Entitled Archives, Artefacts & Literary Culture, the intent was for the workshop to be discursive and interactive, and that was certainly the case.

The first paper of the day was presented jointly by Dr Elizabeth New of the Department of History & Welsh History at Aberystwyth, and Dr Julie Mathias, of the Department of Information Studies. Their discussion, entitled Deeds, Seals & Archival Collections, set the tone for the day. Dr New opened the session discussing the Penrice & Margam Estate Records, which are held at the National Library. This reasonably complete archival collection from Margam Abbey, in Glamorgan, contains material from the 12th century through to the Reformation. The collection is rich, and extensive, and fortuitously survived the fate of many other monastic collections, which were lost, destroyed and scattered during the dissolution of the monasteries. The Margam collection went wholesale into the hands of Rice Mansel, through intermarriage to the Talbot family of Penrice, and thereafter on deposit to the National Library, who finally took full possession of the collection in lieu of death duties.

Dr Mathias then took over the talk, showing the audience the National Register of Archives website. She told us that if you’re interested in a particular family or a collection, it is not safe to assume the records are all kept together. The Margam family, as an example, had thirteen collections, with papers scattered with organisations around the country. It is therefore always worth checking the National Archives website.

We then moved on to the Penrice & Margam Charter 20, the manuscript of which was circulated around the group. The handwriting, a Carolingian Minuscule (an 8th to 12th century handwriting, named after the Emperor Charlemagne) is made up of carefully formed letter shapes, with plenty of space between the words, and is an ancestor to our modern handwriting. Dr Mathias identified specific letters within the manuscript in order to determine a date: for example, a capital W, which didn’t appear until after the 12th century. Carolingian Minuscule eventually evolved in Anglicana, a cursive business script which allowed for the faster production of manuscripts. Charter 20, said Dr Mathias, had no date attached, but there was a place date, which put the manuscript as having been created either in Cardigan or Cardiff. There was some discussion of this point amongst the group, and Dr Mathias told us that if one is ever in doubt as to a particular abbreviation it was always best to consult Trice-Martin’s book of abbreviations and place names, to make doubly sure.

Dr New then moved on to examining the seal appended to the manuscript. She noted that the seal was much larger than the actual document, and that without the seal, the document is invalid – there was a shift to the use of seals as a form of validation. Seals from the middle ages would have been made of beeswax or tree resin, and quite often coloured – the seal on this particular Charter was a dark brown, and the seal of William, Earl of Gloucester. The seal would not have been this colour at the time of its creation: the belief is that seals of this sort were varnished, possibly with a varnish that was quite rich in colour, and used to preserve the wax and make it look fancier. This painting over of the wax fell out of fashion in the mid-13th century: elements of the seal, therefore, also assist in dating a manuscript, and are an integral part of the identification process.

We then moved to another manuscript, Penrice & Margam Charter 198, where the writing becomes, as Dr Mathias put it, “a little more laterally compressed”, as we move into the Anglicana era. Dr New mentions the sealing clause included within the text of the manuscript, an identifying factor in manuscript studies that we don’t see until the early 13th century, and usually comes before the witness list within a document (although this is not always the case, so caution should be taken when searching for it). In the case of Charter 198 it is an unusual clause: it states “My seal is appended”, but there are two seals attached to the manuscript, one being the communal seal of the burgesses of Kenfig in South Glamorgan (now, apparently, buried by the sand dunes, but once a small and thriving town) and the other being the seal of Alice, widow of John Prevat. “My seal”, she states rather forlornly in the sealing clause, “is to many unknown.” Alice probably hadn’t needed to use a seal until after the death of her husband, and no doubt needed the seal of the burgesses of Kenfig as further validation of her own, new seal.

Dr Mathias took us through some of the aspects of Penrice & Margam Charter 443. A 15th century manuscript, written in Anglicana despite the rise during this period of the Secretary hand, there is a sealing clause contained within the text and two seals (those of Hugh Kene and Agnes, his wife), which are attached to one tag. There were obviously two separate seal matrices, with different designs – one is made up interlaced letters, H&K (presumably a monogram of his initials) and the other is endorsed with male and female heads, and a phrase relating to love and loyalty, but Agnes herself is not specifically referenced on the seals. Hugh Kene is clearly identified by his initials, but we only know that Agnes used it because she is mentioned in the sealing clause.

Penrice & Margam Charter 17 has a sealing clause which, quite shockingly, has writing on it in pencil, where someone during the 20th century has made a note of the Abbey the manuscript mentions in the text. Aside from this transgression, the manuscript is interesting because the sealing clause mentions the fact that a seal has been loaned for the purpose of validating the document. The seal, that of the Prior of St Michael of Ogmore, shows an ecclesiastical figure. A similar seal can be found at the National Museum Wales: the photograph below is an image of that seal, and not the one at the National Library, but I have included it to give you some idea as to the beauty of this fragile artefact.

ImageWhat’s also interesting about this manuscript is that the sealing clause appears to have been added at a later date to the manuscript: presumably a space for a name was left until such time as someone willing to lend their seal could be found. The witness list in this manuscript is particularly long, possibly because the person providing the gift to Margam, the seal-less Ketherech, son of John Du, needed more than one witness because without a seal, he lacked validity.

There were many other manuscripts and seals shown to the group: Penrice & Margam Charter 54, Caradog Uerbis to Margam, in which Uerbis makes it clear in the document that the document, and he himself, is “under the seal of my lord”; and Penrice & Margam Charter 72, Ifor Fychan and sons to Margam, which has only one seal which represents Fychan and his sons, the matrix being made to represent the whole group. There was also Penrice & Margam Charter 84, the Papal Bulla of Innocent III, and Penrice & Margam Charter 1978, endorsed with the seal of Geoffrey Sturmi of Stormy Down. The image on the seal is that of a man dressed as a hunter or forester. I have included an image of Geoffrey’s seal, taken from an artefact held at the National Museum Wales.

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Dr New said that the academic Robert Patterson, working from photographs, thought that the monks of Margam forged the seal to get themselves more land, but Dr New believes that it is genuine. Patterson thought the contents of the manuscript and what is being gifted within it doesn’t seem right, but it is probably almost impossible for them to have forged the documents, and the seal was used several times thereafter with no question as to its validity. In this case, Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s opinion that “The monks of Margam are not to be trusted” seems false.

I have included here several other images of seals, in this case seal replicas which Dr New passed around the group, the images of which are reproduced here with her kind permission. One was the Great Seal of Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror:

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And this wonderful seal, which I think is a seal of Henry VIII but I may be very incorrect on this as I didn’t make a clear note, so if anyone out there has the knowledge and can attribute this correctly, please do!

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We were astonishingly privileged to be able to get access to so many rare and beautiful manuscripts, and to have the expertise of Dr Mathias and Dr New on hand to take us through these objects. You’d be pretty hard pressed to get a better opening session at a conference: I’ve certainly yet to find it.

Llawysgrif Boston of Gyfreithiau Hywel Dda | The Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda [NLW MS 24029A]

On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to be permitted to attend a benchmarking meeting at the National Library of Wales, organised to determine the digitisation process of the Boston Manuscript. It was an amazing opportunity to see the manuscript up close, and to learn a little more about the journey this little book has taken across the centuries to its present home in the National Library. 

Cyfraith Hywel, the Law of Hywel, was the name by which the native laws of the Welsh were known during medieval times. After the conquest of Wales and the passing of the Statute of Wales in 1284 (under which Wales was brought into the English legal framework) the laws lost their pre-eminence, but remained in use until the Act of Union in 1536 (when Henry VIII enforced his sovereignty throughout his kingdom).

Hywel Dda, or Hywel the Good (c.880-950), ruled over a greater part of Wales than any king before him, and almost any Welsh ruler after him. He probably gained the epithet “Good” (Dda) as a result of his promotion, reform and unification of the laws of Wales, the traditional use of which was long but the written evidence of their use less well-established. None of the surviving books of the Laws of Hywel Dda date to any earlier than the second quarter of the thirteenth century, and the laws they contain are of roughly that same period.

The Library already has a copy of the Laws, known as Peniarth 28, in their collection: written in Latin, the recipient may have been an ecclesiastic rather than a Welsh lawyer. Its illustrations set it apart from all the other manuscripts, and those illustrations may have been included so that the book could be presented to someone of importance.

The Boston Manuscript is a different creature. Written in medieval Welsh, it is a pocket-sized book annotated with handwritten additions, which mark it out as a text for use by an itinerant judge in South Wales. It probably left Wales in the hands of Welsh settlers in the 1700s, and ultimately ended up with the Massachusetts Historical Society of Boston, who sold it this summer at Sotheby’s auction house in London.

Such an important Welsh manuscript obviously needed to be acquired by a public body in Wales, and the National Library of Wales, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, purchased the document in July of this year. The book is now at the National Library of Wales and in the care of the Library’s conservators, who are well into the work of rebinding and digitisation. 

The first stage of work with the book is the conservation of the item. Analysis by Iwan Bryn James (the Conservation Manager at the National Library of Wales) during the bidding process established that the binding was in a good condition and not suffering from any infestation, and appeared to have been rebound some time during the 19th and 20th centuries, with the old spine overlaid on top of the new leather. The binding, whilst strong, was too tight, only allowing the book to be opened to a 45 degree angle and thus causing the vellum leaves to split or tear. There were also missing leaves (32 in total) which had been replaced with 19th century paper. The whole manuscript, therefore, is in need of some repair and consolidation, despite its overall stable condition. 

The preferred treatment of the book was for it to be unbound, with conservation cleaning and flattening of the distorted vellum leaves, the repairing of tears, consolidation of fragile initials and the rebinding of the volume in a more flexible, sympathetic and compatible style, with the work “conforming to the BS 4971 recommendations for the repair and allied processes for the conservation of documents.”

My attendance at the National Library on Tuesday was to see where the next stage of the conservation and digitisation process would go. Until now the book has been kept in secure storage, with the conservation process (undertaken by very experienced and qualified NLW conservation staff) almost complete, and the digitisation process now underway before the volume is rebound. The timescale for digitisation is swift, with continued quality control to ensure that the images and leaves remain in the correct order (and following the foliation of Edward Lhuyd).

My own project (working with the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript, also held at the National Library) will hopefully be informed by the work I’m observing on the Boston Manuscript, and I will therefore be blogging fairly regularly on my meetings at the Library; I hope you’ll accompany me on my journey through this aspect of my research. 

Pictures re-published with kind permission of Iwan Bryn, National Library of Wales. 

End user studies…

It has been a difficult few weeks, however my third written piece of work has finally been submitted and please find below an extract from it. Whilst I’ve no doubt that within a week or so I will read over this and cringe at its lack of insight and poor writing, as of now it is as good as I can make it (that’s sold it to you, I’m sure!). I am committed to keeping an electronic record of all my writing, for good and for ill. Feel free to comment via my Twitter feed should you have any desire to do so: feedback and collaboration are the way forward, after all! And as ever, I have attempted to hyperlink any references or terms in order to take your forward should you be interested in anything mentioned here. 

….

“As part of my research thus far I have attempted to examine the history of the digital humanities and some important projects within the field that can be said to epitomise its aims and objectives. It is difficult to ignore the fact, however passionate one is about the digital humanities, that large-scale acceptance of digital resources within the academic community is not apparent at present, and whilst many universities (Glasgow, Kings College London, Oxford and Sheffield to name but a few) are enthusiastically embracing the benefits that the digital humanities can bring to teaching and research, there is still much suspicion surrounding the field.

There are a number of reasons for this, chief among them the simple fact that we have no real idea as to what makes a successful resource. Although Hockey suggests that “…much research has been devoted to establishing what makes a high quality and multipurpose scholarly electronic text” [p.3, 2004] the research into what happens to a digital resource after its creation is lacking, and it is this lack of understanding of the needs of the user, how digital resources are used and why successful digital assets are chosen above others which is leading to the creation of “data silos” [Ell, 2011], “digital objects marooned within a set of static HTML Web pages…highly localised and idiosyncratic” [Bradley, 2009] that absorb vast amounts of research time and funding but are ultimately underused and eventually abandoned.

Why do users prefer some resources to others? What is the rationale behind a user’s decision-making? Once we have established the preferences that drive a user’s decision-making, we can use that information to create our own successful resource.

Answers, however, are made all the more difficult to acquire due to the differing needs of the various branches of the humanities. For example, whilst historians require large quantities of information from which they can glean particular pieces of information, the literary scholar is more concerned with the detailed exploration of a text [Prescott, 2008, p.10]. This means, of course, that a digital resource attractive to one user will not be as attractive to another. Hockey tells us that it is:

“…impossible to avoid the question ‘How do I go about doing it?’ when embarking on a computer project. To answer the question ‘How?’ it is necessary first to address ‘What am I doing?’ and ‘Why am I doing it?’ and thus to articulate in detail the intellectual rationale for the project.” [Hockey, 2004, p.3]

There is an obvious need to “articulate in detail the intellectual rationale” [Hockey, 2004] of what is happening to a resource after publication, by taking Hockey’s “What” and “Why” and asking: ‘What have we created?’ and ‘Why are they using it?’.

The best way forward is to look at what research has already been conducted and what we can perhaps add to the information already gathered, in order to gain insight into the reasons why some resources achieve immediate success and others do not. End user research is integral to this process.

Despite the fact that the digital humanities have been with us now for many decades in a variety of guises, and used to varying degrees within academic research and practice, we are still “living in a time of transition”, where the printed page and the digital item co-exist [Darnton, 2011]. This is not a harmonious existence, however; in spite of the fact that the digital humanities has evolved to compliment and assist its older sibling, many academics see it as a usurper; a cuckoo in the humanities nest. This is not only unfortunate because the two should, and do, compliment one another, it is unfortunate because as Meg Twycross points out: “…digital…seem[s] set to become a normally accepted research tool for amateurs as well as professional scholars” [p.23, 2008]. The message is: they are here to stay, they are becoming more prevalent, and academics need to get used to it.

The reluctance and often outright aggression against the increasing use of digital resources becomes ever-more apparent in the case of born-digital research articles: “Scholars, it seems, tend not to read, or at least cite, work published under the heading of humanities computing” [Juola, 2008]. There is still the sense that a piece of work is only valid when it has appeared in print, or that research should be conducted with print items and not based on information gleaned from the Web. Juola cites Warwick [2004a] and the issues involved with the Oxford University Humanities Computing Unit:

“…it was extremely hard to convince traditional scholars in Oxford of the value of humanities computing research. This is partly because so few Oxford academics were involved in any of the work the HCU carried out, and had little knowledge of, or respect for, humanities computing research…the HCU could have become a valued part of the humanities division. That it did not, demonstrates the consequences of a lack of respect for digital scholarship amongst the mainstream.” [p.75, 2008]

The argument often is that the digital humanities don’t actually add anything to humanities research, or as Tom Scheinfeldt clarified in his blog Found History:

“The criticism most frequently levelled at digital humanities is what I like to call the ‘Where’s the beef?’ question, that is, what questions does digital humanities answer that can’t be answered without it? What humanities arguments does digital humanities make?” [Scheinfeldt, 2010]

Of course, the poor opinion of the digital humanities could be said to be a defence mechanism; Helen Burgess suggests that academics are “seeing the emergence of scholarly multimedia as challenging the primacy of traditional humanities scholarship” [Burgess, 2011]. The assumption could therefore be made that their disdain for the digital is born of a fear of the unknown: the Luddite sense that man will eventually be replaced by technology.” 

Now reading: Splashes & Ripples- Synthesising the Evidence on the Impacts of Digital Resources, by Dr Eric T Meyer

“Digitised materials representing the world’s cultural heritage are part of a growing trend towards a world in which knowledge is digitally stored, available on demand, and constantly growing. As the world becomes digital and the globally connected “digital brain” holds the shared knowledge of the world, the materials of the past need to be included in order to ensure that our collective memory online encompasses not just the present and the future, but also the past.

This report is an effort to begin to synthesize the evidence available under the JISC digitisation and eContent programmes to better understand the patterns of usage of digitised collections in research and teaching, in the UK and beyond. JISC has invested heavily in eContent and digitisation, funding dozens of projects of varying size since 2004. However, until recently, the value of these efforts has been mostly either taken as given, or asserted via anecdote. By drawing on evidence of the various impacts of twelve digitised resources, we can begin to build a base of evidence that moves beyond anecdotal evidence to a more empirically-based understanding on a variety of impacts that have been measured by qualitative and quantitative methods.

These impacts are both big and small – the splashes and ripples in the title of this report. Some collections have made big splashes, such as The University of Oxford on iTunes U, which sees 1-2 million accesses per day from people interested in hearing lectures delivered by world experts in their fields. Others have generated smaller ripples that are nevertheless important within specialty areas, such as the Siobhan Davies RePlay dance resource, which is one of the few digital collections in the world that allows students of dance to see the whole process of choreographing and creating innovative dance.

The data was collected by eight teams, seven of which were funded in 2010 under JISC Grant Call 7/10: Digitisation programmes: Impact & embedding of digitised resourcesThe eighth team was previously funded in 2009 as the Usage and Impact Study of JISC‐funded Phase 1 Digitisation Projectsand gathered data on five digitisation projects. In addition, the 2009 team created the Toolkit for the Impact of Digitised Scholarly Resources (TIDSR) which documented a variety of methods for measuring impact. The TIDSR resource was used as a methodological reference by the 2010 projects, and the final reports have been included in TIDSR as case studies.

Research excellence is a key measure in the Higher Education sector. Publications, patents, datasets, tools, and resources are all measured, compared, and examined for evidence of research excellence. The twelve resources examined in this report all strive for research excellence, but achieve it in different ways. For instance, British History Online and the Old Bailey Proceedings Online are among the resources mostly heavily cited in academic publications, while Histpop and the Stormont Parliamentary Hansards are allowing for broader use of publications that would otherwise only be available in a limited number of libraries and archives.

Teaching and learning excellence are also important cornerstones of effective digital resources. The University of Oxford’s podcasting site which distributes lectures, interviews, discussions, and workshops is an excellent example of the way in which world-class institutions such as Oxford can extend their influence even further by sharing the knowledge and teaching skills of their scholars with the rest of the world. Siobhan Davies RePlay appeals to a smaller audience, but is designed to support the national UK Personal Development Planning (PDP) scheme for dance. The scheme allows students to develop portfolios of their dance training and development by using the digital resource to learn how professionals document their professional careers using the same methods asked of the students.

One measure of excellence is the enthusiasm with which users respond to a resource, as demonstrated by the following pair of quotes:

British History Online is my favourite and first source for primary sources in British history. As a student of history, librarian, and writer, I return again and again. Even when I’m not researching, I often visit BHO for the sheer fun of what I might learn and discover. The site is easy to navigate, convenient, and its offerings thorough and accessible. Where else online can I find such a bounty of Britain’s heritage? It is a generous endeavour and an absolute goldmine. (Blaney & Webster, 2010, p. 7)

I’m not joking but [the University of Oxford podcast site] has become my favourite site in ten seconds flat – can’t stop downloading! Where has this been all my life?????? This is ridiculous! (Wilson, Marshall, & Geng, 2010, p. 7)

Many other examples of impacts on research, teaching, and learning are available in the full text of the report. The evidence ranges from broad-based quantitative measures (number of visitors, number of links to the resource, frequency of being mentioned in the mainstream and non-traditional media, etc.) to more richly-detailed qualitative measures (gathered via focus groups, interviews, user feedback, etc.). No single measure reflects “the impact” of a digital resource; instead the combination of empirical evidence can be used to provide a broader idea of the various types of impacts these resources are having as a collection of collections.

At the end of the report, 15 recommendations for digital resource providers are presented, which were drawn from the evidence presented in the report. In addition, 10 additional recommendations for improving measurement and sustainability are offered. These 25 recommendations suggest ways to potentially increase the size of the splashes emanating from a digital resource, and to turn some ripples into splashes.

For Digital Resource Providers

1. Plan ahead to measure impact.

2.Use the media to your advantage.

3. The media and the public are influenced by numbers and metrics.

4. Make your resource easy to find.

5. Give your resource an unambiguous name and acronym/initials.

6. Create quick wins.

7. Leverage your wins.

8. Make resources easy to navigate without sacrificing functionality.

9. Adopt Cool URIs (i.e., human-readable web addresses).

10. Provide automatic citations that are easy to copy or download.

11. Provide the ability to export citations.

12. Create training materials using examples from real research.

13. Make teaching materials available.

14. Consider allowing users to comment on or modify items (with care).

15. APIs are the future.

For Improved Measurement

16. Remember in advance that you will want to contact your users.

17. Develop webometric tools that scale for larger collections.

18. Develop analytic tools that scale for larger collections.

19. Develop methods to better accommodate collections that are distributed via multiple channels.

20. Develop strategies for archiving log file data and analytics.

21. Centralize hosting.

22. Develop standardized measures.

For Future Sustainability

23. Innovative revenue models should be explored.

24. Develop Cool URI standards.

25. Maintain active sites to attract users in the long term.

These recommendations are just one step along the road toward increasing the impact of the digitised collections that are part of Britain’s rich cultural heritage. As Tanner and Deegan (2011) argue in their recent evaluation of the broad social benefits of digitisation, the challenges for digital resources are even greater in the future. They describe a utopian view of the future world, in which connected citizens engage with digital content via ubiquitous devices that allow them to learn about Britain’s heritage as they move through the places where history occurred. These citizens of Digital Britain are engaged with educational, entertaining, and enlightening content, built on a rich and deep set of digitised content.

To achieve such an enlightened digital future will not be easy – it will take imagination, work, cooperation, funding, and dedication. Done correctly, however, the citizens of the future will thank us, as the splashes and ripples from today propagate into the future to shape and reshape the boundaries of knowledge. For, as Alan Kay once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” (1995).”

The full report can be found here

Now reading: If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data”, by Claire Warwick, Melissa Terras, Paul Huntington and Nikoleta Pappa

There are now many online, digital resources in the humanities, and their creation is funded by various governmental, academic, and philanthropic sources. What happens to these resources after completion is very poorly understood. No systematic survey of digital resource usage in the humanities has ever been undertaken—and the factors for use and non-use of digital resources are unknown. The LAIRAH (Log Analysis of Internet Resources in the Arts and Humanities) Project is a 15-month long study into the factors which determine long-term use and neglect of digital resources in the Arts and Humanities. Using quantitative Deep Log Analysis techniques to understand real-time user behaviour and qualitative user workshops to gain an understanding of user approaches to digital resources in the arts and humanities, the study identifies factors that may predispose a digital resource to become used or neglected in the long-term. This article provides an overview of the techniques used in the LAIRAH project, and presents some preliminary results that may be of use to both the creators of digital resources in the humanities, and the funders of these projects, to ensure that significant intellectual effort and time, and financial resources, are not wasted in the creation of projects that are then neglected by the user community.”

http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/1/85.full.pdf


“Big Digital Humanities: Minding the Gap”, by Michael Moss

Yesterday I attended a very last-minute lecture by Professor Michael Moss, of the University of Glasgow and HATII, at the Llanbadarn campus of Aberystwyth University. The content of the lecture was taken from a joint paper he wrote with James Currall for the Tokyo Digital Humanities Symposium, organised by Tokyo University (details of the content of that symposium can be found here, having been transcribed live by Geoffrey Martin Rockwell of the University of Alberta, Canada).

Professor Moss talked about the idea that hitherto, the digital humanities have been isolated projects with short-term funding; a “bespoke industry” which doesn’t learn from projects being developed around them. Data isn’t re-used or maintained, despite expectations from the user that the assets are continually refreshed and updated. Very few projects have a continued life. And ultimately, these bespoke projects have had little impact on the way we conduct humanities research.

Bigger, better maintained projects are changing the way we research. Professor Moss cited Google Books and Ngram viewer, which searches the entire corpus for specific words and provides a visual representation of where the words are used and the precise location of words within texts, as representing “a step-change”. If these tools are used appropriately they can transform the way we research.

However, within the scholarly community there are those who “affect to despise” such tools as Google Scholar, which they believe is “industrial-scale digitization for commercial gain”. This is allied to ”an ingrained suspicion of the amateur”, in which projects like Scotland’s People Centre, which focuses almost entirely on genealogy, are deemed as inferior to actual scholarly research. Professor Moss pointed out (quite rightly, in my opinion) that “the family history stuff” is often just as academically rigorous as anything produced within the academic community, and that the information gathered during these projects and the revenue it generates are increasingly relied upon by the scholarly community for their own research.

Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library, has profound concerns about Google Scholar and what he believes is Google’s “tremendous power over information”, and the “commercialisation and monopoly” of information. This interview with Darnton explains his opinion of books, ebooks, Google Books and the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America). “We are dealing with an extremely difficult area…it [is] a commercial speculation by a great company. However, libraries are not intended to make money. Our job is to get books to readers, free…”.

Humanities scholars are in danger of making themselves marginal by disdaining the digital and deifying the analogue. But what we need are resources that users can understand, without ambiguity. Moss commented that there also needs to be a resistance to the making of “new, incompatible islands”, as has been done in the past – what Michael Pidd  of Sheffield University referred to as “digital silos”, so perhaps the answer to this is that assets should be made to conform to a specified standard? Professor Moss explained that The National Archives are regularly asked to take over digital assets but are unable to do so in most instances because the code used to develop the resources cannot be accommodated, or there’s a problem with the format.

Ultimately, Professor Moss suggested that the future for digital resources is “a move away from guardianship to dialogic methods”; from a “bespoke industry dependent upon elaborate mark-up”, with assets conforming to a specified standard. We should be moving towards user-generated content and exploiting the potential of the Cloud. Digital humanities components should be embedded at undergraduate level (although there is then an expectation that students learn skills which are not always necessary for their designated courses). There should also be a closing of the gap between the amateur and the scholar, a gap which Professor Moss believes has only developed in the last 60 years.

Whilst nothing particularly new was added to the current discussion on the digital humanities, Professor Moss was able to put the current debates across in a succinct, coherent way – which was helpful to one of my digital humanities colleagues here at Aber, who has only just embarked upon his PhD research. I also bumped into my unofficial supervisor and intermittent coffee date Dr Susan Davies (biography here at p.14) who, I was unsurprised to discover, knew absolutely everyone in the room, including Professor Moss. I periodically thank my lucky stars that she is so supportive, in spite of the fact she isn’t officially affiliated to my PhD project in any way. In fact, I am extremely lucky altogether in my designated supervisors, who seem quite unfazed by my momentary lapses into panic.

I’m feeling a sudden surge of energy after a few weeks of really struggling to get myself together effectively; this may manifest itself in a flurry of blog posts, so I apologise in advance!