My day of Digital Humanities

March 27, 2012 in Admin Service, All Day, Communication, Conference, Email, Meeting, Outside, Project Work, Reflecting, Travel, Uncategorized

March 27th 2012
Day of Digital Humanities

I awake to spring sunshine at the glamorous Bedford Hotel, London.

Day of Digital Humanities 2012 falls during a Ridiculous Week Of Travel for this digital humanist, so while I would normally be in my lovely office at the National Library of Wales, gazing out at Cardigan Bay in a my customary mode of contemplative and philosophical reflection, I am instead running around, and having arguments with London buses; oyster cards; and people with pointy elbows in Waitrose.

The day begins with a little light external examining for Glasgow University’s HATII Arts and Media Informatics courses. Their students do such cool work. Followed by some e-mail.

Then I venture forth, and take the 59 Bus south of the river to the Imperial War Museum. I panic a bit about my talk, which spoils the view from Waterloo Bridge somewhat. Alighting from the bus, I spot my colleague Lyn Lewis Dafis from NLW, and greet him with a cheery “Bora Da” (you see, I am basically fluent). I then see my former colleague from Oxford University Computing Services, Stuart Lee, who is now the fearless leader of that august organization. That is one of the things I love about DH – the same people do crop up over the years, and there is a wonderful continuity to it all.

We are all heading to a JISC Strategic Content Alliance meeting on World War One commemoration. Lyn and I are attending because our new mass digitization project, Rhyfel Byd 1914-1918 a’r profiad Cymreig / Welsh experience of World War One 1914-1918, has just been funded by JISC (it’s so new and exciting we don’t have a web site yet, but you can follow it on Twitter #cymruww1).

Anyway, there are many wonderful presentations at the event: the Oxford Great War Archive; The Imperial War Museum’s impressive (and moving) range of projects to encourage community input in commemoration; and Jonathan Purday presenting Europeana 1914-18, reporting on the staggeringly successful workshops that have taken place around Europe gathering community content. And then, er, me. I am always nervous doing presentations, but especially so in this impresive line-up (the episode of “Glee”, where New Directions see Vocal Adrenaline performing for the first time? That). However, I am very pleased to report that the themes that are central to our project: open data, aggregating content; federating access across collections, and embedding impact, are all key themes of the whole JISC/SCA strategy and their emerging White Paper of WW1 resources. It’s always a privilege to be able to wave the flag for NLW’s policy of free and open access to our digital content, and it was particularly relevant at this event.

At a very useful discussion, focusing on the White paper, there were a few observations worth noting here because they relate to my own philosophy of digital humanities: the need to embed impact and value into digital collections, and digital research, in order to ensure their sustainability; and the idea that we shouldn’t be focusing on ‘digital history’ but ‘good history’ – the digital is just a means to a very familiar end.

I head back to my hotel (via the 59 Bus again). As my bus is diverted east with no warning, I note with approval that the great City of London has embarked upon a series of pointless road works that will ensure gridlock in the city well into the Olympic season and beyond. I wouldn’t expect anything else.

After eventually reaching my destination, I catch up on e-mails. In case you are interested in the thrilling social whirr of a digital humanist, my email mostly relates to: cajoling letters of support for an AHRC grant application; discussions about budgets for another AHRC grant application; ADHO business; an update from the NLW digital development team about scanning manuscripts for my new AHRC historic weather project (on time and within budget, in case you care); invitations to take part in enticingly lucrative money laundering opportunities; HR updates on recruitment for the JISC project; an invoice for a crowdsourcing project on Welsh Place Names; and RSVPs to a WW1 academic workshop I’m organizing at NLW on April 19th. Wonderfully, a query has come in about a project budget and dealt with by my lovely NLW colleagues before I even had a chance to get the message. I love it when that happens.

It strikes me as I write this list that many of these e-mail messages relate to various projects that have come to fruition in the course of the past year, my first at NLW, which has been very, very busy, but a lot of good things are now underway.

After adopting a more or less random approach of reply/delete/ignore on the above messages, I head out and walk across Russell Square to the Institute of Historic Research and the launch of the Early English Laws project (, a wonderful collaboration between King’s College Department of Digital Humanities, and the IHR. The introduction to the launch is given by Top TV Historian Michael Wood, and he very movingly speaks of Partick Wormald, the source of so much of what we know about early English law, and also my first ever lecturer at Glasgow University when I was a wee undergraduate in 1986. The fact that his work is now being taken forward by digital technologies that had not even been imagined 26 years ago is, to me, one of the most wonderful things about digital humanities. More than any other aspect of the day, this is the true indication of the fact that digital humanities, done well, is part of the continuum of scholarly methodologies that cross the humanities, connecting us with the great humanities scholarship of the past – and the future.

And now I have to finish a report for a meeting in Luxembourg tomorrow, so nos da for now.

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