I did the full-time M.Phil course in the School of English here in TCD.One definition is:a field of study, research, and invention at the intersection of humanities, computing, and information management. Course: 4 core modules, 2 optional modules, a research methods modules, and internship and a dissertation, and a good few essays and written exercises along the way.
I work as an archivist in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library here in TCD. My principal responsibility is the curation of the College Archives. We are moving slowly into the digital age with an online catalogue, online exhibitions as well as developing relationship with the Digital Resources & Imaging Service, who produce digital reproductions of some of the items in our collections.
I went into the course believing that it was about using technology to convey information on arts- and humanities-related subjects and themes to the student/learner/user, and make them more accessible. I was interested in topics like digitisation projects, online catalogues and exhibitions.
This was a core module. There was a strong emphasis on text and how technology can be used to read, analyse and curate texts in a more efficient way. Some of the concepts we were introduced to were textual encoding, visualisation, data-mining, e-reading and digital preservation. In other words: Information Literacy
A big deal is made of the visualisation tools, which produce word clouds, word trees, phrase nets etc. Computers read and analyse texts to produce interesting statistics, such as word frequency and position. A cynic would say that that's all they are: pretty pictures and statistics.
The Textual Encoding Initiative is a technical standard used in XML. Its main focus is on text markup and it allows for the identification and thus linking of text. It can identify components of text and allows for individual words and phrases to have descriptive annotations linked to them.
Some of my colleagues on the course were part of the Mary Martin diary project – they transcribed the diary of a Dublin woman from 1916, marked it up with TEI and developed a website to contextualise it and make it accessible.
I took a course based on the 1641 Depositions held here in TCD. The result of an associated project is in the form of a website that contains transcriptions and digitised version of these 17th century documents. The transcriptions were marked up using TEI, and the site also contains a searchable database.
This project is an example of a DH in action in a successful way; of constructive co-operation between librarians, academics and technology specialists. It is also evident that such projects require large investments in terms of time and funding. The project demonstrates what can be done; it presents information to the researcher, explains how to use it and makes it searchable.
Another module was called 'Web Technologies', and this was a basic introduction to the world wide web. It provided an introduction to coding and database languages. After it I felt more confident working with IT professionals on projects.
A follow-on module to the Web Technologies one was called 'Metadata to Linked Data', which concentrated on linked data and the semantic web. The difference between the WWW and the Semantic Web would be that while the former links documents, the latter would link data.
One elements of the course was an internship in a relevant institution and for practical purposes I chose to fulfil my internship at my place of work. I decided to work on updating the format of our online exhibitions, as well as redesigning a home site for current and past exhibitions and for an introduction to the Trinity College Library experience.
I set aside time during my working day to design a website to complement the exhibition on show in the Long Room at the time. This work brought me into contact with web developers and in-house experts. The result was a new website, a design for a micro-site and an enhanced understanding of the whole process.
My thesis attempted a study of how to best preserve the born-digital content of archival collections, retaining its evidential value, authenticity and accessibility. I chose this topic because of its relevance to my particular work situation.
My research focussed on preservation tools and projects.I used some literary papers with both analogue and digital content as a case study in my thesis, and learned of the theory involved, but realise that putting it into practice will take a lot of time and money and cooperation with IT specialists
Overall I would say I learned a lot in my year on the course, and it pushed me into territory that I wouldn't normally feel comfortable researching, especially coding, databases and ontologies. This is a good thing.
We were introduced to many elements of Digital Humanities, some useful, some not so useful. Those that were useful such as the projects based on TEI, like the 1641 Depositions project tended to require a lot of investment of time and money and other resources that are not always available.
Those concepts that were not so useful, such as visualisations were at least interesting. It was good to be exposed to new and emerging ideas, such as the semantic web, data-mining etc even though I don't see their immediate impact on my area.
In conclusion, the course is really what you make of it. I don't have a much better idea of what Digital Humanities actually is, but I do feel I learned a lot. I remain quite sceptical of concepts such as the scale of the ambition for the semantic web, and the expectations of technology in terms of its ability to analyse the output of arts and humanities.
You could say that in come ways DH is all about information literacy, if I understand the term correctly. The measure of its success is yet to be decided. Thank you.
07 ellen conu lpowerpoint10.06
M.Phil in Digital Humanities & CultureSchool of English, TCD