A blog about the Master Programme in Digital Humanities at Uppsala University

Author: Ina-Maria Jansson (Page 2 of 3)

Copies have more fun than originals!

In many types of digital humanities-research, we have to approach and relate to representations, simulations and copies. It can be a digital visualization of an archaeological site,  a 3D-scanned object or a digitized document. The phenomenon of copies and representations is not new (for example, plaster casts of sculptures and objects have a long history). On the other side, the growing use of employing digital tools in the humanities for making representations actualizes issues of authenticity and ideas of “the original” as something with an intrinsic value.

Yesterday, I attended a lecture by Jonathan Westin, Deputy Director of the Centre for Digital Cultural Heritage Studies in Gothenburg. It was arranged by Uppsala DH network. He talked about the authentic copy and how copies, despite what most of us imagine, can be experienced as more authentic than the original. As an example, Westin told us about a reproduction of Veronese’s famous painting “The Wedding at Cana”. This immense painting was taken from its original location in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice in 1797 as war bounty by Napoleon. The Louvre Museum, Paris now has the original.

The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, 1563

In a very complicated and scrupulous process, a copy was made and installed in the location of the original painting; restoring the artwork in its original setting. Criticized by some as an action that violated the almost sacred status of the original, others were ecstatic and witnessed about having a more authentic experience of standing in front of the re-contextualized copy than they had when viewing the original in a traditional museum surrounding.

This story inspired me to rethink and also question the importance of originals. In some cases, we actually can learn a lot more from the copy, as it allows us to handle it, to touch it, to experience it in ways that the original was intended to be experienced. In Westin’s words: Copies have more fun than originals!

Read the whole New York Times-story of the reproduced “The Wedding at Cana” here. 

Digital Humanities Uppsala is going to upload Westin’s lecture in its entirety so keep track of their webpage if you want to know more.

Summer school in DH in Oxford

Some years in a row, Riksbankens jubileumsfond have offered scholarships for studying digital humanities in Oxford. Being granted scholarship means that the registration fee, lodgings and trip to Oxford will all be paid for. This is a generous scholarship and a great possibility to catch up with the latest in digital humanities. Many of my colleagues have already taken the course, and based on their favorable verdict of it, it seems well worth the time.

If you are qualified to take the course, I strongly recommend you to apply! Deadline for applications is March 11th. You find everything you need to know here: https://www.rj.se/Utlysningar/Aktuella-utlysningar/sommarskola-i-digital-humaniora-oxford/

Unfortunately, you have to be a PhD student or have a doctoral degree to be eligible for this, so sorry to my readers that are in other places of their academic careers right now. Since this opportunity have returned for several years now, one can perhaps hope for another chance next year….


Anna Orrghen: Understanding the world through art

Hello! I am an art historian and one of the teachers at the Master’s Programme in Digital Humanities. Most of my research concerns digital art. I believe that by studying art you could learn a lot about the society in which the art has been created. In my research I therefore use digital art as a point of departure for understanding more complex questions.

Given my interdisciplinary background at the intersection of art history and media studies I have approached digital art from several perspectives. For instance, by analysing the challenges digital art faces in relation to preservation and archiving, I believe that it is possible to gain crucial insights concerning not only digital art, but also related to digital cultural heritage on a more overall level.

Right now I am particularly interested in the relation between the digital and the non digital. For instance: what is the difference between looking at an art work through a data base and at a museum? Although it might sound like a rather basic question it is a question that shed light upon several aspects of digital humanities: knowledge production, economy, preservation, digitization, visualization, and, not at least, technological visions, to name but a few. Basic questions like this could serve as a starting point for a critical examination of the impact of digitization in society.

Anna Orrghen, Lecturer at the Department of Art History


“Tidsdokumentet” by Chalmers Tekniska Högskola was a debated piece of public art which controversial history offers many perspectives on the societal mechanisms and climate in Gothenburg, the city where it was place. Studying artworks like this, or the digital manifestations of them, can add to our understanding of society. Photo: Per Johansson (2005) CC BY-SA 3.0



How museum objects enter new orbits

Today the Department of ALM got visited by Bodil Axelsson, associate professor at Linköping University at the Department for Studies of Social Change and Culture. She presented her ongoing research project In Orbit: Distributed Curatorial Agency When Museum Objects and Knowledge Go Online. The data she presented illustrated what happens when images of museum objects are published and pinned on Pinterest and how that throw those objects into a process of re-contextualisation. Her study focus on images of viking jewelry, an object category that is widely spread outside the museum pinning boards on Pinterest where they were originally published.

Her research is one example of how new digital practices (like the use of Pinterest and other social media) are forcing researchers in information science, cultural heritage studies or other related domains to study the effects of the digital era on institutional collections.

Pinterest is a social media platform that allows the user to publish images and image metadata of their choice. Users can also “pin” images to create their own collections of material relevant only for them, much in likeness with the old school scrap book. As opposed to scrap books, the pinning activity enables images to spread and act as nodes in different networks.  Collections of pinned images are also used to make recommendations of new images to pin. It is all machined by a complicated and opaque algorithm that tries to learn the interests of the platform users to make useful recommendations.


Anna Foka: Mastering the (Digital) Humanities

Humanities is a collective noun that refers to the disciplines that study aspects of human society and culture. The word itself derives from the Latin word humanitas, which literally means human nature, civilization, and kindness, thus corresponding to the two fundamental Greek concepts of an ancient, unwritten code of conduct: philanthropia (the love for all things human) and paideia (education). Humanities methods aim at capturing and explaining all things human: they may vary from speculative to critical, involving historical analysis or even empirical approaches. Being critical to acts and ideas, and striving for diversity, equality, and inclusion is, ideally, at the core of knowledge production in the humanities.

A fictitious quote humorously epitomises the purpose of humanistic study: ‘If science can help clone a dinosaur, and the social sciences may examine qualitatively and/or quantitively the socio-technical particulars of the process, humanities research will instead problematise whether or not cloning a dinosaur is a good idea – ideally taking into account a number of perspectives!’. The gist of this comic dictum is that, beyond the strict confines of academic disciplines, humanities research offers a critical point of view, thus aiming at ameliorating human life. While science helps us understand how our world works, humanities empowers us to improve it.

In 2019, and increasingly so, much of what we humans do is mobile, networked and mediated by digital technology. The term digital humanities is more recently established to refer to the study of human society and culture in the digital age. Digital humanities as a lens of inquiry, focuses on how we create and share knowledge with digital methods and tools.

The newly established MA programme at Uppsala University aims precisely at advancing our understanding of human contexts in the digital age. The long history of artefacts and archives at Uppsala University, the oldest higher education institution in Scandinavia (established in 1477) grants us with exciting and challenging materials to draw upon. As the MA programme is administered at the Department for Libraries, Museums, and Archives, in collaboration with Archaeology and Art History and DH Uppsala, prospective students are encouraged to engage with the complexity of digital tools and their implementation for museums, libraries, and archives. These organisations are currently hotly preoccupied with digitization particulars, trying to battle issues that arise with time and the environment, for example, shrinking space and material decay.

The Digital Humanities Master’s programme is closely collaborating with us, DH Uppsala, an infrastructure intended to enhance and to make visible already existing world-class digital humanities research at Uppsala University. Our role in the MA course as DH Uppsala is to provide students with a deep understanding of digital methods and tools, and theories that are currently trending in the humanities. Students will be able to scope, build and critique practical experiments in digital research with an arts, humanities and cultural sector focus.

For the forthcoming MA programme in digital humanities, DH Uppsala aims at developing and enhancing the ‘modelling’ of human culture using IT for facilitating and inspiring new ways of working with human records. Our purpose is to make prospective students acquainted with digital literacies such as visualization platforms and practices for example, but also to discuss in depth the ‘openness’ that the internet encourages – open access, open data – and examine how that may influence knowledge economy.

Last, but certainly not least, DH Uppsala’s mission as an infrastructure across Uppsala University, is to help create a dynamic milieu of a new order of humanists that are aware of the global transformation that occurs within our fast-pacing digital information society. Through our seminar series, workshops and tech fikas (= a Swedish word for a coffee break), we aim at bringing world-leading humanities research on the table (see our calendar for more info). Moving across and beyond disciplines is a key concept here; equipping students with the skills necessary to correspond to a world that is evolving constantly beyond the strict confines of a single discipline is our main focus. Universities and units are currently turning into living labs for learning, connecting, researching, building, and testing ideas between students, staff, industry, and scholars. Within our locale, Verkstaden we aim to study together with our forthcoming students precisely how knowledge production is achieved and disseminated with digital technology.

Anna Foka
Project leader of DH Uppsala

Capturing the sweetest parts of CAPTURE

To grow and to be able to reach those levels we did not think was possible, every one of us need role models. They help us raise our ambitions and show us what is possible to achieve. It goes for all parts of life, but is perhaps especially relevant when you are a student or a researcher.

That is one of the reasons why we like to give some extra attention to researchers at the Department of ALM when they are granted funding for new projects or in other ways show us what is possible.

Earlier this week, Isto Huvila (professor at the Department of ALM) presented his coming research project CAPTURE. A catchy name to help you remember the full title; CApturing Paradata for documenTing data creation and Use for the REsearch of the future. It addresses the problem of how to know what information about the making and earlier use of research data that is important to preserve in order to make this data usable in the future. Although an important issue for any research field, scholars in the digital humanities are often using digital methods that creates data that can be especially difficult to reuse because of non-compatible formats or badly designed algorithms.

I personally cannot stop myself from imagining how a better solution of “conserving” research data could help save resources that can be used more effectively. Research data, even in its “raw” state before it has undergone any polishing or analysis, is often the result of much effort and invested money. That is why it is so important to try to find solutions on how data can be recycled or at least used in some way, also beyond its direct purpose. I guess that is one of the reasons why the European Research Council valued the project and decided to fund it. When it starts, it will be one of the biggest research projects at the Department of ALM, and we are all excited to follow its progress. Experiences and results from the project are in time also going to make its way into the education given to our programme students, offering them fresh insights into on-going state-of-the-art research.

After the presentation of CAPTURE it was time for the most important thing; the celebration cake! As some of you might remember from earlier blog entries, I have a weakness for using cakes as metaphors; in this case, when reflecting on how projects like this offer sweet experiences for the whole department, including researchers as well as students.

DH-seminar series takes off soon

Today I’m excited to hear that historian Benjamin G. Martin is giving a talk here in Uppsala on January 23rd. It is titled: The Culture of International Society: A Digital Humanities Approach to the History of International Ideas. With degrees from University of Chicago and Columbia University, he now works at the Department of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University. I think there could be a lot to learn from his presentation, not at least about the use of digital methods.

For those curious to know more about his current project, he describes it like this:

Treaties are a standard tool of diplomacy and a major source of international law. Over the centuries, different treaty types have been developed to address different issues. After World War I, treaties began to be systematically applied to the world of cultural relations among nations and states. In my current project, I seek to use cultural treaties—the bi-lateral or multilateral agreements among states that promote and regulate cooperation and exchange in the fields of life defined as “cultural”—as a source for examining the role played by the idea of culture in the international sphere during the twentieth century. In collaboration with Umeå University’s HUMlab, I use digital methods to analyze these sources, including quantitative analysis of treaty data as well as computerized text analysis of the treaties’ content. In this presentation I will give an overview of the project, focusing on our use of digital methods, and outlining some of the results (and the challenges!) we have encountered so far.

This is the start for this semester in the seminar series about Digital Humanities, arranged by Digital Humanities Uppsala. Click here for more information.

Nadzeya Charapan: Museum Experience – To Be or Not to Be Digital?

Hello! Hej! Прывітанне! Labas!

My name is Nadzeya Charapan. I’m a doctoral student at Vilnius University and a guest researcher at Uppsala University. With my academic background in humanities, throughout the last ten years, I have been teaching diverse courses on cultural heritage, cultural memory, and communication for students from Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, Portugal, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the USA. Next year I will join the dream teaching team of Digital Humanities MA program at Uppsala University and hopefully will meet you, dear Reader.

Right now I’m working on my doctoral thesis about visitor experiences at ethnographic open-air museums (so-called skansens) in Sweden, Lithuania, and Belarus. My research aims to problematize ethnographic open-air museums as places of memory negotiations, agents of societal change, and celebrations of imaginary community (nation?). I extensively apply participatory methodologies to trace and map patterns of real-time visitor experiences and engagements with cultural heritage, conveyed through the materiality of the reconstructed vernacular past.

As digitalization became mainstream, many museums develop websites, applications, digital interactivities, and social media accounts. Undoubtedly, digitalization provides vast affordances for facilitation of long-lasting relationship with their audiences and enhances visitor experiences. However, many cultural institutions adopt a rather ambivalent position towards the ubiquitous digital intensification, since there is a possibility that physical visits to museums would be inexorably abandoned to the benefit of virtual visitations.

What is the relationship between real and digital museum experiences? Do they complement or substitute each other? What is the role of artworks, aura, and authenticity in the production of the visitor experience in the digital age?

For now, I will keep these questions unanswered, but we will definitely discuss them later altogether…


Release of the Digital Humanities Uppsala webpage!

For people interested in digital humanities in Uppsala there is not only a new master programme in this field, but also a digital humanities network spanning departments and research across Uppsala University. It is called Digital Humanities Uppsala (DH Uppsala) and also runs a digital humanities laboratory/workshop. I wrote about the opening of it in an earlier blog post. The hottests news right now though is their brand new network webpage


There is also a list of events for the spring semester 2019 that you may access through the link
below. There is an open seminar series with external speakers, workshops, and
a more informal tech fika.


Any questions about DH Uppsala could be sent to scientific leader Anna Foka or coordinator Matts Lindström.

Isto Huvila: How to do better digital humanities research?

Hello everyone! My name is Isto and I am working as a professor at the Department of ALM. I am one of the teachers at the Master’s Programme in Digital Humanities. My field of research is information studies, and more precisely the management and use of information in various contexts. I have been (and I am) doing research on many of the infrastructural aspects of digital humanities but also doing research with digital methods.

Right now I am especially interested in the management and use research data, and how to make the processes of creating and using more understandable and visible for future users. It is really a question of understanding better how we as researchers are working with data and what we need to know about that working to be able to use it as effectively as possible. This is a sort of continuation to my earlier research in projects like ARKDIS and COST-ARKWORK that have focused on understanding how research work change and develop when new digital tools, data, methods and techniques are replacing and complementing older approaches.

I have worked a lot with archaeologists (and yes, I am still working) but the question is really much broader and pertains to all fields of research.

It is necessarily not that digital things make research completely different but they certainly have an impact. Understanding that impact is – unsurprisingly – a really, really fundamental question and necessary for anyone engaging in doing digital research.


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