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

Category: Learning environment (Page 1 of 2)

Collaboration: Department of Archaeology and Ancient history

This is a guest post by Daniel Löwenborg, researcher and senior lecturer at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient history.

Digital Archaeology

Archaeology has a long tradition of working interdisciplinary and have been using digital technology extensively, especially since GIS (geographical information systems) became more widely available in the 1990s. Since archaeological information is inherently spatial, the use of GIS has proven to be very useful and is now well integrated in the discipline and in several of the research projects running at the department of archaeology and ancient history in Uppsala. There are also a number of research infrastructure project running, with the focus on digitizing information and making it available. Examples include the project Common Ground in collaboration the Swedish institutes in Athens, Rome and Istanbul, that is digitizing material produced in excavations in the Mediterranean area. The project Urdar, in collaboration with the Swedish National Heritage Board, is making digitally born data from archaeological excavation in contract (rescue) archaeology available for research, and will also undertake digitalisation of analogue documentation. The project “Re-imag(in)ing the Scandinavian joint expedition”, is a pilot project that will do initial digitalisation of a collection of archival records from the Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia (SJE) (1961–64).  The project “Mapping Africa’s Endangered Heritage” coordinated by the University of Cambridge is an ambitious infrastructure project involving several international partners, where Uppsala will be responsible for creating a database of archaeological sites in Zimbabwe.

A common thought behind these projects, representing the subdisciplines at the department (classical archaeology, Scandinavian archaeology, Egyptology and African and comparative archaeology) is the greater benefit that will come when researchers have access to digital information, both to facilitate searches and queries, but also to enable data driven research using methods from computer science.

Another aspect of digital archaeology comes with the possibilities of visualisation and presentations using 3D technology. A long-term research project at Gamla Uppsala has produced advanced digital environments that can be used both as a mobile app, that allows visitors to Gamla Uppsala to walk around at the site and see an interpretation of what the place might have looked like in the 7th century AD. This has also been developed to a digital time machine using virtual reality, that can be experienced at the museum.

A project starting in 2020 is a combined research project in history, coordinated by Rosemarie Fiebranz, where the aim is to do a digital historical reconstructions of the village Ekeby, near Vänge outside Uppsala. This is also the case study we are using for the Digital Humanities master course module on Visual Analysis, where the students get a chance to work with 3D modelling of building from Ekeby and create animations of the historic environment in GIS. This is coordinated by Daniel Löwenborg, who also teaches the master course on “GIS for the Humanities and Social Sciences”, that is one of the optional course for the students on the Master program. That course runs in the autumn and introduces more of the potential of working with GIS for digital humanities.

Collaboration: Department of Art History

the departments own sigill

The Masterprogramme of Digital Humanities is a cooperation between the department of ALM, department of Art history and the department of Archaeology and ancient history at Uppsala University.

Today we will take a closer look at the department of Art history and see what kind of research and using digital methods they partake in and that can be seen as part of the research environment for the students of the Digital Humanities programme

The department resides in house 2 at campus Engelska Parken since 2004 and at Campus Gotland in Visby since 2013.

Digital methods in research

The department has at the moment four research projects that are oriented towards digital methods or subjects that can be classified within the term digital humanities.

Eva Lindqvist Sandgren is a scholar in Art History, specialized in medieval book illuminations from France and Scandinavia

Eva Lindqvist Sandgren is senior lecturer at the department and her research project is entitled the Multisensory Vadstena Abbey in the late middle ages. The aim of the project is to produce a total-immersion virtual-reality reconstruction of the liturgy in the late 15th century Vadstena Abbey, specifically the multisensory experiences in the church.

The result will be self-directed experiences using a virtual-reality headset. The project will enable the exploration of cognitive and affective aspects of multi sensory experiences and their impact on empathy and community formation.

“From a nuns point of view”, digitaly adapted image. Foto: Eva Lindqvist Sandgren.

Anna Orrghen, besides being the course coordinator for the DH-master course Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities, is heading two research projects that uses digital methods.

The first one is called the Art of Co-Production: Collaborations Between Artists, Scientists and Engineers, Sweden 1967-2009. The purpose of this project is to describe and analyze the creation processes that characterize the development of techno art in Sweden between 1967 to 2009. Anna Orrghen is primarily interested to map the driving forces behind and conditions for the co-operations and co-production between artists, scientists and engineers in the sphere of techno art.

The second project that Anna Orrghen is involved in is called Digital Monuments: Technology, Ephemerality and Memory in Swedish Public Art, 1994–2015. The purpose of the project is to describe and analyze digital monuments in Sweden between 1994 and 2015. By examining the contents and expressions of digital monuments, it’s socio-cultural, economical and political conditions and the role they play in society, Anna Orrghens research project aims to make visible a previously unexplored part of contemporary public art.

Associate Professor Johan Eriksson is Programme Director of the Master programme in Digital Art History His research focuses on early modern cultural transfer, history of collections, visual communication and digital art history.

The last project is head by Johan Eriksson. His project the Virtual Museum have been shortly been introduced in a previous post about a workshop he held as part of the course Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities.

Johan Erikssons research project is entitled The Virtual Museum at the Royal Palace (link in Swedish) and is an interdisciplinary cooperation between the department of Art history and the department of Game design at Uppsala University.

The purpose of the project is to, together with the National art museum and the The Royal Collections with the Bernadotte Library, to try new methods to digitally reconstruct historical art exhibitions at the royal palace between 1794 to 1866.

Next up we will delve further into the department of Archaeology and ancient history and see what they contribute to the field of digital humanities.

In-depth: Tools and methods

Just before the christmas break, I got the opportunity to ask a few questions to Matts Lindström, the course coordinator for the course Tools and Methods: Critical Encounters.

What is your research background and how did you find Digital Humanities as an educational and research subject?

Matts Lindström is a media historian focusing on the cultural history of information

My background as a researcher and academic is in the History of Science and Ideas, and more precisely in Media history. So I’m not really a DH researcher per se. My interests are more geared towards using different theoretical and historical perspectives to better understand digital society and culture, including the recent formation of digital humanities as a new field of knowledge production (or even disciplinary field in its own right).

Also, I work as a coordinator for the Digital Humanities Uppsala network, so teaching on the Masters course was a natural fit in that role as well.

How do you use digital tools or digital methods in your own research?

I don’t, if by “digital methods” you mean quantitative methods, natural language processing algorithms, topic modelling etc. – i.e. various forms of statistical analysis or “distant reading”. I might in the future, however, as I am part of a few DH projects that are currently in development and looking for funding.

Also, I should add that I am what you could call “code literate”. So while working on my dissertation I sometimes used various home cooked scripts and open source tools to collect and occasionally curate digitised historical sources (the standard unix toolchain for text processing mostly, like wget, grep, regular expressions etc). This, however, had no theoretical or methodological implications for my research. It just made things easier, just like a word processor and the Internet makes certain research and writing operations much easier than for instance the historical combination of a typewriter and a library.

What was for you the most successful or meaningful part of the course?

Well we are still evaluating, but I hope that the most succesful part was the integration of historical, critical/theoretical themes with the practical workshops that we held.

Picture from a workshop by Anna Foka during the course

What would you say is the core of the course?

First, the course aims to make the students aware that there are various means — tools and methodologies — which can be leveraged in digital humanities research. And to give them some practical experience of using a few of these tools. 

Second, the course aims to make them aware that it is important that such tools and methods are framed and evaluated within the tradition of critical and historical perspectives that are the central area of expertise for humanists (digital or not).

The core then, I would say, is the integration of practice and theory through critical reflection.

As a historian of Science and Ideas and a media historian I believe it is always crucial to understand the conditions surrounding whatever knowledge production you engage in, be these technological or discursive. The historical conditions of possibility of knowledge – to put it in, I suppose, slightly foucauldian language (referring to the theories of philosopher Michel Foucault) .

For instance, if you are working with some sort of digital mapping tool it is important to understand that there is a long history (going as far back as the antiquity), both within science and the humanities of using various technologies and media for visualising and mapping space. Similarly the problem of managing huge amounts of data, which is integral to the whole Big Data theme, is a recurring phenomena in the history of knowledge.

So, I believe it is important to be aware of such things and to critically reflect on how digital tools, or any tool or media technology, affects and shapes your thinking, your writing – in the end, the actual knowledge that you produce as a student or researcher. 

This, I hope, is one of the main take aways of the course.

Karl Berglund: Reading From a Distance

Hi, I split my time between being a researcher in literature (currently in the project “From Close Reading to Distant Reading”) and a digital scholarship librarian, where I support researchers who want to deploy digital methods in their research.
My own research has from start been focused on large-scale patterns and systematic studies of (Swedish) literature. My thesis quantitatively mapped the boom in contemporary Swedish crime fiction in the 21st century, both concerning publishing patterns, marketing and literary content. After my dissertation I have moved towards computational approaches to literary analysis.
This makes me an odd bird in my own discipline, where most people are engaged in close readings and qualitative studies of different kinds. But with the rapidly growing digitised (and born-digital) literary text collections, the methodical monoculture is slowly starting to be challenged. The digital methods makes other kinds of patterns visible, new kinds of analysis possible, different kinds of research questions relevant to pose.
My course at the program is dedicated to exactly this: distant readings, to use the influential term coined by Franco Moretti. I will try to show you and critically discuss – both theoretically/conceptually and methodically/practically – how one can engage in computational literary analysis (and also: text mining within the humanities more broadly). The course depart from both readymade software and basic programming, and will cover topics such as pre-processing, concordances, collocations, and topic modeling. The ambition is to provide you with some quite hands-on skills and tools for further explorations in this vivid area of the humanities.
Karl Berglund
Researcher at the Department of Literature
Digital Scholarship Librarian at the University Library

All you need to know as a digital humanities student…almost

Today there was a workshop concerning the practical arrangement of teaching at the DH master programme. Most of the lecturers for the programme attended, and we shared a both informative and nice afternoon, discussing how to provide the best basis of education for both students and lecturers.

Although most of the information communicated during the workshop primarily is important for teachers, it can also be good to be updated on this as a student as it may help to ease your planning around you studies if you know how things like this work.

So, here goes some of the take-aways that I want to share with you:

  • A preliminary schedule is published prior to five weeks before the course starts. In that way, students can plan social life and activities around their studies, but be aware that changes can come through up till one week before the course starts. You find the schedule at the department web site http://www.abm.uu.se/education/student/schedule/
  • Can’t wait for the course literature? Relax, we have all been there… 😉  Literature lists for the courses will be published prior to five weeks before the course starts. This mean there will be plenty of time for students to find the right literature and also for the book stores to order the titles we put on the literature lists. Most courses of the programme is 7.5 credits, meaning around 1,000 – 1,500 pages for each course. To save your self time and effort, it might be worth purchasing books that are used through several courses (if the library does not offer it as an e-book).
  • For every course, there is a study guide (only a document I’m afraid, even though it actually may work as your own” study-guardian angel”) to inform students about the knowledge, skills and abilities that are expected of students after they have completed the course. Here you can usually also find information about mandatory parts of the course and examinations. The study guide is published on the learning platform Student Portal.

A more thorough introduction of everything one needs to know as a student at the Department of ALM will of course be presented during the first days of the programme. Until then, you can read up more about rights and working conditions for students on the web.


Studying at the Department of ALM. Part 2: Social life

This is the second part of an interview I did with John, one of our students at the Master Programme in ALM (Archives, Library and Museum Studies). The first part of the interview you can find here.

Besides talking about what the Department of ALM can offer, John and me also talked about life beyond studies. As a student it is important to have a good work-life balance, at the same time as there can be soooo much that one have/want to do and be engaged in. John explains that life of a master student can be summarized as great freedom with great responsibility. “There are maybe three to five scheduled lectures or seminars a week, although it differs depending on different courses in the programme. One has to use the time in a responsible way, setting your own time plan.” John seems to manage that without problems, and he tells me: “I use to sit in the campus library (Karin Boye-biblioteket), where I can feel like I’m in a bubble of my own. I know that there is going to be quiet and easy to focus. But I also like to try out different study environments. Sometimes I sit at campus, other times I go to the main library building, or read in a café.”

I ask him what he thinks about the student services that are offered by the university, such as the student gym Campus 1477, study assistance services or all the different courses, workshops and lectures outside academic studies. Taking a sip of water, John answers that he knows about them but have not tried out so much of this himself. “In exception for the courses in information seeking offered by the library. I have attended that course several times, actually, it’s very useful and you learn how to best use the library resources”

We talk some more about campus Engelska parken. This is the site for the Department of ALM and also where most of our teaching takes place. “Compared to other campus of Uppsala University, Engelska parken is more intriguing and interesting. I especially like Physicum, the building where the old Department of Physics used to be, but the university main hall as well. Both are old but beautiful buildings, on the outside as well as on the inside.” The buildings John refers to are built in the 17thand 19thcentury and I ask him how he believes those historic milieus contributes to his studies. “Well, I’m not sure that they effect my studies… But they make me feel…part of something greater, in a way. It feels…authentic. The long history of the university is materialized through those buildings and their surrounding.”

However, old architecture cannot make up for good friends (even if you are found of history) and I ask about social life and activities. John told me earlier that he is from Visby, but came to Uppsala when he was 19 and I wonder how he managed to adjust to a new city, far from family and old friends. He smiles when he explains that “…there is so much to do on the side of your studies while being a student! If you are new in the city, there is easy to meet new people that are in the same situation as yourself, and you can quickly find new friends and nice people to hang out with.” He continues; “I would really recommend to engage in one of the thirteen student nations (social clubs for students with their own estates, businesses, activities, scholarships, and housing opportunities). You can get working experience and learn new skills, beside your academic studies.”

Another thing that John recommends for new students is to join the student association that is connected to your programme of study. For example, at the department, we have Studierådet för ABM, which offers students a way to influence their education but also to arrange social activities like quiz nights. “When I was a student in history we had our own association which I was, and still am, very engaged in. We arranged a welcome party for new students and lots of other fun stuff. We also invited guest lecturers of our own choice, in co-operation with the department.”

Overall, I got the impression that John is content, both with his studies at the Department of ALM and with the university. Maybe a bit too content? I ask him if there is anything he is critical about or thinks should be changed. He gives it some thought, but no, nothing in particular, he says. I just nod, hoping it is an honest answer and that he is not only being polite. At the department, me and my colleagues all try to give our students the best opportunities possible, and hopefully we succeed, I think to myself.

“Be open to new perspectives! For me, the programme was not as I expected, as a matter of fact, it is better!

I finish the interview by asking John about his best advice for the new students of the Master Programme in Digital Humanities. “Be open to new perspectives! For me, the programme was not as I expected, as a matter of fact, it is better! One reason are the courses in programming and databases. Some people don’t appreciate them, they do not perceive it as something that they chose to study or see the relevance of it, but for me they gave new perspectives on information and museum studies.”

The power of coffee breaks

Going to a conference or meeting means a lot of things. Listening to presentations, learning new stuff, meeting people, seeing new places, smalltalk…. I can tick all of these things off from from my list of activities this week, thanks to the LAMC3-workshop in Copenhagen.

LAMC3 stands for Libraries, Archives, Museums: Changes, Challenges and Collaboration and is a network project that brings together Nordic research in the LAM-field. Except seminars and lectures, the participants got guided tours of key cultural institutions in Copenhagen. Both the Royal Library and The City Archive were natural places to visit but also newer and perhaps more experimental institutions invited us, like Enigma – Museum of Post, Tele and Communication.

However, one of the best take aways from the workshop-days is meeting new PhDs and researchers but also learning to know the ones I already knew even better. It is easy to underestimate the power of coffee breaks, but for the purpose of strengthening bonds to colleagues, they are invaluable. Chatting over a cup of coffee is not only nice and social fun, but also important to be able to do better collaborations in the academic community; writing papers together or co-arranging seminars or courses for students.

At the Department of ALM, we try to encourage our students to travel to conferences, workshops and meeting so that they also can get important academic- or work connections for their future career. Every semester a number of students get grants from the department for going away. We have sent students to UK, Estonia, Argentina, Finland, Germany…. Many of them have shared their experiences in the department journal, Tidskrift för ABM. For non-swedish speakers, I am sorry to say that most of the travelogues are in Swedish.

If you are going to study at the Department of ALM (or maybe do that already), I really recommend you to use the opportunity to get your research trip funded by the department. The application does not need to be all that complicated and the approvement rate is fairly high. 

Studying at the Department of ALM. Part 1. Studies and Teaching

So, this week I met with John Högström, 24 years old. He is one of our masterstudents at the Master Programme of ALM (Archive, Library and Museum studies). Since there are no students yet that can share their experiences of studying the master in digital humanities until next semester, I thought the next best thing was to hear out a student at our existing programme  about the experience of being a student at the Department of ALM.

John and me meet up for the interview in the local cantina to have a conversation over some vegan pasta and blue cheese risotto. This is the place on campus where students go for lunch, for a coffee break or to just hang out or work on some study project.

John, at campus Engelska Parken

Within the ALM-domain, John is specializing in museum and heritage studies. Being on the second year of the two-year programme, he is busy writing his master’s thesis and simultaneously wrapping up a course in theories and methods for the ALM-field.

I start the interview by asking about his study background. Before entering master studies, John tells that he mixed studies in history and ethnology, among other subjects. “I came to the ALM-department a bit by chance. I actually started with master studies in history of science and ideas. But two weeks in, I realized I wanted something else and decided to quit. […] I applied for studies in museum and cultural heritage instead, and got accepted! With the class already two weeks far, it was a bit of a struggle at first but I managed to catch up pretty quickly.”

So, what is his ideas about the programme, I wonder. In comparison with his earlier student experiences, is there something special about ALM? “Well, I like the different variations of exam forms. The variety of having home exams, seminars, papers, group work….I like it. Another thing that is new to me but which makes the programme more exciting are that the department also has distant students [attending the Library- and Information Science track of the ALM Master Programme] and that some lectures are recorded.”

In addition to lectures and seminars, the programme offer other complements. “We also have had quite many field trips; visiting places like the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, or the museum storage of Upplandsmuseet (the Uppland county museum, my note) gives a good opportunity to talk to professionals in the field and grounded perspectives of the meaning of your studies. […] The five weeks of internship was one of my favorite parts of my museum studies. I spent them on the Nordic Museum, at the Department for Digital Interaction. It was so much to learn and I developed a lot. Much focus was on effective ways to spread research digitally and how to work with digital information in the organisation”

But John is clear with that he does not have to go outside of the classroom to get a wider perspective on things. “To have external lecturers are always exciting. It is important to get input from different people, in addition to the lecturers from the ALM-department.”

Compared to John’s previous experiences, he thinks the student base at the Master Programme of ALM is more mixed. “At the bachelor’s programme in history, most of the people were similar in age and interest. Here, there is definitely more variation. The mix of experiences, ages and academic background definitely makes the seminar discussions more dynamic and rich of different perspectives.”

This interview continues in part 2: Social Life.

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.

Inauguration of The Workshop for Digital Humanities

This week Verkstaden (The Workshop) at campus Engelska Parken  threw an opening party to everybody in the Digital Humanities network at Uppsala University. Verkstaden is going to be a place where researchers, students and other interested from different domains can meet and work with digital tools for data analysis, visualization and modeling. The combination of hardware, software and knowledge at the same place also makes Verkstaden an important learning space for students in digital humanities.

I was there of course, mingling around with the project leaders Anna Foka and Matts Dahlström. Besides eating a lot of “pepparkakor” and “salta pinnar” (Swedish gingerbread cookies and pretzel sticks) I also had a look at the mini museum that had been set up in Verkstan. My favorite was the old school stereoscope.

According to Wikipedia, the first stereoscope was invented in 1838. The long history of this device makes me think about how visualization actually is a very basic human need, something that helps us understand places and situations beyond our personal experience. Today, 3D-visualization is more relevant than ever, not at least as one of the bases for virtual reality. Exactly how those recent techniques can be used to analyze material from cultural heritage collections is something that one can experiment with in Verkstaden.

3D-viewers can be a toy to play around with as well as an object of curiosity. They can also be used (especially if combined with virtual reality-technique) as a tool to study and practice complicated situations like surgery procedures or military operations, in a relaxed environment.

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