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

Category: Guest authors

Thesis time!

This is a guest blog post by programme director Olle Sköld that was written at the beginning of the summer of 2020 .

The academic year is at an end and it is time for some well-earned time off for both students and faculty at the DH master’s program at Uppsala University. The past two semesters have been packed with exciting courses, discussions, workshops, and for the majority of the class a second year of program studies awaits after the summer holidays. Some of the students however chose to go for a 60-credit master’s degree and have concluded the semester and their time at the Department of ALM by executing a series of impressive thesis projects that I would be amiss if I didn’t showcase here (with the authors’ permissions of course).

Nikolina Milioni directs attention towards a matter that is front-of-mind for libraries, archives, and scholars all around the world: handwritten text recognition (HTR). In her thesis, Nikolina evaluates and discusses the applicability and usefulness of Transkribus — a freely accessible HTR application. Nikolina describes the thesis in the following way:

Source: Transkribus.eu

Digital libraries and archives are major portals to rich sources of information. They undertake large-scale digitization to enhance their digital collections and offer users valuable text data. When it comes to handwritten documents, usually these are only provided as digitized images and not accompanied by their transcriptions. Text in non-machine-readable format restricts contemporary scholars to conduct research, especially by employing digital humanities approaches, such as distant reading and data mining. The purpose of this thesis is to evaluate Transkribus platform as a linguistic tool mainly developed for producing automatic transcriptions of handwritten documents. The results are correlated with the findings of a questionnaire distributed to libraries and archives across Europe to expand our knowledge on the policy they follow regarding manuscripts and transcription provision. A model for a specific writing style in Latin language is trained and the accuracy on various Latin handwritten pages is tested. Finally, the tool’s validation is discussed, as well as to what extent it meets the general needs of the cultural heritage institutions and of humanities scholars

Nikolina’s thesis is titled “Automatic Transcription of Historical Documents: Transkribus as a Tool for Libraries, Archives and Scholars” and a full-text copy can be downloaded from DiVA.

Ylva Arwidson sets out to shed further light on nature of communication practices and public relations the in the present-day digital arena. This done by the way of an interview-based case study of how digital coordinators enact and understand public-relations work in the Swedish cultural heritage sector. Ylva summaries her thesis in the following way:

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

This research is about Swedish cultural institutions’ digital public relations work, with the purpose of investigating what the digital coordinators at the institutions consider to be essential skills in their work and how they define and implement effective and successful communication online. Communicating about culture and cultural heritage is essential and a key priority in order to ensure that the public is educated about the past as well as the present. Through analysing data from interviews conducted with professionals working within communications at Swedish cultural institutions, the study investigates what the main difficulties, similarities and dissimilarities are in digital public relations today and why.

 The results show that the professionals’ main areas of difficulty lay within conciseness and correctness, these could be attributed to lesser constraints in the digital setting, inattention, the faster pace of working online as well as a higher tolerance for errors. The interviewees showed a dependence on adding links to their digital content, expressing different opinions regarding what purpose linking serves. There is a common trend within the professionals’ work in favour of democratisation of the dynamics between the institution and the public – two-way communication through adapted and personalised dialogue (community management) and valorisation of feedback. The study provides first-hand insight into the strengths and weaknesses of digital public relations actors working within Swedish cultural institutions.

Ylva’s thesis is titled “Digital Public Relations in the Swedish Cultural Sector: A Study of Effective PR and Two-Way Communication” and a full-text copy can be downloaded from DiVA.

Nadim Herbert ventures to create new knowledge about the mechanisms underpinning the phenomenon called ‘woke-washing’ in his thesis. Woke-washing takes place when brands and corporations makes use of (socially, culturally, politically) progressive values in service of marketing or PR campaigns. The empirical basis of Nadim’s study is an analysis of Twitter data consisting of both posts and thousands of user responses. Here’s Nadim’s rendering of the thesis:

Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay

This study examines two marketing campaigns on the social media platform Twitter by the brand Nike, with the campaigns involving American football player Colin Kaepernick and tennis player Serena Williams respectively. The study specifically explores how Nike utilizes socially and politically progressive values in these marketing campaigns and how users then respond to it on Twitter, with the source material consisting of four Twitter-posts, two by Nike and one each by the two athletes involved, as well as the replies by other Twitter-users to those posts. The replies to these four Twitter-posts were then sorted into reply types for each post, in other words categorized according to the sentiments and attitudes in the replies that were most prominently and frequently expressed. A grounded theory approach was used thereafter in order to apply relevant theoretical perspectives to the reply types and original posts, through which the source material was split into several analytical themes. The theoretical perspectives used in the analysis were Rosalind Gill’s postfeminist sensibility, Ron Von Burg and Paul E. Johnson’s writings on nostalgia as a critical perspective, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s floating signifier concept, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s racial grammar theory, Susan Cahn’s writings on female athlete stereotypes, and Lauren Copeland’s writings on postmaterialism.

The analysis showed that Nike utilized socially progressive causes such as racial and gender equality in an individualistic way by conveying them through the identities of Williams and Kaepernick in their Twitter-posts. It also showed that the replies to the marketing in turn also focused on the identities of the athletes, with repliers either declaring their approval or disapproval of Nike and their marketing campaigns based on whether they were ethically and ideologically aligned with the progressive causes and values that the athletes were proxies for in their respective marketing campaigns. Ultimately, this study revealed an individualization of political expression on social media, both when a corporation like Nike uses it to improve their brand image and in how individuals engage with political and social issues.

Nadim’s thesis is titled “‘Woke-Washing’ a Brand: An Analysis of Socially Progressive Marketing by Nike on Twitter and the User Response to it” and a full-text copy can be downloaded from DiVA.

The topics explored in these theses really illustrates the breadth and relevance(s) of the DH field for both digital professionals and SSH research. Congratulations to Nikolina, Ylva, and Nadim for their excellent efforts on the DH programme! Now I’ll transition from spring semester to summer holidays happy with the knowledge that many more thought-provoking and interesting thesis projects will be carried out under the auspices of the Master’s Programme in Digital Humanities in the semesters to come.

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.

Student post: Internship @ museum Gustavianum collections

Aikaterini Charalampopoulou                                       20-24 January 2020

In January 2020, I had the chance to do a one-week internship at the Gustavianum collections – an internship that was part of The Master’s Programme in Digital Humanities at Uppsala University. Time was short, but we were assigned to a series of different tasks so that to get the most out of our stay there. The collection we mainly worked with was the Valsgärde boats. Valsgärde is an area, around 3km north of Gamla Uppsala, along Fyrisön. The site was found in the 1920s and many archeological excavations were conducted in the decades that followed. The Valsgärde findings consist of 15 ship graves, dating from the 6th century and the Vendel Age to the 10th century and the Vikings times

Being engaged in this particular collection was of great personal importance to me. Valsgärde was the very first place in Uppsala I tried to visit, only a couple of days after my arrival in Sweden some years ago. I got to know about it in an old French tourist guide from the 1980’s — the famous Guide Bleu — and I immediately decided to visit it. I was never sure if I actually reached the correct location, until I showed my pictures to John Worley who confirmed that it had been the correct site.

John Worley is a curator for the Scandinavian Archaeological collection at Gustavianum and was responsible for our internship and the planning of our daily tasks. He is in many ways responsible for making it possible for us to delve into the collection despite the time limitations. This was accomplished by working with the Valsgärde boats in three ways: the actual objects, their documentation in the database and their photographic documentation. Those three approaches gave as a chance to work with the collection on different scales and from different perspectives, and at the same time to acquire a general knowledge about how life at the curation unit of the museum is.


Valsgärde boats were around 10m long each and the archaeological findings consists of valuable objects contained in the boats, as well as animals and human relics. As wood has mostly disintegrated, what has remained from the boats are their rivets. Each boat was put together with the help of more than a thousand iron rivets that archaeologists have documented by registering their coordinates, size and condition. Those rivets we had the opportunity to work closely with, freeing them from old metal labels that unfortunately have contributed to their erosion and providing them with new acid free slots. For the larger or more impressive findings of the Valsgärde boats we created customized cases by polyethylene foam, so that objects can be easily and safely kept and transferred.

The documentation in a FileMaker Pro database consisted of consulting simultaneously various sources: the diary (Grävdagbok) that was handwritten at the site the time of the excavation, the list of findings (fyndlista) which was a typed document mostly drawing on the diary, and various maps, both small and large scale. The aim of this task was to cross-check and supplement the available data, plus to translate it from Swedish to English so that the collection eventually reaches a wider audience beyond the language barrier.

Work at the photographic lab included taking digital pictures of items in the collection. The photographic process started with the gentle placement and support of the object, and continued with selection of the correct exposure and shutter speed in order to take photographs which need as little manipulation as possible. We also familiarized ourselves with the camera’s software and Photoshop tools in order to be able to bring forward details that are not easily visible with the naked eye. Photographs taken would then be inserted to the item’s entry in the database.  

Last but not least, I was given the chance and I was encouraged to follow my own research interests and gather material both for my upcoming master’s thesis and other assignments currently running on the Master’s program. In my experience, it is as much useful to enter the Gustavianum collections as open and receptive as possible, absorbing all the knowledge that is generously offered, as to have particular research questions in mind that can work as guide in the multiple and labyrinthine paths of the Gustavianum collections. In conclusion, my experience in the museum both satisfied my curiosity regarding the “backstage” of a museum i.e. its curation units, and it supported my confidence towards how I can participate and contribute in different curatorial tasks. It was an internship harmoniously related to the Master’s curriculum and I would surely repeat it if given the opportunity.

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

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



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

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…


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.