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

Category: DH research

In-Depth: Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities.

The spring term for the Digital Humanities students started off with a courses called Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities and headed by art historian and media scholar Anna Orrghen. I took an opportunity to ask her a few questions about the course and her involvement in the research field of Digital Humanities.

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

My research background is at the intersection of art history and media studies. More particularly art, science and technology in general and digital art in particular. Actually, I do not really see myself as a digital humanities scholar, but have slipped into issues that relate to digital humanities through my research on digital art, e.g. questions concerning methodology in relation to digital art. These issues have further been the starting point for the course Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities.

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

I do not, actually. But I am genuinely interested in the consequences the use of digital tools and methods has for art historical research. Thus, instead of using digital tools or digital methods, I am trying to understand what it means for art history as a discipline that digital tools and methods are being used.

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

For me, the most meaningful part of the course was the combination of really practical, hands on work during the excursions and workshops, and the theoretical perspectives applied through the seminars. That became an important opportunity to delve into the differences between digitized materials and non digitized materials and how their status as digitized or non digitized impact how and what we know about our cultural heritage.

Also, I would like to add that the fact that the course is a collaboration between scholars from different academic fields and departments within Uppsala university, such as archaeology, art history and textile history was also really meaningful. And, finally, through the students I have gained a lot of knowledge about cultural heritage sites and artefacts around the world, that I would not have gained otherwise.

What would you say is the core of the course?

I think it is the same as above, i.e. not only to read about the consequences of digitization, but to really investigate it through engage in the materiality of cultural heritage.

You can read more about Anna Orrghens research in my previous post about the research done at the Department of Art history.

In-Depth: Digital Implementations in Cultural Heritage

At the beginning of the spring semester, I asked the course coordinator for Digital Implementations in Cultural Heritage, Anna Foka, a few questions about her course.

Anna Foka is project manager Digital Humanities Uppsala at Uppsala University

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

A: I am an Associate Professor (Reader) in information technology and the humanities, with a background in classics, history and archaeology as well as heritage and media studies. I have extensive experience of teaching digital humanities courses (Umeå, Gothenburg, Linnaeus, Zadar. and even participating in pedagogical research together with colleagues from Kings College in London and Stanford) since 2011 so this was not a first time. Obviously, I find the intersection of humanities and technology fun to teach. That said, I felt that students were not introduced to many hands-on courses before mine, and it was rather challenging to get them in a lab environment for the first time, but I  *hope* it turned out well!

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

A: In too many diverse ways! Well… GIS methods and tools but also visualization tools. But of course also digital encoding and metadata science are key in what I do in terms of research. 

I am currently leading and/or involved in the following research projects: I am the PI of Periegesis (Funded by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Research Foundation 2018-21). What we do is we ascribe metadata to character strings using a platform for spatial analysis. I was a core member of the project Ancient Itineraries: The Digital Lives of Art History (Funded by the Getty Foundation 2018-9),I am currently leading and/or involved in the following research projects: I am the PI of Periegesis (Funded by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Research Foundation 2018-21). What we do is for this project is to ascribe spatial and heritage information to words. The platform we work with is called recogito, and is developed by Rainer Simon, Professor of IT in the Austrian Academy of Sciences. In so doing, we feed back into the platform.  I am further a core member of the project Ancient Itineraries: The Digital Lives of Art History (Funded by the Getty Foundation 2018-9).

For this international project, we run two institutes together with the Department of Digital Humanities in Kings College London, one in London and one at the Swedish Institute in Athens, in order to create language vocabularies (gazetteers) for art history artefacts on the move. Kings College Digital Humanities lab is building this platform as we speak, together with core members and institute participants. We are reporting back to the Getty Foundation on artefact ontologies that have a meaning in the digital age, with equality and diversity in mind but also tackling the complex issue of digital surrogates or looted antiquities. More anon! I

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

A: I think when we studied GIS and spatial analysis. The students to expand their knowledge with Daniel Löwenborg’s ´s next elective in the autumn: Introduction to GIS. I’d like to believe it was certainly fun for them to learn how to make 3D objects from pictures! I think they’ve enjoyed that! Their final presentations made me happy and overwhelmed. They were smart, professional and very much hands on! I am hoping some of them will publish versions of their excellent essays on this blog and our DH Uppsala blog

What is the central theoretical viewpoint or practical method that you want the students to take away from your course into their coming courses in the program?

A: My course was about implementing technology for history, art, heritage and the museum sector more generally. I want my students to engage hands on with technology but also think critically. Too much theory makes humanities. DH instead is about the application of methods and tools to real problem solving. I am hoping that these skills will enhance pupils employability and that they’ve learned a thing or two about how to use tech to organize, visualize and to sensory-render the past. 

To read more about the course, you can read the post about the workshop the students attended at Uppsala Museum of Evolution

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

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 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.

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.