Upcoming talks and travel

I’m concentrating on finishing my PhD until summer 2014, so I’m not giving many talks. In April 2014 I’m a keynote speaker at the 3rd international Sharing is Caring seminar,  in May I’m presenting something based on my PhD work for the IHR’s Digital History seminar series, in July I’m presenting “Lightweight usability testing for digital humanities projects (AKA, ‘testing doesn’t have to be taxing’)” in the Introduction to Digital Humanities strand of the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School 2014 then I’m in Lausanne to present ‘Play as Process and Product: On Making Serendip-o-matic’ at Digital Humanities 2014 with fellow alumni of 2013′s One Week One Tool. In August 2014 I’m teaching ‘Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage’ with Ben Brumfield at HILT (Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching) at MITH in Maryland.

My edited volume on ‘Crowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage’ for Ashgate, featuring chapters from some of the most amazing people working in the field will be published in October 2014. (I know I’m biased, but seriously.)

You can also follow me on twitter (@mia_out) for updates.

Some recent papers

(I’ve stopped updating this – did I mention I’m writing up my PhD? – but recent highlights include presenting at Speaking in Code at UVA’s Scholars’ Lab, organising the MCG’s Museums on the Web 2013 conference at Tate Modern with the Museums Computer Group, collaborating on ‘Let’s Get Real’ with Culture24, the publication of two peer-reviewed articles – From Tagging to Theorizing: Deepening Engagement with Cultural Heritage through Crowdsourcing for Curator Journal and Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design with Don Lafreniere and Scott Nesbit for the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, based on our work at the Summer 2012 NEH Advanced Institute on Spatial Narrative and Deep Maps: Explorations in the Spatial Humanities – and last but absolutely not least, creating Serendip-o-matic with 12 other wonderful digital scholars at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s One Week | One Tool institute.)

In November 2013 I presented at Sustainable History: Ensuring today’s digital history survives and at the Herrenhausen Digital Humanities conference.

In July 2013 I chaired a session on Digital Transformations at the Open Culture 2013 conference in London on July 2, gave an invited lightning talk at the Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School 2013, ran a half-day workshop on Crowdsourcing at the Digital Humanities 2013 conference in Nebraska, and had an amazing time making what turned out to be Serendip-o-matic at One Week, One Tool in Virginia (my posts on the process).

In May 2013 I gave an online seminar on crowdsourcing (with a focus on how it might be used in teaching undergraduates wider skills) for the NITLE Shared Academics series. I gave a short paper on ‘Digital participation and public engagement’ at the London Museums Group‘s ‘Museums and Social Media’ at Tate Britain on May 24, and was in Belfast for the Museums Computer Group’s Spring meeting, ‘Engaging Visitors Through Play‘ on May 30 and then Venice for a quick keynote (with Helen Weinstein) for the We Curate kick-off seminar at the start of June. I also gave another full-day workshop on Crowdsourcing at the British Library.

In April 2013 I gave a paper on my PhD research at Digital Impacts: Crowdsourcing in the Arts and Humanities, and a keynote on ‘A Brief History of Open Cultural Data’ at GLAM-WIKI 2013 and did another workshop on ‘Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research‘ for the British Library’s Digital Scholarship Training Programme.

In March 2013 I was in the US for THATCamp Feminisms to do a workshop on Data visualisation as a gateway to programming and gave a paper on ‘New Challenges in Digital History: Sharing Women’s History on Wikipedia‘ at ‘Women’s History in the Digital World‘ at Bryn Mawr.  My talk notes are posted on my blog as ‘New challenges in digital history: sharing women’s history on Wikipedia – my draft talk notes’.

In February 2013 I gave a keynote on ‘Crowd-sourcing as participation’ at iSay: Visitor-Generated Content in Heritage Institutions in Leicester and ran a workshop on ‘Data visualisation for humanities researchers’ with Dr. Elton Barker for the CHASE ‘Going Digital‘ doctoral training programme.

In January 2013 I taught all-day workshops on ‘Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research’ and ‘Crowdsourcing in Libraries, Museums and Cultural Heritage Institutions’ for the British Library’s Digital Scholarship Training Programme.

In November 2012 I chaired a session on ‘digital strategy’ at the Museums Association conference in Edinburgh and chaired the Museums Computer Group’s annual Museums on the Web conference at the Wellcome Collection on November 30.

In October I was in London for the Museum Ideas conference, Brighton for a Culture24 workshop on museums and web analytics then I headed off to Taiwan to give a keynote about open cultural data at the ‘eCulture & Open Cultural Data Forum’ then lead a day and a half of seminars.

In September I was in London for the AHRC Commodity Histories Project Networking Workshop 1, running a rather experimental session to come up with and verify the information architecture for the Commodity Histories site.

In July I was at Engaging digital audiences in museums, 11 July 2012, University of Manchester then in Hamburg for Digital Humanities 2012, where I ran a workshop on ‘Learning to play like a programmer: web mash-ups and scripting for beginners‘, chaired the ‘Methods’ session at another pre-conference workshop ‘Here and There, Then and Now – Modelling Space and Time in the Humanities‘ and presented a short paper, ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a historian: exploring resistance to crowdsourced resources among historians‘ based on some early results from my PhD research.

In June 2012 I spent a week as ‘Scholar-in-residence’ at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, then two weeks as a Fellow at the NEH Summer Institute on Deep Mapping and Spatial Narratives in Indianapolis.

In April I gave a Keynote: ‘From Strings to Things’ at the Victorian Cultural Network Capacity Building LOD-LAM workshop in Melbourne, and was invited to give talks in Wellington (Te Papa) and Auckland (Auckland Museum) on ‘What’s the point of a museum website?’ and ‘Inspiring connections with collections’.

In March 2012 I was in Australia for various things… I spent a week as geek-in-residence at the Powerhouse Museum, and I was in Canberra in late March for Digital Humanities Australasia 2012: Building, Mapping, Connecting to give a paper based on my PhD, called ‘Why look a gift horse in the mouth? Exploring resistance to crowdsourced resources among historians’.  I’ve posted summaries of the conference at Quick and dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 1, Quick and dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 2, Slow and still dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 3.

I was in Atlanta in November 2011 for MCN2011 (my ‘Hacking and mash-ups for beginners’ workshop is a highlight, woo!) and a panel discussion on ‘What’s the Point of a Museum Website?‘.   I also debated the question “There are too many museums” in the ‘Great Debate‘ for MCN’s closing plenary. Then it was back to London where I chaired a session at the MCG ‘Museums on the Web’ UKMW11 conference.

October 2011 – I was one of two keynotes at Europeana Tech in Vienna, with a paper titled ‘Open for engagement: GLAM audiences and digital participation’. The next day I was back in London for LODLAM-London October 6 (with the Open Knowledge Foundation). A few days later I was on a panel on the Digital Humanities at the Open University – my talk notes are at Notes on current issues in Digital Humanities. I was also interviewed for the Microtask crowdsourcing blog, ‘Games at the museum: Mia Ridge interview‘.

Previous papers are generally listed at miaridge.com or on my blog, Open Objects.

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Keynote ‘Enriching cultural heritage collections through a Participatory Commons’ at Sharing is Caring

Photo of glider plane against blue sky

Image: Library of Congress

I was invited to Copenhagen to talk about my research on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage at the 3rd international Sharing is Caring seminar on April 1. I’ve posted my notes on Open Objects: Enriching cultural heritage collections through a Participatory Commons platform: a provocation about collaborating with users.

Much of this comes from my PhD research and my previous work in museums, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s commented in person or on twitter so far, particularly as it helps me understand the best ways to explain the Participatory Commons and the research underlying it for different audiences.

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VALA 2014 Keynote: Open Objects: ‘Bringing maker culture to cultural organisations’

In February 2014 I was invited to Melbourne to give a keynote on ‘GLAM making’ at VALA2014 (VALA – Libraries, Technology and the Future). I’ve shared my slides and a storify of tweets from my session at Open Objects: ‘Bringing maker culture to cultural organisations’ at VALA 2014.

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Guest post: ‘Digital myth’ for Museums Association site

I was asked to comment on the recent report, Digital Culture: How arts and cultural organisations in England use technology for the Museums Association website. My post, Digital myth: Museums need to explode the myth they are technologically backward is live on their site now.

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‘Creating a Digital History Commons through crowdsourcing and participant digitisation’ at Herrenhausen DH Conference

I was awarded a travel grant to attend the Herrenhausen Conference: “(Digital) Humanities Revisited – Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age” in Hannover, Germany, over December 5-7, 2013. I’d like to thank the Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung) for funding travel for 37 early career scholars and for the opportunity to present there.

My lightning talk notes, further information and references for ‘Peer production models for academic and amateur historians: challenges and opportunities’ are below. Obviously the full reference list for my PhD would be huge so below I’ve selected items that relate specifically to my poster and talk. PDF of my poster on ‘Creating a Digital History Commons through crowdsourcing and participant digitisation’.

My lightning talk

I might as well start with a provocation: the best technology in the world won’t solve a single problem unless it’s accompanied by social solutions.

My poster outlines an approach for uniting collections from memory institutions (museums, libraries, archives) and ‘shoebox’ archives from the public into a shared Commons. Items in this Commons could be enhanced by combining crowdsourcing with the work historians do on their personal research collections of documents. In the tradition of ‘history from below’, my goal is to make material about ordinary people available alongside official archives – if you’ll excuse the pun, it could be a form of ‘open source history’.

In this talk I want to address the challenges rather than the opportunities because successful scholarly technology projects are as much about change management as they are about code.

A lot of my PhD research has investigated crowdsourcing in cultural heritage because I’m interested in attributes like interaction and microtask design that make crowdsourcing immensely more productive than other forms of user-generated content. Can you combine the energy of crowdsourcing with the knowledge historians create while doing their work? There’s no point setting up a Commons if the content can’t be used by historians so what challenges around authority, reliability, trust, academic credit and authorship need to be addressed?

Trust between historians is usually negotiated over a series of personal encounters. Historians will share data, but they do so in ways that let them maintain control of their material, and in specific contexts -  usually personal exchanges with someone who’s either distant enough not to be a competitor (for academics), not going to misuse the material (for family historians), or is trusted not to rip off material. Information is often shared progressively, and getting access to more information depends on your behaviour after the initial exchange – for people used to this, dumping stuff onto a website would be quite challenging.

Historians already have methods for assessing reliability, so it’s a matter of understanding and supporting them in digital interfaces. Unverified material is winnowed out before publication, even if it provides useful background context. No historian I interviewed would admit to using a source where they hadn’t seen an image of the original document, so a Commons would always need to include images.

Inexperienced or untrained historians don’t yet have the same tacit knowledge about the normal range of data represented by sources and might not think to look for silences and omissions, so representing other historians’ judgement about sources might be useful.

It appears that reliability is not vested in the identity of the digitiser but in the source itself. Content found on online sites is tested against a set of finely-tuned ideas about the normal range of documents rather than the authority of the poster. So for participatory Commons, authority matters less than I’d expected – obviously it’s different for scholarly publications.

Authorship and academic credit for collaborative resources are tricky. Putting materials into context is often an interpretive process, but at what point does it become an authorial act? And how should credit be assigned for these acts? (Particularly at a time when scholars are still fighting to have digital projects recognised alongside traditional publications.)

Most academic historians are wary about sharing data from current research projects. One solution might be social change that normalises sharing data collected for major publications when that publication is launched. Another solution might be to disregard academic credit and focus on the benefit the historian receives after sharing their data collections – they can get help cataloguing and digitising their research collections through crowdsourced tagging and transcription.

In addition to the usual questions about the circumstances through which a historic document came to survive, there’s an invisible context behind any item that ends up in a digital Commons from an unofficial source like a personal research collection or shoebox archive. Information about who collected or digitised the content and why; what wasn’t digitised, transcribed, or noted; not just what percentage of the whole was collected but what shaped the collection; points where information might have been partially, incorrectly or just hurriedly transcribed… The shape of the shadow archive that did not survive or was not digitised should also be represented in such a Commons. As digital humanists apply more methods from ‘big data’ it’s particularly important to problematise the visual representations of official collections by hinting at the absences in the archive.

Finally, a plea to archives, libraries and museums – if you haven’t digitised everything in your archive yet, then please let people take photos of documents!

Creative Commons License
‘Creating a Digital History Commons through crowdsourcing and participant digitisation’ by Mia Ridge is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.miaridge.com/herrenhausen/.


This paper was based on my PhD research and various publications. If you’re curious about projects that are putting parts of this into practice, start with the Imperial War Museum’s Appeal for war stories to create biggest ever digital history archive, public contributions to Trove Australia and the UK National Archives’ Capturing Academic Expertise: How and Why?.

And what problem does this all solve? As Tim Hitchcock said when discussing digital history, ‘Until we get around to including the non-canonical, the non-Western, the non-textual and the non-elite, we are unlikely to be very surprised’.

Image credits for my poster:

Selected references

Anderson, Sheila, Tobias Blanke, and Stuart Dunn. “Methodological Commons: Arts and Humanities E-Science Fundamentals.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 368, no. 1925 (July 18, 2010): 3779–3796. doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0156.

Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Collins, Audrey. “‘…that You Are a Friendless Poore Child.’” The National Archives Blog, December 2, 2013. http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/friendless-poore-child/.

Evans, Max J. “Archives of the People, by the People, for the People.” American Archivist 70, no. 2 (2007): 387–400.

Huvila, Isto. “Participatory Archive: Towards Decentralised Curation, Radical User Orientation, and Broader Contextualisation of Records Management.” Archival Science 8, no. 1 (September 2008): 15–36. doi:10.1007/s10502-008-9071-0.

Rutner, Jennifer, and Roger C Schonfeld. Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians. Ithaka S+R, December 7, 2012. http://www.sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/supporting-changing-research-practices-historians.

University of Minnesota Libraries, Andrew W. A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Academic Support: A Final Report, June 2006. http://purl.umn.edu/5540.

‘Abstract of the project you want to present’ (from my application)

Historians have happily adopted some digital research tools – for example, using online catalogue to find and view digital images of documents or trying out the names of historical figures they’re researching in Google to see what it can find – but are they missing the full potential of new methodological approaches? Researchers often repeat the same tasks on historical materials – for example, recording information about a document from the archives and transcribing sections of the text – but the results sit in private databases and folders rather than becoming a resource for the next researcher interested in the same material. Could open source and peer production methods provide models for ‘participant digitisation’, creating wider benefits from the activities that historians are already undertaking for their own purposes? How might this disrupt current notions of authority, reliability, trust, academic credit and authorship?

This project is part of my final year PhD research and the results presented would be based my latest findings from my in-depth interviews with academic and ‘amateur’ family or local historians, and contextualised through current literature on crowdsourcing, online collaboration, peer production, archival research practices and digital content lifecycles.

‘What specific value does your project add to the digital humanities framework?’ (from my application)

My project is motivated by a vision of scholarly collaboration (or ‘peer production’) as a method for creating repositories of historical documents for use by both academic and ‘amateur’ researchers. Humanities crowdsourcing projects are generally open to participants who are judged on the quality of their work, not their qualifications, and the productivity of those projects is seen as a solution to the digitisation backlog – but are the resources created usable by historians? Understanding how people assess the quality of resources and potential barriers to their decision to contribute to and use such repositories is vital if they are to be widely used. More broadly, my PhD aims to understand the impact of digitality on humanities scholarship by comparing the practices and attitudes of academic and ‘amateur’ family or local historians regarding the evaluating, using and contributing to scholarly crowdsourcing.

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Talk: ‘Sustaining Collaboration from Afar’

Presentation on CHNM’s One Week One Tool project, Serendip-o-matic, at ‘Sustainable History: Ensuring today’s digital history survives’, Senate House, London, 28 November 2013.

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Workshop: Data Visualizations as an Introduction to Computational Thinking

I gave a half-day pre-conference workshop on ‘Data Visualizations as an Introduction to Computational Thinking’ for the University of Manchester.

From the event blurb:

Digital Humanities (DH) has grown rapidly in importance in recent years, as interest turns away from technology as an instrumental tool simply for resource discovery and access and towards the need to identify and solve new research challenges for the humanities. As one of the largest concentrations of humanities scholars in the UK, surrounded in turn by the enviable breadth of expertise provided by the University’s technologists and librarians, the University could be a fertile ground for Digital Humanities research.

On 7 November 2013, the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures will be hosting an afternoon workshop for University academics and post-graduates; the event is aimed at exploring the skills and literacies researchers might need as potential digital humanists. This informal, hands on event will provide an opportunity for academics, post-grads to start to ‘think like a programmer’ and learn some computational thinking. Participants will be introduced to new methodologies and tools, including those for manipulating and analysing data using visualization tools. No technological expertise in these areas, only a laptop, curiosity and a willingness to experiment.

Goals of session

  • Provide opportunity for academics, post-grads to start to ‘think like a programmer’ and learn some computational thinking
  • Learn and put into practice some skills for accessing, manipulating and analysing data using visualisation tools
  • Introduce new methodologies and tools
  • Demystify tools, think critically about what’s happening ‘under the hood’, understand the impact of tool choice and data structures
  • Enable dialogue with technologists about project design and tool choice
  • Think about the skills, literacies Digital Humanists need
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Seminar paper: ‘Messy understandings in code’

I was invited to present at Speaking in Code, an NEH-funded symposium and summit to ‘give voice to what is almost always tacitly expressed in our work: expert knowledge about the intellectual and interpretive dimensions of DH code-craft, and unspoken understandings about the relation of that work to ethics, scholarly method, and humanities theory’. I’ve been writing about this for a while, so this event was both personally and professional important.

From my opening slide:

‘There’s a fundamental tension between available tools and cultural heritage data: we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Do you craft the tools to the data or the data to the tool?

So what do you do with square pegs and round holes? You can chop off the interesting edges to fit something into a round hole, you can reduce the size of the entire peg so it’ll slip through, or you can make a new bespoke hole that’ll fit your peg. But then how do we make the choices we’ve made obvious to people who encounter the data we’ve squeezed through various holes? It’s particularly important if people are using these collections in scholarly work to make the flattenings, exclusions that shape a dataset visible.

The choices you make will depend on your resources and skills, the audience for and the purpose of the final product… Will look at some examples of visualisations for exploring collections where I had to tidy the mess to make them work, and an example of designing software to cope with the messy reality it was trying to reflect.

I want to set the scene with my own experiences with cultural heritage data, but am curious to hear about your own experiences with messy data in your respective fields, and the solutions you’ve explored for dealing with it and conveying your decisions.’

Messy Understandings Speaking in Code (PDF)

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Article ‘Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design’

Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design with Don Lafreniere and Scott Nesbit for the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, based on our work at the Summer 2012 NEH Advanced Institute on Spatial Narrative and Deep Maps: Explorations in the Spatial Humanities.

Ridge, Mia; Lafreniere, Don and Nesbit, Scott (2013). Creating deep maps and spatial narratives through design. International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 7(1-2) pp. 176–189.

Abstract: An interdisciplinary team of researchers were challenged to create a model of a deep map during a three-day charette at the NEH Institute on Spatial Narratives and Deep Maps. Through a reflexive process of ingesting data, probing for fruitful research questions, and considering how a deep map might be used by different audiences, we created a wireframe model of a deep map and explored how it related to spatial narratives. We explored the tension between interfaces for exploratory and structured views of data and sources, and devised a model for the intersections between spatial narratives and deep maps. The process of creating wireframes and prototype screens—and more importantly, the discussions and debates they initiated—helped us understand the complex requirements for deep maps and showed how a deep map can support a humanistic interpretation of the role of space in historical processes.

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Article: ‘From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing’

Peer-reviewed article ‘From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing’ published in Curator journal

Ridge, Mia (2013). From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing. Curator: The Museum Journal, 56(4) pp. 435–450.

Proof copy available at http://oro.open.ac.uk/39117/.

Abstract: Crowdsourcing, or “obtaining information or services by soliciting input from a large number of people,” is becoming known for the impressive productivity of projects that ask the public to help transcribe, describe, locate, or categorize cultural heritage resources. This essay argues that crowdsourcing projects can also be a powerful platform for audience engagement with museums, offering truly deep and valuable connection with cultural heritage through online collaboration around shared goals or resources. It includes examples of well-designed crowdsourcing projects that provide platforms for deepening involvement with citizen history and citizen science; useful definitions of “engagement”; and evidence for why some activities help audiences interact with heritage and scientific material. It discusses projects with committed participants and considers the role of communities of participants in engaging participants more deeply.

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Guest post ‘Tips for digital participation, engagement and crowdsourcing in museums’ for London Museums Group

I was asked to share some of the lessons I’ve learnt from building digital participation projects in museums and from my research on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage for the London Museums Group blog following my talk at their “Museums and Social Media” event on 24 May at Tate Britain.

They’ve now been published at ‘Tips for digital participation, engagement and crowdsourcing in museums | by Mia Ridge‘.

To pinch from my headings, I discuss the advantages of digital engagement; challenges for museums | new relationships, new authorities, dissolving boundaries; 6 tips for designing digital participation experiences in museums; 2 bonus tips for designing crowdsourcing projects in museums.

There are other event reports at A round up of the LMG Museums and Social Media Event.

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