Card-sorting activity at the Commodity Histories workshop

The AHRC-funded Commodity Histories project aims to produce a ‘website that will function as a collaborative space for scholars engaged in commodities-related research’.  The project organised a workshop, ‘Designing a collaborative research web space: aims, plans and challenges of the Commodity Histories project‘ in London on 6-7 September 2012.

As part of opening session on the ‘aims, plans and challenges of the Commodity Histories project and website’ I led a card-sorting exercise aimed at finding out how potential scholars in the community of commodity historians would expect to find and interact with content and other scholars in the network.  We prepared print-outs of sample content in advance and asked participants to sort them into groups and then label them.  At the end of the workshop I presented the different headings the groups had come up with and discussed the different ways they’d organised the material.

While some work had been done on the site structure previously, the process was useful for understanding some of the expectations people had about the functionality and sociability of the site as well as checking how they’d expect the site to be organised.  Various other presentations and discussion during the workshop reinforced the idea that the key task of the site is to enable contributors to add content easily and often, and tempered our expectations about how much scholarly networking would be visible as conversations on the site.

has written up some of the workshop at The Boundaries of Commodities.

Paper: ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a historian: exploring resistance to crowdsourced resources among historians’ at DH2012

I presented a short paper ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a historian: exploring resistance to crowdsourced resources among historians’  (abstract, video) at Digital Humanities 2012 in Hamburg, Germany.

I’ve posted a version of my research as it was at that stage as a post on Open Objects: Early PhD findings: Exploring historians’ resistance to crowdsourced resources.

My abstract (written a long time previously) is below:

Crowdsourcing, the act of taking work once performed within an organisation and outsourcing it to the general public in an open call (Howe 2006), is increasingly popular in memory institutions as a tool for digitising or computing vast amounts of data, as projects such as Galaxy Zoo and Old Weather (Romeo & Blaser 2011), Transcribe Bentham (Terras 2010) and the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program (Holley 2010) have shown. However, the very openness that allows large numbers of experts and amateurs to participate in the process of building crowdsourced resources also raises issues of authority, reliability and trust in those resources. Can we rely on content created by pseudonymous peers or members of the public? And why do academics often feel that they can’t? This paper explores some of the causes and forms of resistance to creating and using crowdsourced resources among historians.

‘Participant digitisation’ is a specialised form of crowdsourcing in which the digital records and knowledge generated when researchers access primary materials are captured at the point of creation and potentially made available for future re-use. Through interviews with academic and family/local historians, this paper examines the following: the commonalities and differences in how these two groups assess the provenance, reliability and probable accuracy of digital resources; how crowdsourcing tools might support their working practices with historical materials; the motivations of historians for sharing their transcriptions and images in a public repository; the barriers that would prevent them from participating in a project that required them to share their personally-digitised archives; and the circumstances under which they would selectively restrict content sharing. From this preliminary investigation, the paper will go on to consider implications for the creation of digital humanities resources for academic and amateur users.


Holley, R. (2010). Crowdsourcing: How and Why Should Libraries Do It? D-Lib Magazine 16(3/4).

Howe, J. (2006). The Rise of Crowdsourcing. Wired 14.06. [Online] Available from:

Romeo, F., and L. Blaser (2011). Bringing Citizen Scientists and Historians Together. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds), Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics.

Terras, M. (2010). Digital curiosities: resource creation via amateur digitization. Literary and Linguistic Computing 25(4), 425-438.

Second NeDiMAH workshop on Space and Time in the Digital Humanities: “Here and There, Then and Now – Modelling Space and Time in the Humanities”

While in Hamburg for Digital Humanities 2012, I chaired a session on ‘Methods’ and subsequently co-authored a report, “Here and There, Then and Now – Modelling Space and Time in the Humanities” (PDF) for the European Science Foundation (with Leif Isaksen, Shawn Day, and Ryan Shaw) for the Second NeDiMAH workshop on Space and Time in the Digital Humanities: “Here and There, Then and Now – Modelling Space and Time in the Humanities“.

From the workshop abstract:

Spatio-temporal concepts are so ubiquitous that it is easy for us to forget that they are essential to everything we do. All expressions of Human culture are related to the dimensions of space and time in the manner of their production and consumption, the nature of their medium and the way in which they express these concepts themselves. This workshop seeks to identify innovative practices among the Digital Humanities community that explore, critique and re-present the spatial and temporal aspects of culture.

Although space and time are closely related, there are significant differences between them which may be exploited when theorizing and researching the Humanities. Among these are the different natures of their dimensionality (three dimensions vs. one), the seemingly static nature of space but enforced ‘flow’ of time, and the different methods we use to make the communicative leap across spatial and temporal distance. Every medium, whether textual, tactile, illustrative or audible (or some combination of them), exploits space and time differently in order to convey its message. The changes required to express the same concepts in different media (between written and performed music, for example), are often driven by different spatio-temporal requirements. Last of all, the impossibility (and perhaps undesirability) of fully representing a four-dimensional reality (whether real or fictional) mean that authors and artists must decide how to collapse this reality into the spatio-temporal limitations of a chosen medium. The nature of those choices can be as interesting as the expression itself.

This workshop allows those working with digital tools and techniques that manage, analyse and exploit spatial and temporal concepts in the Humanities to present a position paper for the purposes of wider discussion and debate. The position papers will discuss generalized themes related to use of spatio-temporal methods in the Digital Humanities with specific reference to one or more concrete applications or examples. Accepted papers have been divided into three themed sessions: Tools, Methods and Theory. This workshop is part of the ESF-funded NEDIMAH Network and organised by its Working Group on Space and Time. The group will also present its findings from the First NeDiMAH Workshop on Space and Time.

Links and slides for ‘Learning to play like a programmer: Web mash-ups and scripting for beginners’

Workshop abstract: Learning to play like a programmer: web mash-ups and scripting for beginners.

Slides (pdf): Play Like A Programmer workshop DH2012

Links for the Digital Humanities pre-conference workshop ‘Learning to play like a programmer: Web mash-ups and scripting for beginners’

My contact details

Twitter: @mia_out, blog, homepage

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