Conference paper: Play as Process and Product: On Making Serendip-o-matic

The abstract for our Digital Humanities 2014 conference paper is below. Scott’s posted his notes from the first part, my notes for the middle part How did ‘play’ shape the design and experience of creating Serendip-o-matic? are on Open Objects and Brian’s are to follow.

Play as Process and Product: On Making Serendip-o-matic

Amy Papaelias, State University of New York at New Paltz

Brian Croxall, Emory University

Mia Ridge, The Open University

Scott Kleinman, California State University, Northridge


Who says scholarship can’t be playful? Serendip-o-matic is a “serendipity Feeding the machine animated gifengine” that was created in less than a week by twelve digital humanities scholars, developers, and librarians. Designed to replicate the surprising experience of discovering an unexpected source while browsing library stacks or working in an archive, the visual and algorithmic design of Serendip-o-matic emphasizes playfulness. And since the tool was built by a group of people who were embarking on a difficult task but weren’t yet sure of one another’s names, the process of building Serendip-o-matic was also rather playful, encouraging participants to take risks, make mistakes, and learn something new. In this presentation, we report on how play shaped the creation, design, and marketing of Serendip-o-matic. We conclude by arguing for the benefits of more playful work in academic research and scholarship, as well as considering how such “play” can be evaluated in an academic context.


Continue reading Conference paper: Play as Process and Product: On Making Serendip-o-matic

CENDARI Visiting Research Fellowship: ‘Bridging collections with a participatory Commons: a pilot with World War One archives’

I’ve been awarded a CENDARI Visiting Research Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin for a project called ‘Bridging collections with a participatory Commons: a pilot with World War One archives’. Here’s Trinity’s page about my Fellowship, which runs until mid-December. I’ve decided to be brave and share my thoughts and actions throughout the process, so I thought I’d start as I mean to go on and post my proposal (1500 words, below). CENDARI is a ‘research infrastructure project aimed at integrating digital archives for the medieval and World War One eras’ which ‘aims to leverage innovative technologies to provide historians with the tools by which to contextualise, customise and share their research’ (source) so this research fellowship very neatly complements my PhD research.

You can contact me by leaving a comment below, or via my contact page. If you’d like to follow my progress, you can sign up for (very infrequent) updates at MailChimp: or keep an eye out for posts tagged ‘CENDARI Fellowship’ on my blog, Open Objects.

Updates so far:

Continue reading CENDARI Visiting Research Fellowship: ‘Bridging collections with a participatory Commons: a pilot with World War One archives’

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.

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.

2013: an overview

A seriously incomplete retrospective of what I got up to in 2013… For PhD updates, check my PhD.

Highlights of the second half of 2013 included 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.

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

screenshot of poster
Creating a Digital History Commons through
crowdsourcing and participant digitisation

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

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

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)