Workshop: Data visualisation for 'Beyond the Black Box'

Beyond the Black Box is a programme of advanced digital humanities workshops at the University of Edinburgh, designed to foster statistical, algorithmic and quantitative literacy. It is directed by Anouk Lang, administered by Robyn Pritzker and funded by a grant from the British Academy.

I was invited to give a workshop on Data Visualisation. My slides are below, and my exercises are collected in a Google Doc for easier access to links.

I developed a new exercise for this and the CHASE workshop, and have blogged about it at Trying computational data generation and entity extraction.

Discussing positive and negative traits of interactive scholarly visualisations.

Workshop: Information Visualisation, CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age 2017

I ran a full-day workshop on Information Visualisation for the CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age training programme at Birkbeck, London, in February 2017. The abstract:

Visualising data to understand it or convince others of an argument contained within it has a long history. Advances in computer technology have revolutionised the process of data visualization, enabling scholars to ask increasingly complex research questions by analysing large scale datasets with freely available tools.

This workshop will give you an overview of a variety of techniques and tools available for data visualisation and analysis in the arts and humanities. The workshop is designed to help participants plan visualisations by discussing data formats used for the building blocks of visualisation, such as charts, maps, and timelines. It includes discussion of best practice in visual design for data visualisations and practical, hands-on activities in which attendees learn how to use online tools such as Viewshare to create visualisations.

At the end of this course, attendees will be able to:

  • Create a simple data visualisation
  • Critique visualisations in terms of choice of visualisation type and tool, suitability for their audience and goals, and other aspects of design
  • Recognise and discuss how data sets and visualisation techniques can aid researchers

Please remember to bring your laptop.


Exercises for CHASE's ADHA 2017 Introduction to Information Visualisation

  • Exercise 1: comparing n-gram tools
  • Exercise 2: Try entity extraction
  • Exercise 3: exploring scholarly data visualisations
  • Viewshare Exercise 1: Ten minute tutorial – getting started
  • Viewshare Exercise 2: Create new views and widgets

Chapter: 'The contributions of family and local historians to British history online'

Participatory Heritage, edited by Henriette Roued-Cunliffe and Andrea Copeland, has just been published by Facet.

A pre-print is online at

My chapter is 'The contributions of family and local historians to British history online'. My abstract:

Community history projects across Britain have collected and created images, indexes and transcriptions of historical documents ranging from newspaper articles and photographs, to wills and biographical records. Based on analysis of community- and institutionally-led participatory history sites, and interviews with family and local historians, this chapter discusses common models for projects in which community historians cooperated to create digital resources. For decades, family and local historians have organised or contributed to projects to collect, digitise and publish historical sources about British history. What drives amateur historians to voluntarily spend their time digitising cultural heritage? How do they cooperatively or collaboratively create resources? And what challenges do they face?

My opening page:

IN 1987, THE Family History Department of the Church of the Latter Day Saints began a project with the British Genealogical Records Users Committee to transcribe and index the 1881 British census. Some community history societies were already creating indexes for the 1851 census, so they were well placed to take on another census project. Several tons of photocopies were distributed to almost 100 family history societies for double transcription and checking; later, a multi-million-dollar mainframe computer created indexes from the results (Young, 1996, 1998a; Tice, 1990). This ‘co-operative indexing’ took eight years – the process of assigning parts for transcription alone occupied 43 months – and while the project was very well received, in 1998 it was concluded that ‘a national project of this scope has proved too labour intensive, time consuming and expensive’ to be repeated (Young, 1998b). However, many years later, the US 1940 census was indexed in just four months by over 160,000 volunteers (1940 US Census Community Project, 2012), and co-operative historical projects flourish.

This example illustrates the long history of co-operative transcription and indexing projects, the significant contribution they made to the work of other historians and the vital role of community history organizations and volunteers in participatory heritage projects. The difference between the reach and efficiency of projects initiated in the 1980s and the 2010s also highlights the role of networked technologies in enabling wider participation in cooperative digitization projects. This chapter examines the important contributions of community historians to participatory heritage, discussing how family and local historians have voluntarily organized or contributed to projects to collect, digitize and publish historical sources about British history. This insight into grassroots projects may be useful for staff in cultural heritage institutions who encounter or seek to work with community historians.

The questions addressed in this chapter are drawn from research which sought to understand the impact of participatory digital history projects on users. This research involved reviewing a corpus of over 400 digital history projects, analysing those that aimed to collect, create or enhance records about historical materials. The corpus included both community- and institutionally led participatory history sites. Points of analysis included ‘microcopy’ (small pieces of text such as slogans, instructions and navigation) and the visible affordances, or website interface features, that encourage, allow or disable various participatory functions.


Mia Ridge is a Digital Curator in the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team. She has a PhD in digital humanities (2015, Department of History, Open University) entitled Making Digital History: the impact of digitality on public participation and scholarly practices in historical research. Previously, she conducted human-computer interaction-based research on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage.


2016: an overview

This page is a work in progress…

In December I gave a talk for the Association for Project Management’s Knowledge Management SIG event on ‘What does big data mean for project and knowledge managers?’.

In November 2016 I was in Riga, Latvia to give the closing keynote at the Europeana Network Association AGM 2016. In October I spoke at 'What should be in your digital toolbox', gave a keynote, 'Digital history: evolution or transformation?' at The Science of Evolution and the Evolution of the Sciences conference in Leuven, Belgium around October 12th and 13th, 2016 and at Internet Librarian International then chaired the Museums Computer Group's Museums+Tech conference. In August I was in York for 'Negotiating Expertise' and in Helsinki for Museum Theme Days 2016 in September.

In June 2016 I was in Luxembourg for a workshop on Network Visualisation in the Cultural Heritage Sector. My talk notes for Network visualisations and the ‘so what?’ problem are online. I also keynoted at LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche – Association of European Research Libraries) in Helsinki. My slides are online but may not make much sense without notes.

In March 2016 I was at Rice University in Houston then Austin (at the iSchool in UT Austin then St Edwards), then I was on a panel on 'Build the Crowdsourcing Community of Your Dreams' at SXSWi 2016 with Ben Brumfield, Meghan Ferriter and Siobhan Leachman.

In January 2016 I was back in Oxford for a workshop on 'DIY Digitisation' at the Bodleian Libraries.