Friday, 29 August 2014

Storify and its research potential

By Beth Driscoll

I research literary culture on twitter, and one of the challenges I face is describing the shape of these conversations to a general audience: twitter can seem like a disorienting, fast-flowing river for those who do not use it frequently. I decided to try using Storify, and chose as a case study the live twitter stream that accompanied a session with author Gerald Murnane at the Melbourne Writers Festival on August 22nd, 2014. I was in the audience too and couldn't help tweeting some of his great one-liners!

What I liked about Storify was that it allowed me to group tweets, show the flow of mini conversations, highlight the participation of those who weren't there physically, and add supplementary notes e.g. where I noticed a disjuncture between what happened physically at the session and how it was reported on twitter. 

So this is a first go by me at this visualisation tool:

After creating this Storify and posting it using my twitter account, I was pleased to see it re-tweeted and favourited a few times, suggesting this methodology has potential for the dissemination of research in an accessible format. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

THATCamp Melbourne, Pedagogy | 10-11th October 2014

by Amanda Malel Trevisanut

THATCamp, Melbourne, 2014, will be held at the University of Melbourne on the 10-11 October, 2014. The event is free and proudly sponsored by the Digital Humanities Research Incubator.

For those of you unfamiliar with THATCamp, it stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp,” and is conceived as an informal, hands-on conference at which attendees shape the program. THATCamp is all about participation, discussion, and fun through fostering a productive, collegial environment. The program for THATCamp is created and managed by participants on the day who vote on the sessions proposed.

The core theme for THATCamp Melbourne is pedagogy, although any aspect of digital humanities work is welcome. In preparation for the event we ask you to start thinking about some potential topics to workshop on the day.

To get the ball rolling, here are some suggestions: ‘blended learning’ in humanities teaching,  spaces for learning with technology, the creation, access and critical use of digital resources in teaching; grading and assessment through learning management systems,  social media in the humanities, for instance sentiment analysis, visualisation of historical phenomena, or MOOCs in the DH.

To register follow the link:

We look forward to your proposals

Kind Regards
Amanda, Craig and Fiona

Friday, 8 August 2014

National Cinema Archives: Some ethical and political impediments to preservation and access

By Amanda Malel Trevisanut

Last week I discussed the shifting role of the national film archive in the age of the internet, as discussed within the context of the History, Cinemaand Digital Archives Slow Conference, hosted by the ANU Humanities Research Centre and the National Film and Sound Archives (NFSA) in Canberra this July. Another key issue that emerged within the conference was the ability of archivists to clearly re-imagine their civic and heritage role, given a the broad range of political, legal, ethical and technical contingencies.

Bronwyn Dowdall of the NFSA offered an insight into the idiosyncrasies of copyright law, and the types of challenges presented by the outdated exceptions and exclusions contained therein. For instance, the ability to ascertain copyright and provide access is often stalled because the chain of title is not intact. Another issue is amendments to law; prior to 1969 there was no provision for cinematographic film, and as such, films made before this time remain covered by two separate systems, either as dramatic works or as a series of photos. NFSA cannot make copies unless the work has been lost, stolen or damaged (yes, you read correctly), and moreover, of the 3 copies it can make under the preservation exceptions, it can only record a single flat copy when optimum preservation strategies require at least thirty copies.

The numerous technical considerations illuminated by RayEdmondson (Principal of Archive Associates Pty Ltd) include the multitude of different film stocks used over the last century and a half to record, duplicate and preserve content. Each of these has their own aesthetic and material characteristics, which raise significant questions about the status of the original within the context of the archive. Should a film be restored to its original glory, and can this even be achieved when different film stocks and mediums behave so differently? Does the preservation and cultural heritage extend to the preservation of some forms of decay (scratches and fading for instance), which provide evidence of a particular film’s cultural and physical journey over time? And if so, which forms of degradation are valued and how is this decided?

An interesting response to this question was offered by media artist Grayson Cooke (Southern Cross University), who invited attendees to linger over his "after image", a visual performances of negatives being chemically and physically destroyed, revealing how cultural processes of memory and forgetting are conveyed by the materiality of the celluloid as much as it is by the content that it is used to transmit. (Check out his work via his youtube channel and his civilizedmachine website).

On the second night of the conference, attendees were prompted to consider their personal (and intellectual) aesthetic preferences regarding preservation and restoration in the form of a magic lantern show. First, the show emulated the experiences of nineteenth and early twentieth century audiences via the presentation of the magic lantern show in its original format, accompanied by a live musical performance (special thanks to Martyn Jolly, Kate Bowan and Peter Tregear for their amazing performance). The same show was then projected using vibrant digitalised versions of the slides, accompanied by a digitalised recording of the aural performance dating from the early twentieth century. That consensus regarding the preferential format remained elusive only served to underline the ephemerality of “the original,” as both concept and material object.

Beyond digitalisation of analogue formats, the conference also showcased some of the digital tools being developed by and for humanities researchers, and which re-imagine the form and function of the archive.

Tim Hitchcock began by demonstrating how uncritical use of (very pretty) visualisation and topic modelling tools risk re-instituting an exclusive canon of valued works, and also risks underwriting lazy scholarship. This was complemented with some compelling presentations that demonstrated current scholarly attempts to overcome the apparent limitations of computational methods for conducting and presenting analysis.

Eric Hoyt (University of Wisconsin-Madison) provided an overview of Lantern (you can view the talk here), a searchable archive of digitalised cinema trade magazines which he has created with colleagues. The tool not only provides access to important primary resources, but also uses topic modelling and visualisation strategies to communicate which trade magazines have been most utilised by researchers, thereby opening new opportunities for scholars to conduct research that contests the cinematic canon.

Deb Verhoeven (Deakin University) treated attendees to a tour of her digital portfolio, which evidences innovative development of collaborative learning research environments. The virtual lab called Humanities NetworkedInfrastructure (HuNI) project was particularly compelling, and promises researchers new collaborative spaces for building and growing networks across disciplines, and for building and sharing research resources.

HuNI and LANTERN are of course, only two film resources indicating how the form and function of (digital) archives will be re-imagined into the future. For an overview of conference proceedings, and the thoughts of other attendees, you can search the twitter stream using the hashtag #cadh

Amanda Malel Trevisanut is an early career researcher with the School of Culture and Communication at The University of Melbourne. She currently works as a research assistant to the Digital Humanities Research Incubator, is a co-convener for THATCamp Pedagogy (Melbourne, Oct 10-11th, 2014). She has recently completed her PhD SBS Independent: Productive Diversity and Counter-Memory.

Friday, 1 August 2014

What is the role of the national archive in the digital age?

By Amanda Malel Trevisanut

What is the role of the national archive in the digital age? This was a key problematic addressed by attendees at the History, Cinema and Digital Archives Slow Conference, convened by Jill Matthews, and supported by the ANU Humanities Research Centre and the National Film and Sound Archives (NFSA).

Archivists, especially those working within national and sub-national institutions, are increasingly burdened by the cheap and convenient availability of archival material on Youtube and other such platforms. It is, ostensibly, difficult to justify the public expenditure on maintaining film, television and sound repositories within this digital context. A number of proposals were outlined for how archival institutions might adapt to this new digital environment, the most forceful amongst these was the call for a shift towards a user-centred approach.

Ian Christie (Birbeck College, London) made the case that as explicitly State-funded institutions, film archives need to appeal to the nationalist project that underwrote their establishment in the first instance. For example, archivists can curate exhibitions showcasing the unsung cultural heritage preserved within their walls, such as the BFI’s recent restoration and touring of the Hitchcock 9. Another suggestion was making archival material accessible to documentarians, and facilitate the creation of new content of national significance, in the tradition of the 1973 documentary series The World at War. As Christie rightly indicated however, while high profile events such as restoration projects have an unparalleled ability to attract renewed State investment, these processes are often time consuming and prohibitively expensive. As such they cannot singly resolve financial woes insofar as the finance that they attract is absorbed by a given project, and this diverts money and attention from the core activities of archival institutions (that is, to preserve and provide access to films which they archive).

For Thomas Christensen, curator at the Danish Film Institute (DFI), platforms like Flickr need not undermine the role of archivist, but rather, they provide new opportunities for such national institutions to facilitate public access to cultural heritage. For instance, when Christensen receives requests for certain films, he takes the opportunity to digitalise and post those films to Flickr as a means of providing access to said films (providing of course, that they are orphaned films and films not otherwise covered by copyright).

While copyright is in Australia is somewhat trickier than in Denmark, NFSA CEO Michael Loebenstein similarly holds that institutions must adapt their role to accommodate the needs and expectations of the public. Specifically, Loebenstein is an advocate of utilising crowdsourcing model to not only facilitate public access to the collections, but also collaborate with the citizens to film the significant gaps in knowledge regarding the NFSA’a holdings. The potential of this approach to resolve some of the issues encountered by the NFSA was reinforced in the course of Bronwyn Dowdall’s insightful presentation. Whilst elucidating copyright restrictions on content produced before the Copyright Act of 1968, a conference attendee used the Shazzam app to name a musical track that had here-fore-to mystified staff of the NFSA and which undermined its attempts to secure permission from rights holders to make the film publicly available.

Crowdsourcing aspirations are promising solution to access, however in the short-term, appears to conflict with copyright legislation. The challenges of providing access dovetails with another recurrent conference theme raised by Victoria Duckett, regarding the frustration of many researchers at not being able to access the archives onsite or remotely, or indeed, to use their expertise to help the NFSA resolve some of the mysteries associated with its archival collections.

The other essential function performed by archivists is of course, the preservation of cultural heritage. While digitalisation holds new opportunities to provide access, it is not the solution to the significant impediments to preservation. The future accessibility of digitalised and born digital content is contingent on strategies for overcoming technological obsolescence, and the appropriate level of finance to ensure the constant migration of content as digital technology evolves. This is in addition to building storage facilities (which assumes a significant material presence). Thus it is important that archives also continue to employ a variety of preservation strategies. Under the right conditions film is an extraordinarily durable medium, and can be preserved for a significant length of time. For instance, using the cold storage system developed by the DFI and adopted by the BFI, film can last in excess of 2500 years (at minus five degrees Celsius). This however, again returns many institutions to the issue of inadequate finance.

Keep an eye out for part two of the History, Cinema and Digital Archives conference roundup, next week. For an overview of conference proceedings, and the thoughts of other attendees, you can search the twitter stream using the hashtag #cadh

Amanda Malel Trevisanut is an early career researcher with the School of Culture and Communication at The University of Melbourne. She currently works as a research assistant to the Digital Humanities Research Incubator, is a co-convener for THATCamp Pedagogy (Melbourne, Oct 10-11th, 2014). She has recently completed her PhD SBS Independent: Productive Diversity and Counter-Memory.