Sunday, 25 November 2012

Digital.humanities@Oxford Summer School 2012

Thanks to a bursary from the John Fell OUP fund, this summer I had the opportunity to join researchers from across the humanities - and from across the world - at the Digital.humanities@Oxford Summer School. This intensive week-long course held at Merton College, OUCS, and OERC was split into several strands: you could gain a general introduction to digital humanities, focus on digital editing, or learn about linked data.



“Linking Open Data cloud diagram, by Richard Cyganiak and Anja Jentzsch. http://lod-cloud.net/”

Because we're interested in exploring ways that the DMI project might link up with other, comparable projects, the summer school seemed a great opportunity to find out more about linked data and how our project might make use of the semantic web - a way of constructing and presenting data that makes it machine-readable and enables it to be shared and reused.

My main goal for the week was to gain a sufficient introduction to the semantic web and its challenges and potential to enable me to participate more effectively in discussions with developers about the future of our project and the course, taught by Kevin Page, John Pybus and Alexander Dutton, provided me with an excellent grounding in the basics.

The week was was part theoretical, part practical, with mornings spent in the classroom coming to terms with the mysteries of the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and triples, predicates, ontologies and 303 redirects, learning to read turtle and how to construct SPARQL queries, and seeing how projects such as Claros use the semantic web. Afternoons were spent at the keyboard at OUCS, exploring linked data datasets and tools and trying to turn theory into practice. The most satisfying moment was constructing, by myself, a SPARQL query which returned (pretty much) what I was hoping for, but overall the course provided a great introduction to the semantic web, giving me a basic understanding of its concepts and terminology and the confidence to read more about it.

At DHOXSS, however, the taught courses are only part of the story, and there was also a tremendously rich array of lectures and talks to choose from. Crowdsourcing was one theme that recurred in several lectures, and I was interested to hear about projects which engage the brain power of the crowd, such as What's the score at the Bodleian? (transcribing 19thc musical scores), What's on the menu? (transcribing historic menus), and Digitalkoot (transcribing Finnish newspapers by playing a game involving moles), as well as projects that appeal to the crowd for finance, like Sprint for Shakespeare's bid to preserve and digitize the Bodleian's copy of the Shakespeare first folio.

An opportunity to meet DHers, gain new perspectives and learn about new projects, the summer school was an exhausting, inspiring week, and thanks must go to James Cummings, Sebastian Rahtz et al for organizing it, and the Fell fund for the bursary which enabled my attendance. The dates for next year's school have recently been announced, and for anyone who's interested in the digital humanities, I can't recommend it enough.

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