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2018 Digital Research in the Humanities awards

This programme aims to extend support for researchers engaging with Digital Research in the Humanities by offering grants to carry out novel research through the application of new methods and tools to existing digital resources. The use and re-use of existing resources such as digital collections and datasets will demonstrate their capacity to generate new knowledge. The programme is the first partnership between the British Academy and Jisc, the UK higher, further education and skills sectors’ not for profit organisation for digital services and solutions.

The intersection of digital technologies and the humanities enables new kinds of research, both in the humanities disciplines and in computer science. Digital Research in the Humanities covers a wide range of methods and practices, including: visualisations of large datasets, 3D modelling of historical artefacts, data mining of large datasets, text mining, data linking, Geographical Information Systems, image and sound processing and analysis.

The following seven 12-month awards were made in September 2018:

Dr James Baker, University of Sussex
Curatorial voice: legacy descriptions of art objects and their contemporary uses
This 12-month project will demonstrate how new knowledge about the curation and the content of image collections can be generated through computer-assisted analysis of curatorial art descriptions. The focus will be on a catalogue of 1.5 million words written by the historian M. Dorothy George between 1935 and 1954 to describe 12,552 Georgian satirical prints. A novel mix of computational and art historical methods will facilitate a comprehensive account of such material. This will be the basis for addressing questions about George’s curatorial voice and, more generally, about the authorial voice of institutions in art historical discourse and the contemporary role of legacy descriptions in indexing and understanding image collections. Workshops with art historians, curators and digital Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) professionals will serve to promote digital research around image collections and to form a consortium for ongoing research.

Dr Owen Barden, Liverpool Hope University
Inside the history of learning difficulties
This project investigates historical representations of what are now often called ‘learning difficulties’. Disabled people in general, and people labelled with learning difficulties in particular, have too often been excluded from their own histories. This project aims to address such exclusion, analysing a text in the UK Medical Heritage Library, using a disability studies perspective. In doing so, we use a novel methodology combining digital archival research with participatory workshops. These workshops bring together academics, people labelled with learning difficulties and their advocates. They generate powerful new knowledge about both historical representations of learning difficulties and the lived experience of learning difficulties today. This new way of doing history suggests ways of reaching marginalised or unanticipated audiences for archive material, whilst surfacing challenges relating to the accessibility of such material.

Professor Tim Crawford, Goldsmiths, University of London
Full-text search of early music prints online (F-TEMPO)
We shall build a publicly accessible online resource offering, for the first time, flexible content-based, full-text searching of a large and growing collection of digital images of renaissance and early baroque music distributed amongst the world's music libraries. As well as an easy-to-use online interface, we provide an API allowing flexible and extensible uses of the resource in an indefinite number of ways. For example, bibliographical metadata and search results can easily be shared and linked online with other, non-musical data resources, such as Wikipedia and MusicBrainz. This will open the musical and other information contained within the resource to be exposed as useable knowledge by digital humanists and others. As the resource grows over time, this will offer a unique perspective on the musical, social, commercial and political history of the early-modern period, accessible to scholars for the first time.

Dr Brett Greatley-Hirsch, University of Leeds
The effect of literary genre on authorial style: a computational stylistics analysis of English renaissance plays, poems, and narrative prose
In attribution study (as in literary studies more broadly), literary genre is assumed to affect an author’s style; to mitigate its possible effects, attribution testing typically considers only samples from the same literary genre for comparison. This assumption is intuitive but largely untested. Using the methods of computational stylistics to analyse samples of early modern English drama, poetry, and prose, the project will investigate long-standing assumptions about the effects of literary genre on authorial style and, by quantifying and accounting for these effects, gesture towards new ways of attributing authorship using generically diverse texts. This presentation will offer a brief overview of authorship attribution study and its methods, the challenges and opportunities associated with the computational analysis of early modern literature, and plans for future research.

Professor Robert Shoemaker, University of Sheffield
Analysing criminal tattoos through data mining and visualisation
This project seeks to understand the significance of the remarkable increase in tattooing among English convicts in the ‘long’ 19th century. Using digital humanities methodologies it has extracted descriptions of tattoos on 76,000 convicts from 1788 to 1925, contained within the much larger Digital Panopticon database of four million criminal justice records. These descriptions have linked designs to specific body parts, categorised tattoos by subject and connected them to evidence of convicts’ personal and criminal backgrounds. We are now experimenting with various types of visualisation to summarise and analyse this unprecedented body of information about convict bodies. The presentation will provide a summary of key conclusions so far and outline our future research plans.  

Dr James Stark, University of Leeds
Eating yourself young: diet, recipe, and vitality before nutrition science
The advent of modern nutrition science in the early 20th century, with its focus on vitamins, minerals and complex perceptions of the traditional food components of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, has fundamentally altered our understanding of food. But what was "healthy eating" before these ideas came to dominate? How was it practised? What did medical texts say about the importance of food and diet? And how were these ideas reflected in historical recipes? Using records of the recently established UK Medical Heritage Library – a large digital corpus in the history of science, technology and medicine – the project will use textual analysis tools to explore in new ways the relationship between nutrition, diet, health and cookery in the 19th century. It will generate new insights at the intersection of food history, history of science and medicine, and digital humanities to lay the foundations for future research at the between these distinct fields.

Dr Sarah Walters, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Digital mission: encoding and analysing digitised missionary diaries in Africa
Missionary records are an important source for religious, socio-economic and demographic research in African history. In this pilot project, we explore the application of Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technologies to maximise the use of data from qualitative and quantitative African missionary sources. In the first phase, we are working in partnership with the archives of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, and with the READ project for the Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents. The aim is to create a text recognition tool to automate transcription and searching of the extensive digitised missionary diaries kept by the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (the ‘White Fathers’). The White Fathers are an international missionary organisation which has been hugely influential in the growth of the Catholic church in Africa. Their digital archive includes diaries kept by missionaries in hundreds of parishes across 17 countries in the sub-Saharan region (established 1860s-1960s). Making the diaries searchable with a keyword spotting tool will expand their utility for social and religious historians of Africa. In the second phase, we will examine the application of HTR to African parish registers of baptisms, marriages, deaths and family books. A core motivation for this work is to improve the evidence base for African population history, as lack of available data has meant that pre-1960 population trends are contested. We have previously extracted data from 200,000 pages of parish registers from nine of the oldest Catholic parishes in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to create a linked, longitudinal database of demographic micro-data. We will assess whether new technologies for extracting data from digitised images of tabular archival sources can be used to automate this process, which would transform the scope for population history in sub-Saharan Africa. This pilot study will feed into a future project to apply HTR technologies to both qualitative and quantitative data, enabling comparative African research on the history of religion, resilience and reproduction over the past century.