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Digital Humanities Conference: Towards future synergies

The largest Digital Humanities Conference thus far took place in Utrecht from July 8 to 12, 2019. Read the blogpost by Liliana Melgar in which she gives an overview of audiovisual-related projects at the Digital Humanities Conference (DH2019).

The largest Digital Humanities Conference thus far took place in Utrecht from July 8 to 12, 2019. Read the blogpost by Liliana Melgar in which she gives an overview of audiovisual-related projects at the Digital Humanities Conference (DH2019).

AVinDH SIG workshop at DH2019 - Part of the group, from left to right: Christian Olesen, Melvin Wevers, Liliana Melgar, Susan Aasman, Mark Williams, Lauren Tilton, Carol Chiodo, David Wrisley, Julia Noordegraaf, Taylor Arnold, Joanna Byszuk, Jasmijn van Gorp, Manuel Burghardt, and Nanne van Noord

More than one thousand (digital) humanists from all over the world participated in the annual gathering of scholars, curators, librarians, information and computer scientists, publishers, among others, who are incorporating, experimenting, and innovating in digital methods for doing or supporting scholarly work.

The use of digital sources and methods in the humanities (called “digital humanities”) has clear foundations and development in textual domains (such as literary studies or historical research).

But, for some years already, the increasing availability of audio-visual materials has started to draw the scholars’ attention to the potential of those sources within fields traditionally dominated by the text, and to see the possibilities of using computational methods in visually-based domains, such as (digital) art history. See for example Clivaz’s keynote speech at AVinDH 2016 “Images, Sound, Writing in Western: a long hatred-love story?”

AVinDH SIG Workshop

The awareness of the increasing relevance of AV sources for scholarly work led to the idea of founding a special interest group (AVinDH SIG) during the DH Conference in Lausanne in 2014. The group has the aim “to facilitate communication and interaction between researchers from various disciplines including domains such as media studies, history, oral history studies, visual culture studies, social signal processing, archeology, anthropology, linguistics."

On Monday 8 July, the fifth AVinDH workshop organized by this interest group took place at DH2019. The workshop, chaired this time by Lauren Tilton (University of Richmond) and Jasmijn van Gorp (Utrecht University), had around 20 participants from domains such as film, television and media studies, cultural history, stylometry, spatial humanities, information and computer science, arts, design and linguistics.

"Incompleteness is natural and unavoidable in digital humanities."


The AVinDH workshop included parallel tutorials and short “lightning” talks. The slides and materials are linked from the workshop’s web page. These were the tutorials:

CLARIAH Media Suite

Julia Noordegraaf, Jasmijn van Gorp and myself presented a tutorial about using the CLARIAH Media Suite, showing the potential of using the automatic speech transcripts (ASR), retrieved from the Speech Recognition and Scholarly Research: Usability and Sustainability that are progressively being added to The Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision audiovisual collection, and made available to researchers via the Media Suite. The tutorial showed, from a source and tool criticism perspective, how the Media Suite makes it possible to search AV content using the ASR transcripts.

Participants were invited to reflect (using the tools provided for metadata inspection) on the consequences of doing research with automatic annotations which are constantly growing (but often “incomplete”), and cannot be 100% accurate. The DH2019 opening keynote by scholar Francis B. Nyamnjoh reflected precisely about the concept and feeling of “incompleteness,” and how incompleteness is natural and unavoidable in digital humanities.

Online social media activity based on material produced by public broadcasters

Bernhard Rieder and Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam) exemplified how to do research about online social media activity based on material produced by public broadcasters. They explained how they extracted and used YouTube data (with one of the tools offered by the Digital methods initiative at the University of Amsterdam) in combination with broadcast programs from The Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision’s archive, which is made available to researchers via the CLARIAH Media Suite. Their project on the European refugee crisis (from 2013), consisted of finding YouTube clips from public broadcasters by means of matching the automatic speech transcripts, and on the analysis of the related online social media activity.

Distant Viewing Toolkit

Lauren Tilton and Taylor Arnold’s tutorial on using the “Distant Viewing” Toolkit for the analysis of images using deep learning. The tutorial offered the participants the opportunity to learn the basics of image processing in Python, the concepts of deep learning for images, and to apply the Distant Viewing toolking to moving Images.

Media Ecology Project

An introduction to the Media Ecology Project (MEP) and a practical hands-on tutorial with the Semantic Annotation Tool (SAT) was given by John Bell and Mark Williams. The participants learned how to easily embed the SAT annotation client, “waldorf.js” plugin (“a drop-in module that facilitates the creation and sharing of time-based media annotations on the Web”) in any website that streams video content. These annotations can be stored and made collaboratively thanks to the SAT “statler” server

Lightning talks

The AVinDH workshop also included “lightning talks” in which the participants presented their ongoing AV-related research:

  • Manuel Burghardt, from the Computational Humanities Group at Leipzig University, introduced the “Scalable MovieBarcodes,” an exploratory interface for the analysis of movies.
  • Nanne van Noord, from Amsterdam University, described the “Sensory Moving Image Archive” (SEMIA) project, and how they used computer vision to analyse non-verbal syntactic features in moving image material.
  • Joanna Byszuk, a stylometrist from the Institute of Polish Language, introduced her work on Distant reading television, “a stylometry of textual layer of television shows and a few problems related to its representativeness, features, and authorship.”
  • Susan Aasman, media scholar from Groningen University, presented work-in-progress of the research project "Intimate histories; a web-archaeological approach to the early history of YouTube."
  • Melvin Wevers, postdoctoral researcher in the Digital Humanities Lab at the KNAW Humanities Cluster, explained why “drawing boxes” is difficult, showing the challenges of using computer vision for the identification of people’s gender, to be used in the subsequent study of gender representation in newspaper advertisements.
  • Liliana Melgar, from Utrecht University and The Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision (NISV), also on behalf of Mari Wigham, data scientist from NISV, both working for the CLARIAH project, argued on how the CLARIAH Media Suite’s graphic user interface (GUI) should work in combination with Jupyter Notebooks, facilitating the analysis of audiovisual data in a flexible and transparent way.

About the author

Liliana Melgar (Utrecht University / The Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision) is a postdoctoral researcher investigating how to support Scholarly Video Annotation in the Dutch infrastructure for the digital humanities CLARIAH