2003 Summer Term Week 4

Screenshot of the map if women's suffrage Omeka site by Tara Morton
Screenshot of the map if women's suffrage Omeka site by Tara Morton

This week we had DAHL Shorts presentations on Omeka S (a web publishing, content management, and database application built specifically for digital humanities) and Gale Digital Scholar Lab (a sophisticated toolset for using digital archives of scanned texts). In the VR Club we ran a successful experiment with a new workflow for creating augmented reality exhibitions.

These two platforms illustrate two types of DH project you might want to undertake.

Omeka S requires a more formal kind of project approach. The goal of using it is usually to create a finished product, principally aimed at people beyond the project team (including often the general public). The product is likely to have a lifespan of more than a few years, and in many cases there is an intention to make it permanent – or at least its data, with its presentation and interactivity evolving over time. This doesn’t necessarily require a dedicated project manager, or hardcore project management techniques (with scary acronymns like Prince 2). But it does require knowing what needs to be considered and done at key points in time, what to prepare for in the future, what resources and skills need to be brought together and coordinated. Most importantly, it needs good team working and leadership – even if you are playing several of the roles yourself, you still need to be well organised and mindful of how to manage resources and time, and know what to do if things don’t work as you expect.

You might have heard of the trend towards more emergent and creative project approaches: agile, lean, design thinking. If you’re not entirely sure what your end product will be like, or if you want to work with a wider and more diverse community to develop your project, these less deterministic and more responsive approaches are good. But they actually take more coordination and well-honed wisdom so as to keep a project on track and sustainable over time – watch out for making tech decisions early-on that will create too much work later on if you want to change track. Expert advice from programmers and IT managers is key to this. They can tell you if your data structures and platforms will allow for flexibility, or (worse case scenario) lock you in to a dying ecosystem.

The second type of DH project is more akin to agile, emergent, design thinking approaches. Gale Digital Scholar Lab is good for this. You can access digitised records, and play with the data to see what happens. Recent developments make this a much more collaborative activity. So you can play with your academic friends, or students. The tools aim to make experimentation fast, robust, and extensible – so you can build on success. However, as Chris Houghton from Gale explained, you still need to develop your “algorithmic thinking” – the ability to imagine, implement and improive a series of actions on the data to get results that are of interest. This takes practice, and is best done collaboratively.

Gale Digital Scholar Lab

Here’s the recording of the session (followed below by a look at Omeka S and the latest VR Club activities):

Omeka S

For a great example of an Omeka S project, see our very own Tara Morton’s Mapping Women’s Suffrage 2011:

The Mapping Women’s Suffrage project brings people together from communities across the country to help record, display and share, the locations, lives and materials, of as many Votes for Women campaigners as possible for the centenary in 2028 – celebrating 100 years since women gained the vote on the same terms as men

Tara Morton

The main feature of the site is a map on which the records are plotted. Click on a record to open it and access biographical information and the documents on which it is based. The site was created, as a funded project, in collaboration with Warwick’s Technology for Research team. James from the team gave us a great talk about Omeka S and its uses. Think of it as a system for easily creating web sites that are based around collections of artefacts (usually historical, but not necessarily), each described in a consistent and structured manner to enable searching, filtering, and interlinking. The widely used Dublin Core metadata standard is used as the basis of these descriptions. But the platform is also extensible and can be modified using common web development skills. In this case, Tara worked with programmers to add extra features and to make it look as required. I met with Tara to discuss this, and she emphasised how important it is for the researcher to understand and work effectively with other key roles (including programmers, IT managers, UX designers). Tara’s role is itself multiple, including project management. You can read more about these roles, what they do, and how they operate, in our “7 Essential Roles” article.

For our DAHL Shorts session on Omeka S, we had a great overview from an expert in many of these roles (James from Technology for Research). Over the coming weeks we will be looking further into Omeka S. We can use the Omeka S sandbox to try it out. I also plan to install a full version of it on my own hosted site, so as to get the full experience and to allow us to start developing ideas for projects – especially the idea of creating a virtual museum for the University, combining an Omeka S web site with the augmented and virtual reality technologies we have been exploring in the VR Club (more on that below).

Watch the Omeka S DAHL Short for an intro to using it.

VR Club – augmented reality exhbitions

For a few years we have been considering the possibility of creating a virtual museum to showcase our research. This could take several forms:

  • A traditional online DH site, possible built in Omeka S (I built the online version of the University Art Collection using older tech many years ago, and it is still going well).
  • A fully VR based experience, using headsets (such as the Meta Quests that we have in the Faculty), and constructed using computer graphics and scans.
  • Augmented reality “pop-ups” that people can see in locations around campus and beyond using their phones and tablets.
  • Augmented reality exhibitions, in which users wear the latest generation of headsets (Meta Quest Pro) to see the exhibition superimposed into an exhisting 3D space.

Until recently the last of these options seemed technically difficult. But now a set of tools has converged to make it easy: scan objects using a phone or hi-def scanner (Classics have one); edit and upload scans to the Sketchfab platform; download scans, videos (from YouTube), and images using a Meta Quest Pro headset and the Figmin XR app; place objects around the physical space into an exhibition route, including walls, and other features; upload the exhibition onto other headsets so that more people can explore the space at the same time.

In this week’s VR Club we experimented with creating an exhibition about Coventry using models from Sketchfab and videos from Youtube. This was made in under 30 minutes and enjoyed by all the participants. It included a model of the cathedral with a video about the blitz floating above it. In the following week we scanned various statues and ancient artefacts and displayed them in AR.

This is a video created for the Co-lab interdisciplinary research and engagement event, including a short recording of the exhibition from inside a headset.

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