The University of Newcastle, Australia

Digital Humanities workshop up skills FEDUA researchers

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Dr Alana Piper, visiting digital humanities specialist recently hosted a workshop for the Faculty of Education and Arts.

Alana Piper workshop
Prof Victoria Haskins with Dr Alana Piper at the digital humanities workshop.

Faculty of Education and Arts researchers, PhD students and staff recently delved into the intricacies of digital research techniques at a two-day workshop led by visiting digital humanities specialist Dr Alana Piper. The Faculty of Education and Arts and the Centre for 21st Century Humanities hosted the workshop.

Dr Piper is a historian of criminal justice and gender at the University of Technology Sydney. She says she’s not a computing science specialist, but has immense practical experience in digital humanities having worked on digital history projects The Prosecution ProjectCriminal Characters, and edits the Australian Women’s History Network Blog.

Over the course of two days, participants of Dr Piper’s workshop learnt about the benefits and challenges of blogging about research, how to build a research website or blog using WordPress, crowdsourcing as a research methodology using Zooniverse, creating digital timelines and data visualisations, digital mapping, and network analysis using Gephi.

Dr Piper said that blogging about a journal article can boost the number of readers of the actual journal article.

“Creating a research website or blog can generate awareness about your current research project or showcase data or research outputs that might be best showcased via digital methods such as image galleries, data visualisations and timelines that can be incorporated into websites,” Dr Piper said.

“Research websites and blogs can also aid public engagement if there are aspects of research you want the public to access or provide input on. They can also create a teaching and learning resource for your own students.” Dr Piper said. “Research websites can thus act as a multi-purpose platform that brings together research, teaching, engagement and impact.”

Dr Piper said the main reason she has her own research website is twofold.

“It’s not just an access portal to my research, but I also use it to crowd source public help for historical transcription work. For me having a website is really great for public engagement,” she said. “I also use it for teaching and put resources for my students on the website. Using Google analytics statistics are very effective in showing impact and just how many people visit your website and consume your research”.

The second half of the workshop on day one introduced participants to the methods and debates about crowdsourcing research; that is using volunteers or members of the public to perform research tasks like transcribing historical records. Different options for utilising such ‘citizen science’ or ‘citizen history’ approaches were outlined.

Dr Piper said that academic crowdsourcing also began developing in the 2000s.

“The concept has a longer history and examples include the Oxford English Dictionary compilation, Cambridge Mass-Observation research project which both used crowdsourcing,” she said. “Today academic crowdsourcing involves members of the public performing a simple research task - such as annotating or transcribing records.”

Participants then learnt how to set up a citizen science project using the open-source platform Zooniverse.

Along with the benefits of creating a research website or blog, Dr Piper also warned participants that managing an online presence requires consistency and dedication.

“Building an online following requires regularly updated content or significant existing content and ongoing promotion. Often you may be better off contributing to existing research websites or blogs as an alternative to creating your own website or blog.”

Director of the Centre for 21st Century Humanities, Professor Victoria Haskins expressed the value of Dr Piper’s workshops for UON’s humanities researchers. “We have had a great deal of interest from our academics and postgraduate researchers across the Faculty in these workshops,” she said. “Dr Piper has been able to de-mystify the process around using digital methods and techniques for humanities research, and opened our eyes to the many exciting opportunities there are now for our researchers not only to develop our analyses of our data but to present our research to a much wider audience.”

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