Beyond the digital humanities

On 5 May, the School of Advanced Study (SAS) is hosting ‘Beyond the Digital Humanities’, the final in a series of important events on the future of digital humanities organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) research network NeDiMAH (Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities). It will be chaired by Professor Lorna Hughes (below left), SAS’s first chair in digital humanities and Professor Andrew Prescott from the University of Glasgow. Since May 2011, NeDiMAH has run a programme of activities and built a collaborative research forum to investigate the use of digital methods in arts and humanities research. The network has explored key areas of theory and practice in a number of methodological areas, including: the analysis of time and space, visualisation, linked data, large-scale data analysis, editing, manuscript imaging, temporal modeling and scholarly communications. The reach of these events has been documented in a series of maps of digital humanities activities across Europe. This has allowed the Network to get a sense of the diversity of practice as well as understand and demonstrate the collaborative and trans-national nature of digital humanities and the integration of digital approaches into all aspects of the research lifecycle. Our objective has been to understand better the impact that digital methods have had on transforming scholarship in the arts and humanities, and the potential for extending the benefits of digital research to the creative industries, industry and public policy and planning. Collaboration has been key. And this has ranged from working with scientific and technical disciplines, data science and libraries to archives and museums, existing European research infrastructures (including CLARIN and DARIAH in...

Africa’s ivory trade – a history of criminalisation, corruption and violence

Every decade or so, dating back to the 1970s, there is an upsurge of media interest in the slaughter of elephants for their ivory, and the implications for wildlife conservation. Here, Keith Somerville a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), who is currently researching ivory poaching in Africa, provides an account of the current state of the illicit industry that is threatening to wipe out elephants and other species. Reports of the mass killing of these majestic animals to satisfy luxury markets in rich countries generate support for anti-poaching operations, conservation organisations and international efforts to combat the smuggling of ivory from Africa to East Asia. But in recent years, reporting has concentrated heavily on links between insurgent movements, brutal but strategically insignificant rebel groups, and the smuggling of tusks to the newly wealthy elite of China. This media discourse – that poaching by rebels is wiping out elephants at a greater pace and that the proceeds from ivory is increasing insecurity in Africa and, by implication globally – has gained pace and also the attention of world leaders and decision-makers in the United States. Fighting the ivory trade is seen in this narrative as a way of conserving a keystone species. But increasingly it is a means of waging war on Islamist groups as part of the war on terror, or on groups which threaten the security of the West’s military allies, like Uganda or Kenya. A series of articles in leading American newspapers, including the New York Times, reporting the wholesale slaughter of elephants in Central African national parks, has helped to fuel...

Malcolm Fraser: a giant of the Commonwealth

By Dr Sue Onslow, senior research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies. On 27 March 2015, Australians gathered to pay their respects to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in a state funeral following the politician’s death late last week. As Singaporeans prepare to do the same for Lee Kuan Yew, who died on Monday, the Commonwealth can reflect on the contribution of these two ‘giants’ to its modern history. Whereas Lee Kuan Yew was somewhat ambivalent about the Commonwealth as a diplomatic actor, Malcolm Fraser had no such reservations. Fraser was a committed and extremely active Commonwealth politician and leader both in and out of office – indeed, possibly the most committed Australian Prime Minister of the modern Commonwealth. In his reflections for the ICwS Oral History Project, Australian politician Tony Eggleton recalls that Malcolm did not take long to make an impact and to win the support and respect of Commonwealth prime ministers, and not least those from the developing world. Michael Manley was among those who was pleasantly surprised at Malcolm’s constructive views about Commonwealth members, big and small. Fraser worked closely with Manley of Jamaica and Secretary General Shridath Ramphal to promote economic development and west/south cooperation. Determined to use the Commonwealth as a platform to promote Australia’s national interests and international standing, by the late 1970s, Fraser was running ‘hot and strong’ on the Commonwealth. He was widely regarded as a formidable character with clear goals, and was often impatient for positive results. For more on this dimension of Fraser’s career, see the linked interview with Australian diplomat and Commonwealth authority Hugh Craft. Liberal, progressive and a conviction politician in his opposition to racism in all its forms, Fraser took a particularly...

Rethinking the Senses (Public Engagement Case Study – Dr Merle Fairhurst)

To mark the launch of our call for applications for the first SAS/Senate House Library ‘Public Engagement Innovators Scheme’, we asked some staff from across the School about their experiences of public engagement and how it has influenced their research and professional practice. In this second post Dr Merle Fairhurst, research fellow in the Institute of Philosophy, answers our questions about her experiences engaging the public with research on the AHRC Rethinking the Senses project. Could you tell us a little bit about who you are and the research that you do/your role in SAS? As a research fellow on the AHRC Rethinking the Senses project at the Centre for the Study of the Senses (Institute of Philosophy), my central function is to use psychological and neuroimaging techniques to explore how we perceive the world through our various senses. I am particularly interested in the ways different streams of sensory information – say the sight and sound associated with someone speaking to you – are combined to create a unified experience. My work is complemented by dialogue and interaction with philosophers as we work together to investigate the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of multi-sensory perception. What public engagement activities have you been involved with in the School? The AHRC grant offers the chance and indeed promotes the sharing of our work with the general public and as such, we are always grateful for an opportunity to tell people about how our senses work together as well as highlight the philosophical relevance of empirical research. Our recent events have included talks in various venues, with two very exciting sessions as part of...

Digital imaging and manuscripts event at the National Library of Wales

This free event is being organised by Professor Lorna Hughes, SAS’s chair in digital humanities, and Professor Andrew Prescott, AHRC digital transformations theme fellow at the University of Glasgow. It will acknowledge the long tradition of the use of scientific aids in manuscript investigations, and also address the opportunities provided by new and emerging technologies such as RTI imaging and Synchrotron light sources. Among the discussion topics on the agenda are how research outputs can be made available for analysis by a wider range of researchers, the role of cultural heritage organisations (who must provide access to new types of digital images), and the preservation issues raised by repeated re-examination of ancient manuscripts using different techniques. The event is sponsored by the ESF Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities (NeDiMAH) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council Theme Leader Fellowship in Digital Transformations. A limited number of travel bursaries for postgraduates and early career researchers are available. Please contact Lorna Hughes for details: lorna.hughes@sas.ac.uk. When: 30 March–1 April, 2015 Where: National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, and Roderic Bowen Library, University of Wales Trinity St David, Lampeter, Wales. There is no charge to attend the workshop, but registration is essential via Eventbrite  ...

May 2015: the austerity election

As the 2015 election approaches the Coalition and the Labour party differences on fiscal policy appear to be ones of emphasis – how quickly and what to cut, says John Weeks, Professor Emeritus at SOAS, University of London.  In the debates preceding the election of May 2010, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown explicitly rejected public budget cuts because they would, in his view, make the recession worse. Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, had in March 2010 attacked budget cutting as ‘economic masochism’. He maintained this position during the debates. Only the Conservative David Cameron pledged his party to cut expenditure, though ambiguous about how much. The lack of a Conservative majority in the subsequent voting led to a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Given Clegg’s pre-election opposition to any but minor cuts, the Coalition seemed unlikely to embark on radical reductions in spending. However, the leader of the Liberal Democrats reversed himself. Suddenly, the British public discovered that its votes had produced a government dedicated to radical reduction in public expenditure. The Coalition government, and especially its Chancellor George Osborne, presented the need for expenditure reduction as self-evident. The public budget manifested a deficit, expenditure over revenue, of 10 per cent of gross national product, allegedly unprecedented during peacetime. He avoided mentioning that the deficit excluding investment – current expenditure balance – was higher under the John Major government in 1994 (minus 9.1 per cent of GDP compared to 8 per cent in 2010).  How to measure – and mismeasure – all aspects of the government budget would prove central to selling austerity policies to the...

Magna Carta: the international symbol of freedom

By Danny Millum Magna Carta has inspired some of today’s fundamental liberties, yet it began life 800 years ago as a practical solution to a political crisis. It has since evolved to become an international symbol of freedom, and with the creation of the largest exhibition ever staged about this celebrated document, we now have an opportunity to uncover the story of how its power has been used – and abused – from its genesis through to today’s popular culture. Due to open this month (13 March–1 September 2015), the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, is part of a series of events to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Magna Carta, one of the world’s most famous documents. Already, the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral have made history by bringing the four original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts together in one place, for the first time. At a special screening on 3 February, the manuscripts were viewed by 1,215 people who won the chance to attend the event after entering a public ballot launched last year. They were followed the next day by a group of world-leading Magna Carta academics who have been studying several hundred other King John charters during the course of a three-year research project. Examining the four manuscripts in context of these other charters, they studied them side by side, scrutinising the handwriting of each of the scribes and considering the evidence of the ownership of the documents throughout its 800 year existence. The manuscripts have now been returned to their home institutions, and each will be putting on a...
Why we should all think about data preservation

Why we should all think about data preservation

By Stephanie Taylor Although the SHARD project ended some time ago, in July 2012. The project identified  four basic principles of digital preservation for researchers – start early, explain it, store it safely and share it. The only thing I would change is a little re-arrangement, putting ‘Share It’ as the first step. As someone working in digital preservation, I see many things lost or threatened mainly because nobody really saw a good reason to preserve them until it was almost too late. For researchers, engrossed in research, finding, creating and using data, writing research outputs, managing projects and keeping funders happy, it’s easy to forget digital preservation, or just not think about it at all. Having a positive reason to preserve moves digital preservation up the agenda. And sharing gives us that reason. Sharing your research material and data is beneficial.  In one way or another, the main reason to carry out preservation at all, on any level, is to be able to share your work with others, now and in the future. Sharing can help you gain more impact, enhance your reputation and increase your chances of being funded as more and more research funders are asking for plans for digital preservation in their calls. It makes your work not only accessible, but usable. Investigate making use of repositories and data centres as places to both safely archive and also share your work. Remember to be sensible with sharing, and use redaction or embargo when required. Start early is key to any successful approach to digital preservation, and one that we also teach to digital archivists. It’s...

Magna Carta 1215–2015: England’s greatest export

The four surviving copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta will come together for the first time in history as part of a one-off event organised by the British Library to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the historic document. Julian Harrison, curator of medieval manuscripts at the British Library explains why it is important we should commemorate these medieval documents. If you’ve been keeping your ears to the ground, you may be aware that 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta. Interest in the ‘Great Charter’ (the English translation of Magna Carta) is certainly on the rise. Already this year radio and television documentaries have been broadcast about Magna Carta, politicians of all parties have latched on to its principles, and controversy has raged over the new Royal Mint coin which shows the Great Charter being ‘signed’ in 1215. People sometimes question why we are commemorating Magna Carta this year. Is a medieval document, written in Latin, still relevant today? The simple answer is that Magna Carta has had widespread influence over the past 800 years, particularly in the English-speaking world. It has influenced politicians and campaigners worldwide, including Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, and certain of its values are echoed in later constitutional texts, such as the United States Bill of Rights (ratified in 1791) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Just three clauses of Magna Carta remain valid in English law, but the most significant and influential one, never repealed, is this: ‘No man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions,...