Gale Digital Humanities Day at the British Library

| By Chris Houghton, Head of Digital Scholarship, International Gale Primary Sources |

Thursday 2nd May was a landmark day for Gale which served to illustrate how our relationship with the international academic community has changed over the last decade. After months of hard work, we were delighted to present the inaugural Gale Digital Humanities Day, held at the wonderful British Library. The day featured a packed schedule of talks delivered by academics and librarians from Japan, the US, Australia, the Netherlands and the UK. The audience of around a hundred academics, librarians and students – many of whom had also travelled from outside the UK – enjoyed talks discussing the latest research and teaching innovations in Digital Humanities.

Our changing relationship with customers

This event was Gale’s first truly international customer event, and continues our recent trend of working closely with academic partners and customers to deliver events that transcend the usual marketing- and product demo-led fare. In recent years, we’ve found ourselves moving beyond a vendor/customer relationship to a situation where we find ourselves regularly working with stakeholders throughout an academic institution; librarians, researchers, teachers, students and upper management, to create solutions that meet institutional objectives, rather than just seeking to sell as much as possible, regardless of need.

This changing relationship has helped to shape our business, from the type of products we develop to the way we talk about them to libraries. The most recent example of this is the development of the ground-breaking Gale Digital Scholar Lab, our cloud-hosted Text and Data Mining environment. The Lab was created with extensive customer involvement and it is extremely important to us that now, post-release, it continues to develop with input from academics and students around the world.

All of the above lead to last Thursday’s Gale DH Day at the British Library. Bringing together a distinguished panel of speakers and an international audience, we wanted to amplify significant research and teaching, and discuss how best to encourage and support Digital Humanities at institutions who may or may not have an existing DH tradition.

The day was segmented into four sessions, entitled:

  • Literature and Distant Reading
  • Computers Reading the News
  • Digital Humanities in the Classroom
  • Institutional Support and Infrastructure for Digital Humanities

The vision was to examine all elements of Digital Humanities in the modern university – teaching, research and infrastructure.

Literature and Distant Reading

The Literature and Distant Reading session kicked off the day with a truly international flavour as Professor Mark Algee-Hewitt, Director of the Stanford Literary Lab in California and Professor Tomoji Tabata of Osaka University, Japan, gave fascinating insights into digital literary scholarship.

Mark presented the work of the Stanford Literary Lab on ‘microgenres’ within novels – using DH techniques to identify changes in genre within a single novel. Tomoji’s talk focused in part on authorship – again using analytical techniques to identify which parts of a co-authored novel were most likely to be written by which author.

A Slide from Mark Algee-Hewitt’s talk on Microgenres
 A Slide from Mark Algee-Hewitt’s talk on ‘microgenres’.
Tomoji’s visual representation of his analysis of co-authorship.
Tomoji’s visual representation of his analysis of co-authorship.

Computers Reading the News

The next session focused on an area extremely close to Gale’s heart: Computers Reading the News. Papers were delivered by Dr Melodee Beals, lecturer in Digital History at Loughborough University and Joris van Eijnatten, Professor of Cultural History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Both papers highlighted one of the most important aspects of Digital Humanities – being able to explore well-used and well-researched materials to uncover new perspectives and scholarship. Melodee asked speakers to think about the purpose, shape and nature of data when researching, and Joris uncovered some fascinating insights into conservative rhetoric through an analysis of the Times Digital Archive and the rise and fall of certain phrases in political reporting.

Dr Melodee Beals speaking at the event
Dr Melodee Beals speaking at the event.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

After lunch, the programme shifted from a focus on research to a consideration of the pedagogy and practicalities of teaching Digital Humanities. The session began with Sarah Ketchley, lecturer and Professor in Digital Humanities and Egyptology at the University of Washington, talking about her undergraduate class in DH and how her teaching has changed with the introduction of the Gale Digital Scholar Lab. Sarah outlined the significant improvements the Lab has had on the outcomes of the course, both in the time taken to learn concepts and in the quality of output.

From there, it was over to Ryan Cordell, Associate Professor of English at Northeastern University, Boston, who gave both a practical evaluation of his course and a high-level consideration of the pedagogical concepts involved in teaching DH. Ryan’s paper on Teaching Humanistic Digital Humanities was an outstanding overview of the current state of teaching and learning.

Institutional support and infrastructure for Digital Humanities

The final session of a packed day of talks addressed the third strand that any institution considering Digital Humanities needs to consider: infrastructure. Institutional support and infrastructure for Digital Humanities began with Dr Julianne Nyhan, Deputy Director of the University College London Centre for Digital Humanities discussing her team’s experience in mining Gale archives.

Julianne talked about the various institutional challenges that UCL faced when trying to host and access Text and Data Mining drives, and how they felt that the Gale Digital Scholar Lab would vastly improve access to, and use of, their existing Gale archives.

Tweet from @GaleEMEA
 Tweet from @GaleEMEA

The last talk of the day was a fitting conclusion to an event that was all about Digital Humanities in the context of the academic institution – a reflection on the experiences of the University of Sydney, Australia, from the Director of Access Services at the library, Lisa McIntosh. In her talk, Lisa presented the experiences of the library and how the management of data within the library was crucial to their DH research. Lisa spoke passionately about the need for an institutional vision and the will to execute it in order to realise Digital Humanities at all levels of the university, and how the library needs to be involved to deliver this vision.

Tweet from @AnthonyGroves
Tweet from @AnthonyGroves

The reception to the day as a whole, both on social media and in person, was outstanding. There was real appreciation for an event that combined all aspects of Digital Humanities; scholarship, teaching and infrastructure, to show exactly what is possible if an institution wants to focus on this fascinating and rewarding area of study.

Gale would like to thank all the speakers for generously giving up their time to speak and all the delegates who came and engaged so fully in the sessions and online. The excitement around the Gale Digital Scholar Lab was palpable, and the insights we got from the sessions and accompanying conversations and focus groups will enable us to keep developing a resource that provides a solution to many of the problems faced by institutions when considering Digital Humanities.

Tweet from @zsalmasi
  Tweet from @zsalmasi

We would also encourage you to check out other write-ups of the day, such as this post by Antony Groves (Learning and Teaching Librarian at the University of Sussex) @AntonyGroves: “How Libraries can support Digital Humanities: reflections on #GaleDHDay

Chris Houghton Head shot

About the Author

Chris Houghton is Head of Digital Scholarship, International Gale Primary Sources. As Gale International’s foremost representative for Digital Humanities, Chris is involved with all aspects of the Gale Digital Scholar Lab and is frequently found speaking to groups of academics or librarians about Gale’s work in DH. Based in Andover, Chris has worked for Gale for nearly ten years, a fact he attributes to Gale’s focus on meeting the needs and objectives of an incredibly interesting and rewarding set of customers.