Project Workshop – 2 May 2014

Research and/as Engagement


The third and final project workshop, held on 12 September 2014, focused on the topic ‘Research and/as Engagement.’ Considering the overlaps between digital research and public engagement, we introduced the following questions to our participants and speakers: to what extent do digital humanities projects, often collaborative processes conducted on-line and in public, lend themselves to innovative forms of audience engagement? And what are the implications of this overlap for researchers and collections? The resulting conversation focused on successful cross-over research/engagement projects, and explored specific ways in which projects can be designed to maximise public engagement. One of the key methods of engagement discussed throughout the day was crowd-sourcing, and each speaker introduced a new and exciting perspective about the potential for knowledge exchange and community building through crowd-sourced research. Our speakers tackled questions such as “who is the ‘crowd’?,” “what does the ‘crowd’ want/need in order to engage with research projects?,” and “what are researchers’ responsibilities to the public in terms of curating, editing, and disseminating crowd-sourced knowledge”?

The day opened with a presentation by Pip Willcox of The Bodleian Libraries. She talked about the different types of digital resources being developed, discussing not just what the digital brings to the humanities, but also what the humanities brings to digital research. Humanities researchers, she pointed out, are good at data-driven research; we have always done data-driven research, even if we haven’t always defined it in those terms. Next, Eric Cross and Martyn Hudson of Newcastle University shared their work on the ‘Co-Curate North East’ project. Their presentation asked some important questions, including: ‘Is it possible to have genuine co-production?,’ and ‘who has the power to speak for the local?’ One of the key issues that emerged was the ethical obligation to sustain the archive for the communities that have put their work and resources into building it. Our last speaker in the morning session, Ahren Warner from Newcastle University, talked about their acquisition of the Blood Axe archive. In addition to cataloguing and digitising the archive, the project researchers invited poets to engage with the archive to produce new work, which will then be added to it. In this sense, it is what he called a ‘living archive’—one that is still growing and changing, in which these new works enter into conversation with the existing ones.

After lunch, we heard from three more speakers about successful public engagement projects currently underway. First, Ines Byrne of the National Library of Scotland introduced the new project Transcribe NLS. Following from extensive research into the methods and experiences of existing crowd-sourcing projects, the NLS team has devised a set of best practices for engaging transcribers, and developed a specialised tool that answers to their professed needs. Andrew Greg from the University of Glasgow then presented two related art research projects that employ crowd-sourcing: Your Paintings Tagger and Art Detective, both hosted on the BBC website. Greg shared some of the project’s successes, including instances in which members of the public had been able to supply important information about paintings heretofore unknown by those responsible for the collections. He also introduced the character of the “Super Tagger”—a term used for the small percentage of users who end up contributing most of the work to crowd-sourcing projects. This led to an interesting discussion of who these “Super Taggers” are and what motivates them to contribute so heavily. Our final speaker of the day, Sophia George, shared the work she did as Games Designer in Residence at the V&A Museum. Following a presentation about the various engagement programmes she ran throughout the year, primarily for youth, she then shared her development process for a game based on a piece from the V&A collection (William Morris’s “Strawberry Thief”).

The programme concluded with a networking coffee and tea break, during which participants and speakers made new contacts and discussed the day’s themes. Many participants sat down to play a version of Sophia George’s game on her iPad. We wrapped up the day with a round of thanks to the organisers and participants, and announced the official launch of the Digital Humanities Network of Scotland (DHNetS), the network hub emerging from this knowledge-exchange project.


Event Programme

Research and/as Engagement

Date: 12th September 2014
Times: 10.00 am – 4.30 pm
Location: St Trinneans Room, Pollock Halls, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh


9.30 – 10.00: Introductions

    Session One

10.00 – 10.40: The author’s drift: scholarship, scale and society. Pip Willcox, The Bodleian Libraries
11.00 – 11.40: Co-Curate North East: creating sustainable routes for North East communities to digitally, transform and co-produce open cultural resources. Eric Cross, Newcastle Institute for Creative Arts Practice, Newcastle University
11.45 – 12.25: The Poetics of the Archive: Community engagement and artistic practice in the literary archive. Ahren Warner, Newcastle University

12.30 – 13.30: Lunch

    Session Two

13.30 – 14.00: Transcribe NLS: Crowdsourcing at the National Library of Scotland. Ines Byrne, Digital Collections Specialist, National Library of Scotland
14.00 – 14.30: Engaging the public in tagging and researching the nation’s paintings: two case studies. (Provisional title) Andrew Greg, University of Glasgow
14.30 – 15.00: Engaging V&A visitors with game design. Sophia George, V&A Dundee

15.00 – 16.00: Tea and Discussion
16.00 – 16.30: Wrap up

17.00: Drinks Reception, Summerhall

About the speakers

Invited Speakers

Pip Willcox is the Curator of Digital Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. With a background in scholarly editing, she collaborates with colleagues to support research, managing projects, offering consultancy, and enabling online access to rare books and manuscripts. She is an advocate for knowledge exchange and public engagement within and beyond the humanities, with a particular focus on the digital. Recent collaborative projects include Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership, the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, the Stationers’ Register Online, the public campaign Sprint for Shakespeare and the Bodleian First Folio project.

Professor Eric Cross is Dean of Cultural Affairs and Director of the Newcastle Institute for Creative Arts Practices. He is responsible for fostering links between the University and the region in all areas of cultural activity, especially relating to the Great North Museum and the Hatton Gallery, as well as other areas of cultural outreach such as concerts and public lectures series. He is also responsible for co-ordinating aspects of academic activity relating to the University’s cultural assets and for situating cultural skills developments within the national agenda, working closely with the relevant schools. Among the various committees that he chairs are the Cultural Affairs Steering Group, the Culture Lab Executive Committee, and the Culture Committee of Universities for the North East.

Dr Martyn Hudson is Research Associate in the Northumbrian Exchanges programme supported by the AHRC and is also Research Associate and Coordinator of the Co-Curate North East project looking at digital archives of rural and urban communities and the co-curation of artefacts. As part of Northumbrian Exchanges he is developing new thinking and research about Knowledge Exchange and traditional and experimental music of Northumbria and related areas of visual arts and rural economies. His work is multidisciplinary but is concerned largely with the sociology and philosophy of knowledge and artefacts and how we think about them and curate them. He has a particular interest in John Berger and Jean Mohr and his critical appreciation of Mohr is forthcoming from Race and Class. He is also involved with the Berger archive work.

Dr Ahren Warner is a poet and Research Associate in English Literature, Languages, and Linguistics at Newcastle University. His first collection, Confer (Bloodaxe, 2011), was both a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies and he has also published a pocket-book, Re:, with Donut Press. He was awarded an Eric Gregory Award in 2010 and an Arts Foundation Fellowship in 2012. He is also poetry editor of Poetry London.

Ines Byrne is Digital Collections Specialist at the National Library of Scotland.

Andrew Greg is an Honorary Research Fellow and Director of the National Inventory Research Project at the University of Glasgow. Coming from a museums background, he also led the research project American Art in UK Public Collections, funded by the Terra Foundation and Henry Luce Foundation and is the academic partner of the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC in the projects Your Paintings and Your Paintings Tagger, which involve members of the public, as well as ‘expert’ taggers with art history experience, and academic ‘supervisors’, in tagging the 200,000 paintings with descriptive metadata.

Sophia George, BAFTA winner and Chair of Swallowtail Games, was appointed as the V&A Museum’s first ever Games Designer in Residence. At just 22, Sophia is already an accomplished game designer, winning the 2012 BAFTA Ones to Watch Award for the prototype of Tick Tock Toys, a family-friendly puzzle game for iPhone and iPad. Following her BAFTA win, she completed Tick Tock Toys and released it to international acclaim.



Pip Willcox – The Author’s Drift: Scholarship, scale and society
The Author’s Drift: scholarship, scale and society from Pip Willcox

Eric Cross & Martyn Hudson – Co-Curate North East: Some challenges around co-production and knowledge exchange

Co-Curate North East: Some challenges around co-production and knowledge exchange from tarastar

Ines Byrne – Transcribe NLS: Crowdsourcing at the National Library of Scotland

Transcribe NLS: Crowdsourcing at the National Library of Scotland from tarastar

Ahren Warner – Poetics of the Archive: Community engagement and artistic practice in the literary archive

Andrew Greg – Engaging the public in tagging and researching the UK’s paintings: Two case studies

Engaging the public in tagging and researching the UK’s paintings: Two case studies from tarastar

Sophia George – Engaging V&A Visitors with Game Design

Engaging V&A Visitors with Game Design from tarastar