Project Workshop – 2 May 2014

Working with Data


The second project workshop, held on 2nd of May 2014, focused on working with data and brought together curators, librarians, technologists and academics from across Scotland. Focusing on the conceptualization of humanities data this event reflected on how the data needs of humanities researchers might map onto the digital ambitions and resources of the cultural institutions that hold and preserve Scotland’s cultural collections. What kinds of holdings, information and material might constitute ‘data’ for digital research, and how might the different ways in which we conceptualize data shape the kinds of research questions we can ask? It concluded with a roundtable focused on the ethical issues involved in working with data and offering the opportunity to discuss the social, historical, political, and policy dimensions of digital research and dissemination.

Our guest talks began with Dominic Oldman of the British Museum who gave a presentation on how collection systems might usefully be linked and integrated across institutions in order to facilitate greater research capacity and better contextualise search results. Jonathan Hope, professor at Strathclyde University, spoke about his pioneering work in text mining and the issues involved in visualising results drawn from large corpora of literary texts, and Maria Economou discussed her research in the Digital Heritage sector, and the ways in which the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University is responding to changing digital research contexts. Although Martin Donnelly of the Digital Curation Centre could not be with us in the event due to illness, his colleague Johnathan Rans kindly stepped in and talked us through Martin’s slides.

After lunch, we had a roundtable focused on the ethics of data-intensive research. This took off from the premise that, as Cathy Davidson has put it, “Data is not just data—it is humans. There are ethical, social, historical, political, and policy dimensions to all we are doing, community dimensions that require conversation and consent and understanding.” In other words, although data itself may be neutral, the work we do with it is not. In every digital project, there are unique considerations about the ways in which we access and curate data, as well as issues of quality, reliability and provenance. All data-intensive research therefore negotiates a complex of ethical questions: this roundtable provided an opportunity to consider these questions as an inter-institutional and cross-sector group. Chaired by Sian Bayne, the roundtable featured three participants who each spoke to the subject for a few minutes before discussion was opened to the floor. Dr Anouk Lang discussed the ethical issues involved in using social media data and in making her research data open for others to use. Robin Rice, data librarian at the University of Edinburgh addressed issues involved in curation and data storage and Clare Padgett, of Edinburgh Libraries, spoke about the use of personal data in the Our Town Stories project. Discussion focused on the necessity for openness, as well as on questions of whether data can be both useful and anonymous, and the kinds of responsibilities inherent in using historical data.

The day concluded with a networking ‘high tea’ which successfully enabled librarians, archivists, and curators from across the country to discuss ideas, make new contacts and share their work.



Event Programme

Working with Data

Date: Friday 2nd of May 2014
Times: 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
Location: St Trinneans Room, Pollock Halls, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh


10.00 – 11.30

Capturing Perspective and Significance from Collection Systems
Dominic Oldman, British Museum

Research Data Management: a Tale of Two Paradigms
Martin Donnelly, Digital Curation Centre

11.30 – 12.00 – Coffee

12.00 – 1.30

Visualising and Mining Text
Jonathan Hope, Strathclyde University

Studying the use of Glasgow University’s digital collections
Maria Economou, University of Glasgow

1.30 – 2.15 – Lunch

2.15 – 3.15 – Roundtable: The Ethics of Data-Intensive Research

Chair: Siân Bayne, University of Edinburgh
Speakers: Anouk Lang, University of Strathclyde
Clare Padgett, Our Town Stories, Edinburgh Council
Robin Rice, Edina/University of Edinburgh Library

Note: A briefing document will be circulated to all participants in advance of the roundtable, in order to stimulate ideas and questions.

3.15 onwards – Afternoon tea and networking


About the speakers

Invited Speakers

Dominic Oldman is a Law graduate who changed career to work in computing, later specialising in museum and cultural heritage systems. He has a Masters degree in Digital Humanities from King’s College, London, and is Chair of the Bloomsbury Digital Humanities Group. He is currently Deputy Head of the British Museum’s Information Systems department and specialises in systems integration, knowledge representation and Semantic Web/Linked Open Data technologies. He is a member of the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) Special Interest Group and contributes to the on-going development of the CRM International (ISO) standard. He managed the implementation of the British Museum’s Collection Online service and established the Museum’s public Semantic Web service, which provides collection information mapped to the CIDOC CRM ontology. He is also currently the Principal Investigator of ResearchSpace, a project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project aims to enrich and harmonise cultural heritage datasets and construct collaborative research tools designed to uncover the relationships and connections between different collections while retaining institutional perspectives.

Martin Donnelly is Senior Institutional Support Officer at the Digital Curation Centre, based at the University of Edinburgh. His current interests include data management planning and policy, open government data, and arts and humanities data management. Martin’s academic background is in English Literature and Information Technology, and before joining Edinburgh in 2008 he worked at the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII) at the University of Glasgow, and at Edinburgh College of Art.

Jonathan Hope is Professor of Literary Linguistics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. He has published widely on Shakespeare’s language and the history of the English language. His most recent book, Shakespeare and Language: reason, eloquence and artifice in the Renaissance (2010), seeks to reconstruct the linguistic world of Shakespeare’s England and measure its distance from our own. With Michael Witmore (Folger Shakespeare Library, USA), he is part of a major digital humanities project, funded by the Mellon Foundation, to develop tools and procedures for the linguistic analysis of texts across the period 1450-1800. Early work from this project is blogged at:

Dr Maria Economou is Joint Curator/Lecturer in Museum Studies at the University of Glasgow, where she is based at the Hunterian Museum and the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII) at the College of Arts. She has previously worked at the universities of the Aegean in Greece and Manchester, Glasgow and Oxford (at the Pitt Rivers Museum) in the UK. She has collaborated with several cultural heritage institutions around the world, particularly on the use of new technologies for public engagement. Her research focuses on evaluation and visitor studies, as well as the ways the digital technologies are reshaping cultural organisations and the ways they communicate with different audiences.

Dr Anouk Lang is Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Strathclyde. Her research uses digital methods to explore both literary history and reading and reception study in the contemporary period, especially in relation to digital culture. She has worked on a number of digital humanities projects including digital mapping of modernist correspondence and writing, and her current work uses data from social media to investigate the cultural value of reading. She has published widely in these areas and is the editor of From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).

Clare Padget is Service Development Leader within the Information and Digital Team of Edinburgh Libraries. Her role is to maintain, develop and promote Edinburgh Libraries’ online services and I have responsibility for managing our heritage resources which include Capital Collections and Our Town Stories.

Robin Rice is a data librarian at the University of Edinburgh. She is the co-author of Research Data MANTRA a free, non-credit training course which provides guidelines for good practice in research data management. Last year, MANTRA was shortlisted in a report by the Research Information Literacy and Digital Scholarship (RILADS) project as one of 15 good practice examples designed to enhance information literacy skills of postgraduate students and early career researchers in UK Higher Education.



Invited Speakers:

Dominic Oldman, British Museum


‘Capturing Perspective and Significance from Collection Systems’ (slides)
Visit the ResearchSpace site here.


Martin Donnelly, Digital Curation Centre, University of Edinburgh

Jonathan Hope, Strathclyde University


‘Visualising and Mining Text’ (slides)



Maria Economou, HATII and the Hunterian, University of Glasgow




Data and Ethics Roundtable:



Clare Padgett, Edinburgh City Council



Robin Rice, University of Edinburgh