Visualizing Digital Humanities Workshop

Last month I and four OCLC colleagues—William Harvey, Rob Koopman, Shenghui Wang, and Jeff Young—participated in a “Visualizing Digital Humanities” workshop held at the Lorentz Center at the University of Leiden (photo at right).  It brought together experts who had created “research datasets”, scholars, and visualization experts. Two of the four datasets were created by OCLC Research:

  • “Translation History of Works”, a linked data dataset consisting of bibliographic information about five works and all their associated translations extracted from WorldCat and enhanced by data retrieved from Wikidata.
  • “Semantic Maps of Research Disciplines”, consisting of clusters of documents in three categories, Digital Humanities, Digital Libraries, and Digital Curation.

The workshop was divided into plenary sessions where experts gave talks about their particular areas and seven working sessions where visualization experts and scholars collaborated with the dataset creators to come up with visualizations. I presented Challenges of Multilingualism, which focused on translations, as that is how we learn about other cultures and other cultures learn about us. I summarized OCLC Research’s exploration of enriching WorldCat records with data extracted from Wikidata to associate translations to the original work when that information is not included in the MARC records. (The full program is here).

We all enjoyed collaborating with experts during the five-day workshop. To sum up our experiences:

  • The opportunity to work in the same room, on the same problems, with some of the world’s experts was immensely For our translation dataset, our scholar noted the importance of including commentaries and interpretations (which we had excluded) along with different editions of the original and translations.
  • Visualization helps minds efficiently synthesize and transmit knowledge. Continuous conversations about the purpose of the visualization is critical so that the design is not led astray.
  • Team dynamics have a big impact on projects, especially in time-limited sprints. Face-to-face discussions were crucial to our efficiency. We were all impressed how quickly teams had something to show everyone!
  • Visualization researchers are not engineers—building a tool is not their focus. We were surprised at the reluctance for sharing modifications to open source software in this community.
  • For digital humanities, any visualization tool that helps researchers to locate source data that warrant “close reading” is valuable.

We returned with ideas for possible future research and papers we might publish about our work.