UC10154 -- Exploring digital heritage -- Week 12

Draft, 25 October 2016
This page should be in a useful state, but still needs work before it's finished.

Online interventions

Next week

Next week you should use the normal workshop time to work on your own projects for assignment 3. I will be sitting in the computer lab as usual between 1.30pm and 4.30pm on Wednesday, ready and willing to help you with any problems – so drop in! I’ll make sure the lolly jar is full!

ASIO Update

Just to conclude the ongoing story of my adventures in the world of ASIO files, I gave a keynote at the Australian Society of Archivists annual conference last week. My site for browsing digitised ASIO files is now public, as is my collection of redactions.

Once I get over post-keynote exhaustion, I want to have another look at my redaction finder to see if I can improve its accuracy before I apply it to the second major series of ASIO surveillance files, A6122. My plan is to experiment further with some of the machine learning techniques I described in our workshop on computer vision.

A quick recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground through this unit and I hope it hasn’t been overwhelming. My aim was to give you a sense of what’s possible in the realm of digital cultural heritage, and hopefully inspire you to explore some of these possibilities further.

We started off by having a look at what changes when we make the jump from analogue to digital – what can we see or do that we couldn’t before? We also tried our hands at hacking the web.

One of the defining features of digital cultural heritage is its orientation towards the public. But who is the public and how do we create opportunities for collaboration and engagement? And will bots take over the world?

More and more cultural heritage collections are coming online, providing new opportunities for exploration and analysis. But what isn’t there? What can’t we find? While we play around with all this wonderful data we have to remain critical of the processes of selection, resourcing, description, and discovery which shape our online experience.

But what is data anyway? We looked at possible sources for digital cultural heritage and noted the complexities of working with humanities data – it’s made of people!

We then starting working our way through a range of tools and techniques for exploring cultural heritage data. First off was and examination of what happens when we treat text as data. Then we surveyed the world of data visualisations more generally and tried out a number of different approaches – from bars to trees and beyond.

Maps can offer powerful opportunities of telling stories with data, but there be dragons. We played around with some great online mapping tools while thinking about possible distortions in space and time.

We leant a bit about what it’s like to see like a computer. Here again there are exciting possibilities, but possibly scary implications. What are our responsibilities as cultural heritage workers?

Virtual reality is taking off – or is it? We looked at the development of 3D models, virtual worlds, and augmented reality. But how do we preserve and access this expanding realm of digital experience. We examined some approaches to web archiving.

Throughout these explorations, we’ve not only played with the possibilities, we’ve also thought about the problems. We have to remain aware of the voices that are silenced, the stories that are hidden, the power that is implicit in technologies of analysis and representation. There is no neutral position.

Making a difference

Here’s something to try:

  • Go to asio.gov.au (of course)

  • Right click somewhere on the page and select ‘Inspect’ or ‘Inspect Element’ from the menu. (You might need to use Chrome.)

  • A complicated looking control panel opens up that tells you all about the innards of the web.

  • Click on the ‘Console’ tab.

  • Cut and paste the code in the box below into the console, then hit enter.

document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0].innerHTML = '<h1>All your secrets are belong to us!</h1>';

Warning you’ve just hacked ASIO’s website! (No not really… just reload to get it back.)

This takes us back to Week 1, when we were playing around with X Ray Googles. One of the points I was trying to make is that the web isn’t ‘published’ like a book or a magazine – we have the power to change what we’re given, to be creators of our online experience, and not just consumers.

In week 1 I introduced userscripts as a way of playing around with the web. For me, they’re a way of exploring alternate possibilities – ‘What would happen if…?’ types of questions. It’s also a way of making a point about what collection interfaces don’t show.

So, for example, I created a userscript that puts the faces of people who lived under the restrictions of the White Australian Policy back into RecordSearch. Instead of just metadata, you see the people inside.

RS faces

As I noted last week, I’ve created a new userscript that puts information about redactions into RecordSearch – so you can see what you can’t see.

Last week, I also pointed you to the work of Documenting the Now project. They’re developing archiving tools that will enable them to capture the voices and experiences of those who might not otherwise be documented in cultural institutions or the mainstream media.

Digital cultural heritage is not just about making cool things online (although it is pretty awesome). It’s about using the tools and technologies at our disposal to make a difference.

What’s it all for?

Why is this work important? In the reading for this week I included links to three recent talks – all of which address the ‘why’ question, though in different ways.

If you haven’t read them, at least take 30 minutes or so to watch Thomas Padilla’s keynote. Significantly, this was presented at a symposium organised by the US Library of Congress on Collections as Data – all over the world, we’re starting to think about the same sorts of issues.

This is a video of the whole day(!), so you need to skip ahead to the 7:35 mark to catch the start of Thomas’s talk.

Think about the three themes in Thomas’s talk and how they might relate to the sort of tools and technologies we’ve been exploring:

  • Ethics – what are our responsibilities?
  • Empowerment – how can we share what we know?
  • Agency – who has the power and why?

While you’re at it, you might want to read Mark Sample’s ‘A protest bot is a bot so specific you can’t mistake it for bullshit’. I refer to it in my talk – it’s powerful and thought provoking.

Looking ahead

If you’re interested in pursuing work in digital cultural heritage some and talk to me! There are a number of possibilities – research projects, internships, perhaps even honours or postgrad work.

I’ll be leaving the course content in my Digital Heritage Handbook, so feel free to dip back in at any time for links and information.

Happy hacking!