5 years ago, on the 23rd October 2017, after many months of planning and construction work, the Digital Humanities Lab officially opened. Since then we’ve supported teaching and research through a pandemic, collaborated with academics and cultural heritage institutions on research projects, created many exciting digital resources and websites, worked with 28 undergraduate interns, digitised 100s of cassettes to preserve recordings for future use, worked with Exeter City FC, developed websites and databases for research projects, taken 1000s of high quality photographs of rare books and manuscripts including the Exeter Book and the University of Exeter archive, supported podcast and film recordings, created RTI and 3D printed models for archaeology and a whole lot more.
To celebrate our 5th birthday we will be running open day events throughout the term – keep an eye on our upcoming events or twitter to join us!
In the meantime, lets look back to where the lab began!
In the summer of 2016, this corner of the Queens building featured an archaeology equipment store, a bike rack and some very exciting recycling bins. And then the diggers showed up…
Hi, I’m Heide, a second year English Undergraduate. I first encountered the Exeter Digital Humanities Lab during the Festival of Discovery after my first year, but I had already unconsciously experienced Digital Humanities throughout my degree, through online resources such as EEBO (Early English Books Online), The Hardy Correspondents and many other archive websites that I used to research primary sources.
My first hands on experience with digital humanities was during my year one Rethinking Shakespeare module (EAS1041), where we used TEI text encoding to combine differences in Folio and Quarto texts for scholarly consideration. The digitally encoded text provides a more interactive text for study, as different textual variants can be easily seen and more equally considered. The accessibility of the digital texts and the significant scholarly applications inspired me to look further into the previously unknown field of digital humanities by applying to be an intern.
At the start of my internship, I had little technical knowledge about digital photography and technology, however, the DH Lab provided all the training basics. Every week I enjoyed learning new things: Basic Camera skills, Photogrammetry, RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imagery), 3D Modelling and Printing, Photoshop, Audio and Visual recording and editing… The list really does go on! I loved all of the training across the lab and attempted to partake in as many varied projects as I could throughout my internship. One of our training sessions was on photogrammetry, where we brought in our own objects to produce a model. I brought in one of my crochet projects – a kind of awkward looking rabbit (who can be found on one of the Digital Humanities information slides in the Breakout space!). The software wasn’t a great fan of the object, and fabric itself is not the best suited to photogrammetry, so it turned out a little bit wonky (as seen below).
My first projects consisted of 2D digitization in Lab 1, using the A0 copystand. I digitized many letters , and I still enjoy discussing the adorable wax seals to this day. The experience of touching and reading documents and artefacts that would commonly be sealed away in a private collection or museum is such an amazing and interesting experience. I also helped to digitise a collection of Arabic postcards and documents and the Exeter University Fine Art Committee documents. I also used Lab 1 to photograph and reverse negatives of Arabic documents for study in the Lawforms project. Alongside the other interns I helped with inbox and reception management, as well as social media contributions for the Lab and university projects, such as promotional material for the Famine Tales Project.
I also worked on digitising cassette tapes of interviews with Devonshire farmers to convert them into a digital format using the Audio-Visual Lab (AV Lab, Lab 3). As someone who grew up in Devon it was very interesting to hear personal interviews of the locals, and often quite entertaining.
I worked on a larger RTI project to digitize archaeological arrowheads for a university colleague at Exeter. RTI (Reflectance transformation imagery) is performed by capturing images of a static object with a static camera but with changing light angles (check out the DH Lab RTI demonstration page here: https://humanities-research.exeter.ac.uk/rti/). These images are then put into a software called RTI_builder and the process is followed to create an interactive RTI model. Here is a “normals” (the colours correspond to the direction of the surface) of one of the arrowheads:
And a regular screen capture of the object’s other side here:
I also worked on several of my own digitisation projects, including handwritten letters from my Grandma as well as wedding photos from my Aunt. I worked on this alongside all of the projects at the Lab, and it was nice to digitise some of my own family history.
I found working as an intern at Digital Humanities an invaluable experience and recommend it to anybody looking for any experience in the field for job opportunities and personal experience. Don’t let lack of digital experience daunt you – the lab is very welcoming and provides all necessary training help to all interns!
What a year! I have loved working at the Digital Humanities Lab over my third year at Exeter – I have had the opportunity to try so many different activities and have seen a side of the History Faculty and Department I would not normally get to experience as a student. Most enlightening has been the gradual process of understand just how much work goes into conserving and storing the documents we use in our daily studies, and it has given me a new appreciation for the feat of achievement of many of our digital archives. I have particularly enjoyed working with the Drama department’s new Podcasting studio; its accessible format and set-up making it really easy to create podcasts with other students and friends, and I hope to continue this project in my career as a way of enjoying more public debates on history. The most useful advice I could give to someone applying to the Lab or who has already got a place on the internship team is to try everything – and to not be afraid to ask questions. All the staff are super friendly and helpful, and it’s always a great idea to start off slow, learn the techniques properly and learn how to best use and approach each type of archival material, giving you the skills to work more efficiently as the year progresses.
A typical day in the Lab starts with me digitising the most recent documents, photographs or journals that have been brought in – I have partially loved digitising a collection of journals written in the late 1800s by local Devon women, to showcase their artistic, literary and poetic skill. Working with this was challenging, especially as the books were often badly bound or produced on thin, cheap paper, and so they had to be handled slowly and carefully. I used my training from the Special Collections team to plan how to approach each challenge in digitising such a varied type of document. I have also enjoyed seeing the various people and departments who use the Labs photography and recording equipment on a weekly basis to improve course delivery and structure. Learning how to integrate these technologies into future education approaches and lesson planning is the future of education, and will open up the Humanities to a much greater variety of abilities, learning approaches and stages- and as a protective future teacher this has been truly exciting to experience first-hand and have a ‘hands on’ impact on digitisation delivery at the University.
I have really enjoyed my time at the Lab, and can’t recommend enough applying for an internship – you’ll lean so much about the complex and intriguing world of document preservation, and get a new-found appreciation for our brilliant archives and libraries.
Hi, I’m Isabel, a second-year history student and intern at the Digital Humanities Lab.
I have been interested in the Digital Humanities Lab since my first open day before coming to Exeter. What inspired me was the idea that modern technology could expand our understanding of history and build on our current knowledge of the past in brand new ways. I wanted to find out what the Lab had to offer and what opportunities might be out there in the changing world of historical research.
The biggest project I’ve been a part of this year has been working with the Disability Namibia Team (@NoBODYexcluded). I’ve led, recorded and edited interviews, ran website design and supported the social media outreach of this wonderful project which aims to build a network of disability activists, scholars, clergy, artists and political representatives to explore religio-cultural narratives of embodiment and disability in Namibia. It’s been wonderful to be a part of such a multidisciplinary project and something I would never have been able to do as an undergraduate outside of the internship.
Alongside this has been my work with Dr Charlotte Tupman, Research Fellow in Digital Humanities. The project has mainly focused on exploring the OCR – Optical Character Recognition – capabilities of the ABBYY FineReader software when it is presented with a book’s text and measuring its abilities to transform early modern script into computer-readable XML format. My favourite aspect of working on this project has been its investigative nature, finding out how best to use this technology and what might soon be possible as the project advances.
Other than this, my favourite parts have been working with special collections and with the Lab’s 3D printer. As an intern, I had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of working with historical collections, including how to handle things such as books, pamphlets, lantern slides, and photo negatives and I loved that I could learn skills I could take away with me into a future in humanities.
The 3D printer has been a brilliant opportunity to discover my creative capabilities at the DH Lab. Working with the Ultimaker 3D printer, I was able to make two small and adorable models that made great Christmas gifts for friends and family! The first of these was the goose. Initially, the software was uncertain whether it could print something with such an overhang at the neck when there were no materials available for making a temporary support. But, I was able to adapt settings and re-scale where necessary until I could print the goose I have today. The second was this puppy. By this time, I could use what I had learnt from my experience making the goose to confidently scale and print the puppy ready to make a gift at Christmas. So, not only do I know how to set up a 3D printer, operate the software and print anything I’d like, but I now have these two little pets to call my own!
My tips for anyone considering an internship at the Digital Humanities Lab would first be: apply! It’s a brilliant opportunity and a great place to work. This internship has given me an opportunity for a wealth of experience and knowledge unique to the Digital Humanities Lab here at Exeter.
We work on lots of exciting digitisation work in the Digital Humanities Lab, and our wonderful undergraduate interns have put together a video to give you a snapshot of just some of the materials we have made digitally available.
But how do we make sure that the resources we create will be usable in 5, 10 or even 100 years time? Digital content can be extremely ephemeral, and is vulnerable to being irreplaceably lost if we’re not careful – just think of how many floppy disks and CDs most of us have that are no longer supported by our current computer. So while we’re creating new content through digitisation in the lab, we’re also working hard with colleagues around the University to plan for the longer-term future of the materials we create, as well as supporting the preservation of digital resources in the University collections.
A lot of digital preservation goes on behind the scenes, and isn’t always as obvious as some of the other work we do, so World Digitisation Day, run by the Digital Preservation Coalition is a great opportunity to stop and celebrate what we do as well as see how much else is going on around the world!
The new online platform for the Exeter book is now live, making one of the oldest surviving volumes of English literature in the world fully accessible to the public for the first time.
The new platform has already been generating lots of interest, especially through Exeter’s role as a UNESCO city of literature, and since this kind of digitisation might be new to many of those interested, we thought we’d share a behind the scenes tour of what goes into creating the high definition images that make it possible to explore the tiny details of a 1,000-year-old manuscript on your phone.
Hi, I’m Courtney and I’ve just completed my BA English degree. In my final year I have worked as an advisory intern in the DH Lab and loved every minute. In this very unusual year, I have been lucky enough to gain experience in the lab and have got to work on some very exciting projects remotely.
I first became interested in digital humanities, when taking the Rethinking Shakespeare module in my first year. On this module we had the option to create a digital edition of the ending of King Lear in TEI/XML for one of our assessments and from then on I was hooked. Over the course of this year, I have learnt more about 2D and 3D digitisation even creating my own RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) set-up from home when the second lockdown hit – a testament to what can be achieved with a torch, a marble and some string. Later in the year I was finally able to get back into the lab and learn how to use our RTI dome and complete some digitisation of Northcott Theatre materials using the A0 copystand in Lab 1 too. Although the AV Lab has still evaded me.
Hi, I’m Jordan and I am currently working towards my BA History degree. This year, I have worked as an intern with the Digital Humanities Lab and I will be reflecting on the experience and skills that I developed in this blog post.
One of the best things about working in the labs is the extensive range of possibilities available, which gave me the opportunity to work with 2D, 3D, and Audio-Visual digitisation. My favourite area of work was 3D digitisation in the Makerspace, which houses our 3D printers and 3D workstation. This was an area which I became particularly interested in and one that would be of particular use to any future intern interested in cultural heritage. I loved 3D Digitisation because it required me to create things. 3D has so much potential for education as it creates a hands-on learning experience and makes digital education more accessible and is an area that I would definitely recommend getting into! In addition to my 3D work, I learnt how to code, played with Arduino boards, and also completed highly precise Photoshop stitching on our Saxton’s ‘Atlas of England and Wales’ project. Continue reading →
Our intern cohort of 2019/ 2020 created individual presentations to share their experiences of working in the DH Lab and talk about their digital projects. Find out more about the benefits of the internship to their learning as Humanities undergraduates and the positive impact on their progression and aspirations.
My name is Eve and I’ve just completed my last assignments as a final year History and French student at the university. Working as an intern in the DH Lab this year has been an incredible experience, allowing me to truly make the most of my final year at Exeter.
This internship has enabled me to develop so many skills throughout the year, related to both DH and the more general world of work. With regard to my DH skills, I have had the opportunity to be trained in 2D and 3D Digitisation, 3D printing and Audio-Visual techniques. I am particularly interested in 2D digitisation techniques because they allow us to study more closely and preserve historical documents and manuscripts, as well as the use of digital archives, to make them accessible to the wider public. Throughout the year I have been able to get involved in numerous projects of this kind, which has really enabled me to hone my skills. Continue reading →
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