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Digital Humanities Seminar: An introduction to the ‘Living with Machines’ project

Digital Humanities Lab seminar series. Dr Katie McDonough (The Alan Turing Institute) and Prof Jon Lawrence (University of Exeter): "An introduction to the ‘Living with Machines’ project". Join us for drinks and nibbles following the paper!

Event details


Our paper will introduce the Living with Machines (LwM) project’s principal strategic, methodological and research aims and will offer a flavour of some of the preliminary research being conducted within three of its task-focused ‘Labs’ (Language, Sources, and Space & Time), which bring scholars together from the British Library, the Alan Turing Institute and partner HEIs.
One of LwM’s major sources is the digitized corpus of BL newspapers. Newspapers cannot be interpreted independently from their geography and spatial information can be one of the major connectors between LwM datasets. Automatic geographic information retrieval is therefore at the heart of our approach to exploring the news. Being able to situate this information in space requires translating place names into locations, and for this we require a temporally-appropriate gazetteer, one that addresses both the local and global scale of nineteenth-century British news. We will discuss how the Language Lab has built this gazetteer and how it improves on previously available resources.
We will also discuss the work of the project’s ‘Sources Lab’, including a brief overview of the constraints on past UK newspaper digitisation projects and how these have informed the project’s selection priorities for new digitisation and its approach to ingesting existing digitised data. We will discuss how we are working towards solutions based on new collaborations between librarians and scholars, and will introduce: a) our own custom visualisation tool designed to support decision making about digitisation; b) an overview of the project’s digitisation of the annual Newspaper Press Directories (1847-)—an essential record of all British newspapers; and c) the potential utility of metrics that can be extracted from analysing the metadata extracted from these directories.

Finally, we will discuss the Space & Time Lab’s preliminary work with digitised maps. One of the origin stories of spatial history involves historians turning tabular data into maps in GIS. Instead, we start from historical maps as sources and investigate how new computer vision methods can allow us to ‘turn maps into data’. Our maps corpus includes images and metadata from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century OS maps. Like the Sources Lab, our early work has been focused around historical research questions (How does the presence of machines impact lives differently in different places during the Industrial Revolution?), issues of source bias (How do cartographic sources represent rapid industrialization?), and methodological challenges (How well do existing computer vision methods work on nineteenth-century maps?).

Dr Katie McDonough is a historian of eighteenth-century France working at the intersection of political culture and the history of science and technology. She completed her PhD in History at Stanford in 2013. She has taught at Bates College and was a postdoctoral researcher in digital humanities at Western Sydney University (Australia). Before joining the Turing Institute, Katie was the Academic Technology Specialist in the Department of History/Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research at Stanford University. Her first book manuscript, 'Public Works Laboratory: Building a Province in Eighteenth-Century France' is a spatial history of the corvée, the forced labor regime used from the 1730s until the Revolution on highway construction sites. At the Turing, Katie works on the Living with Machines project. Her research focuses on 1) geographic information retrieval for historical British texts, 2) computer vision with Ordnance Survey maps, and 3) the history of transportation infrastructure.

Prof Jon Lawrence teaches History at the University of Exeter and is a specialist on modern British social, cultural and political history. His latest book, Me, Me, Me? The Search for Community in Post-war England was published by Oxford University Press in June 2019. It uses the testimony of ordinary people collected since the 1940s to challenge conventional accounts of the death of community and the relentless rise of selfish individualism. His previous books include Speaking for the People: Party, Language and Popular Politics in England, 1867-1914 (1998), and Electing Our Masters: the Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair (2009). He has written for The Observer, The London Review of Books, and BBC History Magazine and has contributed to history programmes on Radio 4, BBC2 and Channel 4.