There is a wealth of specialist digital humanities skills and resources in Cambridge, and CDH Labs steers researchers towards the best tools and advice, within Cambridge and beyond, in order to create strong funding applications and excellent scholarship and research.
CDH Labs also provides longer-term developer support for some DH projects by allocating time from a technical team based in CDH, UIS and the University Library. High Performance Computing Services are available in collaboration with UIS for projects requiring additional processing power.
One example of the support on offer is the Text- and Data-Mining Test Kitchen, an experimental service which explores the application of TDM methods to collections at the University Library and Cambridge University Press and which offers a tailored package of advice covering issues such as IP rights, data access, corpus creation, access to High-Performance Computing (HPC) facilities, data visualisation methods and software sustainability. The Text- and Data-Mining Test Kitchen is run collaboratively by CDH, CUP and the UL.
What are the ingredients of a good DH research project? Even a quick glance at the huge range of DH projects under way at the University of Cambridge and at institutions around the world reveals that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to project conception and design. Nevertheless, some common features do characterise DH projects and indeed research initiatives more generally, and the most important is that designated research questions will underlie and motivate each such enquiry.
Once an idea has been initially formed, it is helpful to develop a research project based on it according to the following headings:
- Context (to include consideration of existing research in the area of interest, with a view to identifying possible lacunae or problems therein)
- Research Questions or Problems (these should arise from the inadequacies or problems associated with the existing research)
- Aims (focusing in particular on the relevant research questions or problems)
- Objectives (indicating specific outcomes from the proposed research, including publications or other forms of output, including internet-based resources, as well as advances in knowledge and understanding, new techniques, and so forth)
- Methodology (how the research would be undertaken and according to what timescale)
- Potential Significance (articulating how the proposed research would be original and of potential value to others in redressing the lacunae and/or problems identified at the start)
Given that Digital Humanities encompasses the use of digital methods by arts and humanities researchers and necessarily involves some form of collaboration between DH specialists and those in the computing and scientific disciplines, it is essential to consider the nature of the ‘happy marriage’ that one hopes will emerge from that collaboration. This might involve the use of innovative methods and tools for investigating traditional data and media, or enhanced techniques for researching altogether new forms of data and media, as well as issues, ideas, behaviours, and much else. It might also concern the unprecedented opportunities offered in the field of DH to interrogate and reflect on the knowledge and insight that ‘the digital’ affords.
Early consideration must of course be given to the partners who are best placed to take part in the work; this is of critical importance to the success of a DH project, not least because the ideas about how the research might proceed will ideally be developed in dialogue and discussion across the potential team. It is extremely exciting, and often highly propitious, to exchange insights from different humanistic and/or technical perspectives that eventually yield more than the sum of their parts. One aspect of the ‘happy marriage’ referred to above therefore involves the feeding in of alternative approaches that one of the partners could never have thought of on their own, but which end up transforming the nature of the project, indeed transforming the underlying research questions themselves. Bear in mind that the dialogues and discussions that take place might involve conflict and opposition – but that in turn can be productive when handled effectively.
The fact that digital technologies are redefining what it means to be human means that DH researchers across the globe have unprecedented opportunity to harness the power offered by technology for exploring, defining and embodying new forms of knowledge and insight about the ‘human condition’. Once again, the first step is to articulate the questions or problems that must be addressed if understanding and knowledge are to expand and develop further.
Once the concept and scope of a project have been established, there is a wealth of specialist digital humanities skills and resources in Cambridge that can be called upon. As well as offering direct support, the CDH Lab can steer you towards the best tools and advice in order to create strong funding applications and excellent scholarship and research.
These pages provide a starting point on where you can find practical support and advice to get your project started. This can range from the production of digital content (images, video, 3D) and advice on metadata standards, through to the costing, sustainability and impact of digital humanities projects. The CDH Lab can offer advice and consultancy in the technical components of research bids and either provide direct technical support for digital humanities projects or broker resources in the wider University.
The CDH Lab can also offer advice to existing digital humanities projects which are looking to put their workflows and research outputs on a more sustainable footing, particularly with regard to standards and the use of existing infrastructure in the University.
The Digital Content Unit produces a wide variety of digital content in support of digital humanities projects – from high-resolution archival images to specialist imaging such as infra-red, ultra-violet and 3D. The DCU can also produce video to help with project impact, and help with issues around copyright and licensing.
Examples of recent and ongoing projects include:
- A stray Sumerian tablet (high-resolution imaging, video and 3D)
- Burmese maps (specialist imaging of very large items)
- Mingana-Lewis palimpsest (UV imaging, image manipulation)
Metadata and Standards
The Digital Library Unit provides training and advice on metadata standards for DH projects including semantic mark-up of textual content, transcription and translation for digital editions projects, the selection and use of ontologies and identifiers, and the production and licensing of content for programmatic analysis. The DLU has particular expertise in xml mark-up languages such as TEI.
Examples of recent and ongoing projects include:
- Equatorie of the Planetis (full description, transcription and translation of the Chaucer autograph)
- Darwin manuscripts (digital edition of manuscripts leading to publication of the Origin)
- Board of Longitude (digital version of large archive with accessible description, transcription of key texts and links to a museum collection)
Hosting and Sustainability
The University Library provides a competitive model for the storage and preservation of digital content, as well as offering hosting services through Cambridge Digital Library, a well-established platform for content-driven DH projects. The Digital Library is the long-term home to over forty DH projects, ranging from editions of the papers of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin to twentieth century photograph collections. The UL also offers storage and hosting services to other DH projects outside the scope of the Digital Library.
Tools and Development
The CDH Lab and the University Library’s development team provide active support in scoping, costing and carrying out development work, including the following areas:
- Text encoding
- Transcription and digital editions
- Text and data mining
- Data visualisation
- Linguistic computing
- Social network analysis
- 3D modelling
The CDH Lab team has a wide range of experience in helping DH projects achieve maximum impact, including issues around openness, licensing and discoverability on the web, use of video content, accessibility of textual content, use of social media and the framing of projects for the University Communications Office and media outlets. The Digital Content Unit and the CDH Lab can also help researchers use analytical tools to measure and report on the impact of their projects in a sophisticated way, such as differentiating between research and general use, identifying use in an educational context, and enabling and controlling reuse of research output.
High Performance Computing
University Information Services (UIS) provides a large high performance computing service for use by the University of Cambridge research community. The High Performance Computing Service (HPCS) consists of:
HPCS also provides the new Cambridge Service for Data Driven Discovery.
CSD3 is a multi-institution service underpinned by an innovative, petascale, data-centric HPC platform, designed specifically to drive data-intensive simulation and high-performance data analysis. The new service constitutes a major addition to the UK national e-infrastructure, which will enable large-scale simulation and next-generation data analytics capability for researchers across a broad range of disciplines. The CSD3 platform has been co-designed with DELL EMC, Intel and NVIDIA.
A non-exhaustive list of research areas expected to particularly benefit from CSD3 includes:
- Turbulence simulations (relevant to the aeronautical industry)
- Combustion simulations (relevant to the automotive industry)
- Analysis of large data sets from the Internet of Things (relevant to smart cities research)
- Materials modelling research
- Medical applications, including:
- Analysis of large medical image data sets
- Population-scale gene variant analysis
- Real-time medical analytics for use in hospital decision support systems
HPCS welcomes users from all disciplines within the University and of all levels of experience. The CDH Lab can help researchers identify the appropriate HPC service to use for their project and work with UIS to deliver a solution.
The CDH Lab does not directly deliver most DH projects although it may do some direct implementation work on smaller-scale projects where the appropriate skills and time are available. However, this does not mean that the CDH Lab is not involved in implementation.
Having identified appropriate solutions as part of the project concept and start-up phases, the CDH Lab will continue to work with researchers to ensure successful project delivery.
The main part of its work is continuing to act as a ‘bridge’ between researchers and those delivering the project who may be in other parts of the University or external to it. The CDH Lab will continue to provide advice and support to researchers working with partners to help move the project forward.
The CDH Lab can also help if things start to go wrong or if project timescales slip, suggesting where appropriate different solutions if things change or don’t work as expected during the project. Occasionally this might include re-brokering to another supplier.
When a project ends, the CDH Lab can also help to ensure the sustainability of the project’s data and help to maintain any websites for an agreed period of time after the project ends.
The CDH Lab can help you to ensure the sustainability of your research project. This is a particular challenge for digital projects due to the difficulty in continuing to maintain technology such as a website over a period of time.
Once built, a website requires constant maintenance to ensure that it continues to operate and to ensure that it is secure. Over time, the technology of the original site might not work properly with newer web browsers.
Where a project wants to ensure that data will remain available for a considerable period of time, the CDH Lab can help in two ways:
- Planning a website that can operate for an agreed period of time after the project ends and ensuring that this is hosted securely and kept up to date
- Working with you to ensure that the data is also submitted to data repositories so that it continues to be available after the website ends.
The CDH Lab can also advise on the appropriate file formats to store data in to ensure that it remains usable for as long as possible.
It is important to seek advice about this as early as possible so that, for example, the costs of web hosting can be built into research bids.