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Research Themes

Making Visible

The following sketches of the principal thematic clusters that have emerged in recent years at the University of Cambridge highlight research areas in the field of Digital Humanities which are both distinctive and highly interdisciplinary. They do not represent a comprehensive map of DH research activity at the University.

Digital editing
Cambridge is well-established as an international player in the field of digital editing, with a number of prestigious projects currently led by researchers at the University, and a long track record of research initiatives in this area. Major ongoing digital edition projects include the Casebooks Project, Arthur Schnitzler Digital, the Darwin Correspondence Project, and the Online Chopin Variorum Edition. Researchers involved in digital editing projects at Cambridge are actively exploring the possibilities of new digital methods for their work. Efforts encompass and advance the encoding of documents through active involvement with the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The implementation of the Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), and leading in progressing development of it, is revolutionising how researchers engage with collections. The nature of these advances contributes to ever more sustainable tools and outputs that have a truly global scale.

The networked digital age has opened the door to experimenting with crowdsourcing as a public engagement tool and to using network analysis and other approaches to data visualisation to understand relationships between people and places within texts.

Data and society
Another cluster of new and established research projects is exploring the ethical, political and social implications of the expansion of social media data in particular, and the creation of Big Data more generally. This research cluster complements the work of researchers in the Psychometrics Laboratory and the Computer Laboratory, but brings a distinctively social science- and humanities-based approach to bear on social media and Big Data research problems. Recent research projects in this area include the Conspiracy and Democracy project led by John Naughton, David Runciman and Richard Evans; the Technology, Democracy and the Digital Society strands at the Centre for Digital Knowledge; the Africa's Voices project at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights; the interdisciplinary Ethics of Big Data research group; and the Ethical, Social and Legal Implications (ELSI) work package of the Dementia Platform UK project based at the Institute of Public Health.

A number of researchers across these projects are involved in a range of networking and knowledge exchange activities, including the Researching (with) Social Media reading group and an Ethics of Big Data working group within the Cambridge Big Data Strategic Research Initiative. The Centre for the Future of Intelligence, which led by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with Oxford, Imperial College London and UC Berkeley, marks an important change in the landscape of DH research. The centre aims to create a new community of researchers in Artificial Intelligence drawing on the intellectual resources of a variety of disciplines spanning engineering, computer science, the humanities and social sciences.

Theories and practices for the humanities at scale
The foundation of The Concept Lab within the Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge is playing a key role in encouraging the development of research in digital epistemology at Cambridge. The Concept Lab is developing and deploying computational methods and working with large datasets in order to describe and analyse the functioning and historical development of conceptual forms. Other projects in this area seek to utilise data science infrastructure and expertise from the Cambridge Computer Lab, Research Computing Services, Cambridge Big Data and the Alan Turing Institute to explore and analyse the rich collections of the University Library and Cambridge University Press in collaboration with humanities scholars, librarians and archivists.

Visual culture in the digital age
From the twentieth century onward, the production and consumption of visual material has become central to our understanding of society, history and culture. Much of this material is now digital, through the proliferation of born-digital visual content or through the digitisation of historic media. Yet we have no library of the visual, and lack the resources to engage with this material as researchers. Cambridge has a well-established presence in the field of visual culture research and teaching through the Cambridge Screen Media Research Group and a number of research projects in this area. Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic, which is building a comprehensive database of images of the bubonic plague pandemic, is one of a cluster of projects which focus on visual culture research. Making Visible explores the visual and graphic practices of the early Royal Society, while Seeing Things aims to create an interdisciplinary research environment for scholars of the early modern period to debate methodologies for the study of material and visual culture.

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