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DH-JAC 2011

This is a conference report on DH-JAC 2011. the The title of the symposium is "The Present and Future of the Digital Humanities". I have blogged it with my speaking notes here.

Note: This is being written live so there will be typos, gaps and misunderstandings.

Opening Welcome by Dr. Koyfumi Kawaguchi, Chancellor of Ritsumeikan University

Chancellor talked about a sense of crisis around the isolation of the humanities. The humanities in Japan tend to be conducted locally. He called for revitalizing the humanities to save them from being closed and to help them regain their original vitality. This is one of his major missions as a university scholar and leader.

The focus of this conference is human science. Ritsumeikan has a new vision around applying new technologies to the arts, culture and humanities. The centre was formed in 2007 and this symposium will review the achievements and develop ideas for the future. Another goal of the symposium is to nurture young scholars for which reason there will be presentations and posters by graduate students and postdocs.

With this he opened the 2nd International Symposium on Digital Humanities for Japanese Arts and Cultures.

Makoto Nagao: The National Diet Library's Efforts on Creating a Digital Library

Nagao is the Director of the National Diet Library. Their motto is "Through Knowledge We Prosper". The mission of the NDL is to collect records of the activities of Japanese people and to preserve these collections. They provide services to National Diet members and convey information of Diet and government activities to the public. They have some 37.5 million items.

When it comes to digital services they try to make their resources equally available. The best way to do this is to digitize and make available online. Copyright, however, is a problem. As for digital materials they have the minutes of Diet meetings from Meiji period on. They have started digitizing rare books. They have an online gallery called Memories of Japan.

They have gotten the copyright law amended that allows them to digitize all materials for preservation purposes without permission. They can make these available for research. $140 million USD was allocated in 2009 to a digitization project that has digitized 900,000 items up to 1968.

The NDL has also organized digital exhibitions. They have an exhibit on relations with Germany. He showed exquisite images of manuscripts like a draft of Japan's constitution.

They are also working on a UNESCO promoted World Digital Library. This project was started by the Library of Congress and UNESCO in 2005. (One wonders whether the withdrawal of the USA from funding UNESCO will affect this.) One of the problems of this project is that this project is available in 7 languages, but not Japanese. His hope is to add Japanese so that it can be used by schools here. See the World Digital Library. He talked about images that hey have contributed.

He then talked about the challenges of digitizing manga. When digitizing comics you often get the image on the backside of the one being scanned bleeding through. They have developed image processing algorithms that eliminate this.

He talked about the importance of digitizing cultural and articstic artefacts. What was interesting is that he argued it is not just a matter of digitizing, they need to also reconstitute these works in digitization and they need to develop metadata for Japanese materials.

They also want to be able to digitize movies and be able to retrieve clips. They would like to be able to link movies to scripts and allow for annotation for all these items.

He showed a table of the relationship between language and image. It would be nice to have image analysis good enough to support retrieval, but they probably need to continue adding textual metadata. He sees this as an interesting field of research.

Museums, archives and libraries in Japan are now trying to develop federated search tools, but it is early in the process. The NTL is also collaborating with the National Library of China and Korea to develop ways to be able to retrieve over all three languages using machine translation. Machine translation between Korean and Chinese seems to work well, but not with Japanese.

This approach strikes me of a useful way to promote global research. If we can get metadata standardized and get decent translation we should be able to search across languages.

As for the Internet, he argued that Google search is not good enough. It produces too many hits. The Internet is a Knowledge System and digital libraries are a major component of that system. Knowledge will be created by individuals (he called this the age of collective knowledge) and in social networks. We need retrieval systems that produce higher quality results across collective knowledge.

Association is a basic function of connecting things. He wants to bring associative information to the library. He wants users to be able to store and retrieve information according to associations. This reminds me of arguments about hypertext.

Akihiro Kinda: NIHU's Project to Promote Resource Sharing

Kinda is the President of the National Institute for the Humanities. He started by talking about manual techniques he used to study maps of Heian-kyo (the original name of Kyoto). He showed an example of a remarkable map that was printed and then hand-coloured. The coloring is different from one to another. Another issue is that the scale is accurate in the center, but not at the edges where the scale get distorted by an attempt to jam everything in. To analyze such a map is a huge task. Back then he worked with a photo of the map when comparing it to current maps. With digitization one can create environments that let you compare things without touching the original and delicate maps.

He then talked about the National Institutes for the Humanities. These institutes used to be independent, but now they are incorporated. They include the National Museum of Japanese History, the International Research for Japanese Studies and so on. NIHU is trying to help with presentation of results. He talked about how the NIHU promotes research in the humanities. For example, they collaborate with other research organizations and they promote specific areas of research.

Simon C. Lin: From Archives to Digital Humanities

Lin talked about the digital humanities in Taiwan. His talked about the National Digital Archive Project that funded TELDAP the Taiwan e-learning and digital archives program.

Taiwan is important because it is where Australasian people and cultures originated. There is also a high level of biodiversity and documenting that is also important.

Lin showed examples of different databases they have put together. He talked about the printing of books inside books. When paper was hard to get they often printed on the other sides of previously printed texts. They are now trying to restore the original texts without harming the printed book.

He covered a lot of ground. The different web sites developed from educational sites to archives is truly impressive. He talked about Chinese segmentation systems developed to identify high-frequency terms.

In short, TELDAP is a long-term government commitment to preserve and showcase Taiwanese culture.


The initial speakers then joined in a discussion. Lin mentioned a tension between the humanities and IT. Humanists feel that they work with IT folk and don't get anything back. They just provide interesting research problems that the IT folk never really solve. Conversely the IT folk can feel that they are slaves to the humanists. Neither the humanities nor IT are just tools or sources of neutral content. There has to be passion for both the content and the technologies. We need to share our passions. In Japan there are few examples of successful collaborations between between IT and humanists. This is problem common to all of us.

Masaaki Kidachi: Kyoto Culture Group

After lunch we had reports from some of the Ritsumeikan research groups that . Folding screen paintings of and around Kyoto. Behavior and experience of Heian aristograts. A progject that uses GIS. Another project is studying modern film culture in Kyoto. They are developing a film archive. Ethnoarchaeological research in crafts in Kyoto. The last project is trying to preserve craft cultures that are disappearing. Ceramic and fabric traditions are slowly suffering. An interesting question is how much repair and reconstruction to engage in before digitizing. They took the approach of minimal repair in order to make sure that what they digitized was as useful as possible.

He also discussed the issue of what we game and lose when digitizing. We always lose some of the original material, but we gain the ability to manipulate the information.

Professor Seishi Namiki responded to the presentation on this group. He talked about collecting and archiving textile-dyeing designs in modern Kyoto. He discussed how crafts have producers who produce crafts for recipients. The research group has looked not just at the crafts, but also at the context of production. They are trying to understand the workshops, the people involved, the social context of production.

Namiki then talked about how results have been made available to the public. They are not only creating archives, but exhibits.

They then had a discussion. They talked about the need to interview cultural producers (performers and craftspeople) while these arts are still practiced.

Kidachi concluded by saying that digitization is important to Kyoto culture, but they have to be careful not to freeze living cultures.

Ryo Akama: Japanese Culture Research Group

Akama presented on the Japanese Culture Research group work. They are looking at Japanese culture partly from the outside - from the perspective of foreigners.

Dr. Ellis Tinios, Honorary Lecturer, University of Leeds was the respondent. He complimented them on how the important the databases they are building are for researchers around the world. He concluded with the principle that we should "Let the books speak for themselves through the new digital media."

They talked about the need for first-hand knowledge. To study through digital databases one needs experience with some of the real works in order to understand the digitized.

Akama talked about a proposed portal that can integrate all the different databases.

Keiji Yano, Historical GIS Research Group

Yano talked about the people and objectives of the Historical GIS Research Group. They have done some fascinating work creating a 4D (3D plus time) Virtual Kyoto. This allows them to understand and try to restore some of the past landscapes of Kyoto. They have conducted some thorough inventories of buildings here is Kyoto. They identify 47,000 Kyo-matchiya (traditional houses?) and they have a 3D model of the city that shows the change in buildings over time. He talked about the next wave of historical GIS and "digital topography".

Prof. Peter Bol was the respondent. He commented how impressed he was by the poster session. He commented on the importance of planning metadata so that it can be integrated with other databases. He talked about the differences between historical geospatial recreation and fictional virtual realities. He compared Virtual Kyoto to Bernie Frischer's Rome Reborn. In contrast to Rome Reborn, Virtual Kyoto addresses change over time. Few have done this on the scale of Virtual Kyoto.

He closed with some comments on sustainability. How do we maintain these virtual sites. People expect that governments and donors invest in the building of museums and that entrance fees and others provide the ongoing support. Bol feels that some of the money going to support museums will have to go to supporting virtual museums. "For us to realize that we have choices to make in the present that influence the future we need to understand how our present grew out of the past." The values the economy are different than those that guide the culture. To appreciate the past we need to be able to see it and see the present.

He had some suggestions including that Virtual Kyoto might start bringing users inside buildings. Much of what is important about Japanese built culture is inside the buildings.

Yano asked about how international projects can be funded. Bol distinguished between closed ended and open ended projects. A closed ended project can distribute its datasets and not worry about maintaining a dynamic system.

They also talked about the habitus of intangible cultural heritage. Historical GIS projects can be used to provide context for intangible projects.

Mitsuyuki Inaba: Web Technologies Group

Inaba talked about the research of the web technologies group. I was the respondent so I couldn't take notes.

Kozaburo Hachimura: Digital Technologies Group

Hachimura showed a variety of projects that have been experimenting with digital technologies in the humanities. This group is mostly IT researchers experimenting. One project I hadn't heard of before is 3DObject Modelling for fabric and other surfaces to give a virtual and haptic models of fabric and Ukiyoie. They are getting a level of detail that lets them model how light reflects of surfaces. He also took us through a number of projects including the very neat recreation of the Gion festival that I have mentioned before.

Hongbin Zha was the respondent. He mentioned a project of his, the digital long-man grottoes. They are trying archive these grottoes in 3D. He listed some of the core technologies that are needed to support the digitization of cultural:

  • Data capturing, editing
  • Analysis
  • Animating, rendering and displaying
  • Interaction and remote operation

There are also some new requirements:

  • We have to digitize new types of objects
  • We need immersive effects and reality
  • We have to consider how to digitize and process moving targets

Zha talked about the need for better hardware/software to be able to handle read-time modelling. We need research into signal processing in these humanities contexts.

In the discussion they talked about collaboration. Collaboration across IT fields and humanities. For the collaboration to go well we need to create a context where both sides benefit.

One of the key issues we need to tackle now is movement. All sorts of cultural heritage involves movement and video isn't really good enough.

Hachimura talked about how Japan is facing a couple of challenges. Manufacturing is becoming less and less important economically as it moves to China. Japan also has an aging population. For this reason Hachimura believes that quality of life is an important economic and cultural direction. This may be a direction that brings the IT, social science and cultural sectors together.

Zha commented that in China quality of life plays out differently. How can they get affordable technology into the hands of people to document their world at sufficient quality?

And that was the end of the first day.

Atsuko Oya: Theatrical Attractions in Films of the Onoe Matsunosuke Troupe

Oya has created a fascinating database of film performance. Going through a collections of hand bills, newspaper ads and so on they built a database that can let them analyze what was showing.

Alejandro Toledo: Visual Recommendations from Japanese Historical Diary

Toledo presented a paper on research I reported on briefly in my conference report on Culture and Computing 2011. They are looking at stacked graph visualizations. An interesting feature to the project that I am just beginning to understand is how they used a recommendation algorithm to recommend views to users. They use dwell times of users with similar searches. If users with similar searches dwelled for an above average amount of time on a view then that is something to recommend to others.

Worawat Choensawat: The Use of Labanotation for Choreographing a Noh-Play"

Choensawat talked about the use of Labanotation to create animations of Noh movements for educational purposes. I've written about the larger project of Hachimura's lab to study and preserve intangible culture like Noh in this blog post.

Kingkarn Sookhanaphibarn: Visual Analytics Tool for Visitor Circulation

Sookhanaphibarn talked about a project looking at how virtual visitors travel around the Ritsumeikan Digital Archive Pavillion which is on Second Life. One advantage of the virtual pavillion is that they can track how virtual visitors move and dwell on exhibits. The original idea is that she generated a visualization that shows paths over items in exhibit by time. The visualization can show them trends in where people are dwelling longer and help them propose alternative exhibit arrangements.

Bincsik Monika, Ms. Mizuho Kamo, Dr. Akihiro Tsukamoto, and Dr. Ryoko Matsuba: The Location of the Motif or How to Popularize Ideas: Late Edo Period Visual Language Shared In Ukiyo-e, Decorative Arts and the Theatre

Bincsik introduced the panel which is looking at how lacquer objects were consumed by people. She talked about the changes in the 16th century as the lacquer technology changed and as Japan encountered the West. Lacquer objects were made for export. They were also made with depictions of Westerners. She then talked about everyday life in Edo Japan. Motifs were shared across media from, for example, screens to lacquer furniture. They can use wood-block prints to study how lacquer objects were sold and used in everyday life as the objects show up in prints. As the prints are dated this helps date lacquer objects.

Kamo talked about using GIS to track the distribution of lacquer workshops over space and time from the 17th to 19th century. He showed good slides showing the stages in lacquer creation from harvesting from trees to finished work. He has plotted around 300 workshops. There are, however, some interesting issues due to the way addresses worked in the past. He showed how in the 19th century the workshops and raw material dealers moved to the South of Kyoto. By 1850 they are all concentrated in the South area which has become a . Lacquer was among the most expensive in the Edo period so the workshops that sold retail stayed close to potential clients, but things changed in the 19th century. By end of Edo they become affordable to commoners. The lacquer technology was simplified making it cheaper.

Tsukamoto talked about the "Whose sleeves?" motifs where lacquer screens show kimono sleeves. Kimonos were enjoyed not only as garments , but as interior decorations. They were almost more important than the women who wore them. She showed examples then of how kimonos hanging on racks themselves became decorative motifs for lacquer boxes and even on kimonos.

Matsuba talked about the eight views trope in Japanese art and how some iconic views showed up in different arts.

Ellis Tinios responded to these presentations. He pointed out that we have here researchers involved in digitization in the field. The digitization is being done by researchers like this, not by technicians. These young researchers didn't use catalogues, they engaged with the original materials. They didn't just keep personal notes, but digitized materials in a way that lets others use the digital.

Implied in his response is a belief that the digital is not enough to study material culture - you need to handle the original objects (at least some of them) in order to have a sense of what they are studying. Can we dispense with contact with the original in order to study it? Could the digital representations replace the original entirely, or do we feel that one still needs the touchstone of the original.

Of course we have studied representations all along. Few philosophers have access to the original thinker in dialogue as Socrates would want us to. Few handle manuscripts in order to interpret texts. All sorts of research is done with catalogues, records, journals, inventories and other types of representations. We need to be careful about the cult of the presence of the original. Could the aura of the original be a distraction?

At the same time, some of the joy of historical research is contact with historical materials whether in archives or other collections. We do feel there is something special about the presence of the original and we tell stories about that contact - stories that themselves become fodder for humanities research.

Joe Earle: Digitization in an Age of Austerity

Earle started the digitization process at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts of their collection of Japanese art. (He is no longer there.) The main thrust of his talk was about sustainability in an age of austerity. Governments are cutting back their support. Private donors still support stuff, but have specific interests that don't always match with sustainability issues. He gave the example of documentation. Documentation is not sexy enough to get support unless one is single minded and up front about it.

To get digitization and documentation done he took the approach of breaking the collection down into a bunch of smaller project that could be pitched in interesting ways.

He talked about all the reasons why museums resist digitization and resist sharing. He called digital watermarking "quackery".

He talked about the importance of volunteers from students to senior scholars. Volunteerism is the way to get things done in an age of volunteerism. Volunteerism involve the local community in ways that keep interest in the collection after the experts have gone.

He is concerned now with all the museums that have a small number of Japanese items. How do we federate resources, bring them together, and interest people in what they have locally. He argued that we need to keep in mind the broadly educated global public. We should devote attention to engaging this community. We should have easy to use interfaces for the broad public. We should delight people. We need to get beyond online searching. Can we involve digital volunteers - crowdsourcing. He mentioned the BBC Your Paintings project as an example.

Alfred Haft: Advanced Digital Technology at the British Museum

Haft talked about the British Museum website which has a database. They have a feature that lets people give them feedback. For example, someone identified a board in a print as Japanese chess, not Go. He mentioned a UCL study that showed skepticism around social tagging.

An interesting form of collaboration or expertsourcing has emerged between museums and academic projects where an academic project digitizes the works they want to study in a museum collection. They return the high-rez images and metadata to the museum thereby saving the museum

The British Museum is also experimenting with semantic web technologies. Their database also returns items as linked data. The database entries are presented as semantic web endpoints. This project is called ResearchSpace. See the British Museum Semantic Web Collection Online. In ResearchSpace they expect to have all sorts of cool features that will allow people to compare objects, overlay them and so on.

Koji Tanabe, Director: The Development of the Kyoto Digital Archives

The motto of the Kyoto Digital Archives is Save, Connect and Apply. They have set up an entity that can license access to archival materials like the digitized images of screen paintings of Nijo Castle. He showed examples how images have been commercialized in duvets, swim suits, sake, subway cars and so on. The funds that come in from the licensing partly go back to the original sites for restoration.

They have a collaborative project with international museums called the Kyoto International Culture Foundation. The Tsuzuri project (Cultural Heritage Inheritance Project) is producing high quality reproductions. Reproductions can be used to raise awareness, for education and for sale. The international component of this is that they want to make reproductions of assets that have been moved abroad. Screens at the Met in New York have been reproduced and donated to organizations here that can display them or place them.

I am surprised at how these simulations are being exhibited as valuable. These reproductions are substituting for repatriation and being treated as simulacra. One reason may be that the reproductions can be exhibited in ways that allows them to be seen and experienced in ways the originals can't. Originals have to be protected or they are installed in temples in difficult to see spots. Reproductions are the analogue of

The reproductions can be taken to schools on educational tours. Kids can get close and appreciate. To quote one of his slides, the point is "To Learn (Shiru) the Cultures that Our Great Ancestors Created". He described how children responded with pride at the donation of a reproduction to a school.

Masaaki Kashimura: From my Experiemce of Rare Book Digitization by the HUMI Project

Kashimura talked about the digitization of the Gutenberg Bible as part of the HUMI project. He showed how they could compare different versions of the Bible which led to a comparative project. In 1998 they took their special digitizing device abroad to digitize other versions of the Gutenberg Bible. They really were pioneering the technology of rare book digitization cradles. They created devices that manage colour, subtle shifts in the book, focus and so on.

Two years ago the project slowed down. The quality they were working at is too high and too expensive. The tide has shifted to large-scale digitization like Google books. Once the funds were finished the project was terminated. That raises the question of who inherits the data of a finished project. He asked about quality standards and evaluation. No one evaluates the quality of projects.

Panel Discussion

Kashimura's talk was followed by a panel discussion. They touched on whether and how practices can scale from digitizing small collections to larger collections. The HUMI project seemed to focus on a small number of works digitizing at high quality. The Boston project focused on getting it done. They talked about the place of visiting experts (like Japanese experts visiting Boston or the British Museum.) The visiting experts become a form of volunteers.

They talked about how the British Museum changed direction and made their digitized images open. The curators decided to digitize as is (not enhance or do a lot of research).

A group of scholars say they are coming to visit to study a small group of works. They actually seem to come to digitize with high-end cameras and then take their images away. Earle talked about how he insisted that any scholars that come to take images have to share them back with the museum. I got the feeling I was hearing a negotiation around the ethics of Japanese experts visiting Western museums to study and digitize their own culture.

Kashimura talked about the digital archiving was a failure as the commercialized database wasn't used. Private companies, however, built archives for various purposes. I didn't quite understand what worked and didn't.

Professor Akama talked about the need for regular discussion or an association around the issue of standards and practices. He asked about the diaspora of Japanese culture. Japanese assets were dispersed for various reasons. Is that a problem or has it created a global asset.

Earle commented that outside of prints Japanese culture is some of the best protected. He doesn't think there is a problem. Actually he thinks it is a bit of a myth that all of Japanese art is dispersed. He feels the real problem is not dispersion or quality, but sustainability. In the face of governments cutting back the big worry is whether we will be back here in 5 years from now talking at all, let alone talking about having moved forward.

I have the distinct feeling that there is a tension about the dispersion of certain Japanese arts to Western museums that no amount of high quality replication will resolve. Whoever set up this panel nicely included Kashimura talking about an important German work (the Gutenberg Bible) a copy of which is now here in Japan being digitized. I think we should have a symposium on the issues of the ethics of digitization and how it intersects with nationalist sentiments, cultural repatriation and so on.

Neil Fraistat: Digital Humanities Centres and the New Humanities

Fraistat talked about the role that has been played by centers. They build resources that benefit all. The provide bridges for humanists. They foster new scholars and the network.

Centers also have problems. They can become silos focusing on their own institutions and resisting collaboration. Centers can also siphon grant funding from other places that don't have the expertise to compete.

Fraistat then asked what the value and function of the digital humanities center could be. He quotes a blog entry by Sample On the Death of the DH Center. Sample points out that some centers focus on pedagogy, some research, some build, some host and some do it all.

Fraistat mentions the Diane M. Zorich of Digital Humanities Centers. Again the danger of silos. This led into a discussion of centerNet. He talked about the need not just for collaboration between centers, but also among funders who support centers. The mandate of centerNet is:

  • Be international
  • Be broad and inclusive
  • Be free

The free part is no longer going to be true. Starting next year one needs to subscribe to ADHO to join, but this will enable activities. Fraistat listed some of the potential activities from providing ways for center peer review to helping new centers.

Jieh Hsiang, Digital Humanities in Asia Pacific a Progress Report

Hsiang is the Chair of centerNet Asia Pacific and he talked about what the region needs:

  • They need better communication and scholarly exchange in the region
  • They need workshops to exchange know-how
  • They should share resources
  • They should develop tools to annotate and share citations across langauges
  • They should build multilingual archives

Buddhist studies has shown the potential for regional collaboration. They are already collaborating on digital projects.

Hsian then surveyed what is happening in the region. Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China all seem to have a critical mass of initiatives.

He then talked about the idea of a digital research environment. A key technical concept is that the results from a search should not be just a list, but should be treated as a sub-collection that should be inter-related and linked. A sub-collection should be treated as an environment for discovery. He showed an integrated interface with a chart of chronological distribution of results. The have post-query classifications. They have summaries, frequency analyses and so on. One thing I like is the idea that you enter a simple query and the results are a rich integrated environment for exploration.

He concluded with some thoughts on how to engage the humanists who don't have a technology background. In Taiwan they tend to build custom tools rather than general purpose tools. International collaboration is also an issue.


The last event of the day and conference was a discussion chaired by Mitsuyki Inaba with Fraistat, Hsiang and Hachimura. Inaba asked what they could do better. Some issues that came up:

  • How to connect better to humanities faculty?
  • How to have good conversations with our funders?
  • How has the development of digital humanities evolved differently in different regions?

Hachimura mentioned how the Global COE ends this academic year. Ritsumeikan is therefore trying to figure out what future to pursue. They are thinking of a graduate school as one of the things they have done well is to train new researchers to do global research. He wondered if the name of the field should be changed to "digital archiving" as they do in Taiwan. This term might be more engaging.

Hsiang responded that "archiving" is a passive term. They prefer digital humanities. Each country has its own concerns and priorities.

Fraistat pointed out that the term digital humanities has been debated in the US.

Hachimura argued that the initial phase of any field is important. They need to think about sustainability and how naming their activity might include or exclude people.

There was an interesting exchange about top down vs bottom up. In the US now the situation seems to be top down as the NEH created an office of DH which then spurred all sorts of universities and colleges to move in that direction.

This led to some reflections on the role of foreign examples. It helps to point at examples of what is happening elsewhere (especially in the US). A field like DH can be legitimized when others do it.

I wanted to ask, "what would we do if the costs of computing were trivial and humanists were all comfortable with computing methods?" But it all came to an end.



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