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Digitization Day 2012

Note: these conference notes were written on the fly. They are therefore spotty and have typos.

Digitization Day is a one day event that CIRCA (Canadian Institute for Research Computing in the Arts organizes to bring together researchers and others on campus working on digital projects. See for the programme.

We used the #digday2012 twitter tag.

Opening Remarks

Dr. Lois Harder (Associate Dean, Arts) and Kathyrn Arbunckle (Interim Chief Librarian)

University of Alberta Libraries: Specifications and Considerations for Digitization and Digital Archiving

Peggy Sue Ewanyshyn, Digitization Librarian and Leah Vanderjagt, Digital Repository Services Librarian presented on digitization considerations. You can see the digital initiatives at U of A Library here. They showed a number of digitization projects that they have run at the Library including a large newspapers project.

They talked about the Education and Research Archive (ERA) of the University of Alberta. This is a serious digital archive that we have access to. It has a simple metadata model (Dublin Core) and is open to all of us. You can embargo materials so that they are not public. They have metadata experts who will consult on metadata. I have worked with them and they are excellent.

Leah talked about the legal and ethical issues in archiving. U of A Libraries has a survey out on research data sharing: - fill it out.

The Arts Resource Centre: Supporting the Digital Humanities at the University of Alberta

Karl Anvik of the Arts Resource Centre talked about the Research Computing Services support available. They can help you in the following ways:

  • Grant writing help
  • Facilitating access to research studios (labs)
  • Facilitating access to high performance computing clusters
  • Facilitating access to statistical servers
  • Facilitating IT support
  • Facilitating workshops

ARC has moved certain services to AICT, but not the Research Computing group. They are developing a research network with AICT. They can provide system administration for research services. What they like to do the most is development of research applications (including web sites, graphics, visualizations, animations).

CIRCA and ARC are refreshing and renaming the TAPoR lab to be the Arts Digitization Studio. The focus is not on workstations (everyone has a laptop) but on high end machines and scanners. The studio is also set up for meetings with a projector. They have large-format scanners, microfilm scanner, colour printer, and a new interactive projector.

For more see

We also talked about site licenses for software. AICT has a web site on products for which they have negotiates special prices.

Digitizing Language: The value of digital records of language material in language study and preservation

Benjamin Tucker of Lingusitcs talked about the Alberta Phonetics Library and their expertise in digitizing audio. See They have documented on their wiki their practices. The lab has equipment for digitizing from old media technologies like reel to reel tape. He showed some materials when digitized are not at the right speed (because older tape machines operated at different speeds), but with digital tools they can fix the speed.

Benjamin talked about how there are field recordings of all sorts that are on older technologies. These can be of extinct languages.

Benjamin showed some fascinating examples of how they can analyze the audio. Some of his take-home messages:

  • Have a Memorandum Of Understanding before you start digitizing - you can get into trouble otherwise
  • Archival data can play an important role
  • Document and record sounds, not just the texts

"The Last Best West": The Alberta Land Settlement Infrastructure Project

Silvia Russell of Humanities Computing talked about the ALSIP project that is digitizing the Alberta Homestead records and connecting them to maps. She showed a poster that read "Own your own home in Canada and apply for a ready-made farm to the nearest Canadian Pacific Agent." Needless to say the farms were not that ready. Regardless, Canada experience a population boom and we don't know a lot about these homesteaders. The project is transcribing the records and putting it into a database and then connecting it to GIS. Researchers and amateur historians will be able to follow how land was sold from person to person or to ask questions about the data as a whole.

For more see

We had a discussion about GIS and how to coordinate learning and expertise GIS. We heard about a GIS lab in Anthro and a course in Anthro. The library just hired a GIS librarian. CIRCA should do that.

Turning "Space" into "Place": Historical maps in a Google-ized world

Maureen Engel of the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies talked about the Pipelines project and then theoretically about maps and mapping. See for the Pipelines project. It has four subprojects:

  • Rossdale project - Rossland is the oldest part of the city. It is the site of repeatedly reappearing burial grounds. It was coal mines, fair ground, working class (until the dam made it safe for expensive homes.) Rossdale wants to tell the story with layered maps and narratives.
  • Dis/Integration - tracking the demise of the Charles Camsell Hospital.
  • Vertical suburbia - using Google maps to crowdsource stories about suburbs
  • Past futures - about what was the futuristic view of Edmonton in the past. She showed a cool slider photo that shows before and after. See for slider.

She then talked about how maps make sense of the idea of place and change how we think. We think of maps as real, but mapping has changed and our ideas of what is really mapped change. She showed a HyperCities application showing how you can overlap maps.

See also the Digital Urbanism collaboratory:

Building Tools to Mine Data from the Old Bailey Project

John Simpson of Philosophy talked about the Criminal Intent project ( which has been using datamining and visualization techniques to study the rich text database of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey ( He talked about how we developed visualization tools that work with the structured text data of the Old Bailey. He talked about the technical design to get fast online visualization.

For more, see

Digitizing and Delivering Cultural Heritage

Pierre Boulanger of Computing Science talked about digitizing artifacts for cultural heritage. The first step is to create a digital proxy of an artifact. He talked about some of the types of scanners he uses. There are two approaches color vertex and texture map. They have developed a model that has good detail while being smaller files.

The problem with the 3D objects is that alone they are hard to understand. You need to connect to contextual information. Visualization rooms (CAVEs) can bring together the 3D objects with context and explanation. What Boulanger has discovered is that you don't need expensive CAVs, but smaller intimate systems can work as well.

Museums are afraid of 3D data getting out because then copies might be made without permission. We need secure delivery.

To see more on Pierre Boulanger go to

The Media Wave

Cezary Gajewski of Art and Design talked about a project to commemorate Marshall McLuhan through a public arts project. McLuhan was born in Edmonton. The project was installed last year and taken down. He showed examples of large visual 3D spaces. The idea was also augment the Wave space with smart devices.

The final installation had 3 screens and puts up QR tags that allow you to connect to information using your smart phone. They also created images for a media wall in Munster, Germany.

PROD-ding Along: Humanities Computing and the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada Project

Colette Leung of Humanities Computing talked about the Living Archives project which is funded by SSHRC. Right now they have a "brochure" website up. Now they are digitizing materials related to eugenics in Western Canada and developing Public Research Objects of Discovery (PRODs). The PRODs will be the "research boxes" that contextualize materials.

They have also built a document management system to keep the distributed team working together. They use Alfresco for that. They are working very hard to make things accessible as many of the research community are from the community. She showed a number of the different interfaces developed to make the in


Archiving a field: from metadata to oral histories

Victoria Smith of Humanities Computing presented about our Histories and Archives project. She is working on an archive of materials about humanities computing in Canada. We have a number of collections of ephemera (meeting notes, handouts, print outs and so on) related to humanities computing centers in Canada.

See for more on the Histories and Archives Lab.

Beyond Digitization

Susan Brown of English and Film Studies talked about what you might do other than and beyond digitizing. She talked about the Orlando project ( which created new materials instead of digitizing. What can we do beyond digitization:

  • We can search it
  • We can annotate it
  • We can visualize it

Some of the issues we encounter:

  • Scale - there is more and more stuff. We have gone from scarcity to having too much. How can we handle a million books.
  • Silos - siloed data is a solution and a problem. Silos keep stuff clean and pure and isolate information. Data is relationship (Berners-Lee) and we need better ways to automate the development of relationships. How can we put data in relationship with other data.
  • Interoperation

She briefly mentioned the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory as an attempt to overcome some of these problems. See

Digitizing the Wilfred Watson Papers

Harvey Quamen of Humanities Computing and EFS talked about the project he is working on with Paul Hjartarson. He talked about metadata problems. They have created a special web database for entering metadata. They can export the metadata in whatever form they want, whether EAD or another XML format.

They then talked about Walking with the Watsons, a mobile application that lets you walk around Paris and call up documents associated with specific locations. He talked about how to move through an archive and a space might become one. They want to use historic period maps from the time when the Watsons were there in the 1950s.

See For the finding aides see

Digitizing at the Kule Folklore Centre

Andriy Nahachewsky talked about the Bohdan Medwisdky Ukrainian Folklore Archives which has lots of materials from taped interviews to ephemera. He talked about one particular project, Local Culture and Diversity on the Prairies ( They wanted to discover things implicitly about immigration experience. People can be reflect back the biases of the interviewer - how do you get around that?

He talked about the Ethnographic Thesaurus that is developing what could become a standard for metadata.

He ended with a list of things he would like for the project.

Digitizing Soundscapes: Creating Maps for Soundscape Archiving and Sharing

Scott Smallwood of Music and Humanities Computing talked about soundscape recordings. He played a soundscape recording from Hong Kong. The term soundscape was coined by R. Murray Schafer and the subject of his book The Soundscape: The Tuning of the World (1977). Schafer argued that we need to preserve soundscapes and we need to study them. The study of soundscapes crosses disciplines from biology (recording sounds of environments/animals) to architects (managing sound in spaces.)

The World forum for acoustic ecology is an important organization in this,

Field recording practices are important (phonography is a name for this). We need to collect and archive recordings. What do we do with recordings? We can publish them - see the Word Soundscape Project, . There are record labels that release them.

Now the big question is mapping the soundscapes. The New York Sound Seeker ( project allows people to upload recordings and attach metadata so that it can be mapped. The Montreal Sound Map does the same. The London Sound Survey ( has a historic section where you can read accounts about the soundscape.

Movie Posters across Time and Space: An Image Cultural Analytics Study

Parisa Naeimi of Computing Science talked about a project that used image analysis of movie posters to try to study how movies were represented. Do different genres of movies get different types of posters. Horror movies turn out to have darker and darker posters. The presentation showed what you can do with image analysis of cultural objects.

FemShep: Crowd Sourcing a Female Hero

Sean Gouglas, the Director of the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, talked about a project that is looking at female characters in videogames. He talked about the way female gamers are harassed. Then he talked about Mass Effect 3 where you can play a female version of the main character, Sheppard. The problem with many games that let you play female characters is that they don't advertise the female character. Bioware decided to get crowdsource this and all sorts of stuff erupted. So Gouglas and colleagues are gathering comments and doing content analysis on them.

Roundtable Discussion

At the end of the day we had a discussion about what we can do together at U of A. Some of the ideas that came up included:

  • We should think about organizing training sessions around topics that come up like GIS. There is lots of expertise in the community, we should think of organizing ourselves so that we can teach each other.
  • We should do an audit of what support, facilities, equipment, and expertise is out there. Make this available to people new to digital work at U of Alberta.
  • We should try to bring together folk interested in GIS.
  • We should organize sessions that update people on issues they know about, but are out of date on.
  • Do we want a datawall? Who would use it? How could it be managed?



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