In 2021 the Sussex Humanities Lab, one of the University’s four flagship research programmes, reviewed and re-evaluated its research structure. In an effort to amplify voices within the Lab, and to attract new voices and contributors from outside of it, we devised eight so-called priority areas that reflect current research and the expertise of our members. These priority areas allow us to highlight our research and provide a structure for our seminar and open workshop series, as well as a way to support strategic research development and grant capture. A year in, we are reflecting on how this structure has or hasn’t worked. Either way, through this structure we have managed, despite Covid challenges, to develop a programme of work which has provided crucial points of discussion, dialogue, debate, and growth.
Our priority areas aim to further build research capacity across the University and to provide entry points to new Lab associates and to the wider community. We recognise that for some it can be difficult to know exactly what the Lab “does,” and we hoped our priority areas would help demystify that. The fact is, we do a lot: we are diverse, and we work in such an agile manner that it can be difficult to pin us down – this has its advantages and disadvantages!
We define ourselves as a Lab because we are a space of doing, of experimenting, of making (watch this space for a co-authored chapter on this very topic soon). Our collaborations cut across boundaries and as a group we all work in an explicitly transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary fashion. Our work is also value-driven, with a concern for ethics, equalities and diversity work, and by social justice and sustainability issues. In that regard, we are driven by a set of values explicitly written into the fabric of the University of Sussex, and indeed values embedded in our home school, the School of Media, Arts and Humanities. It is probably no surprise then that many of our priority areas reflect these values and concerns, cutting across disciplines and subject areas – such as ‘Philosophy of AI’ or ‘Uncertainty and Interpretability of AI’ , led by Beatrice Fazi (MAH) and Ivor Simpson (EngInf) respectively. ‘Experimental Ecologies’, led by Alice Eldridge (Music), is concerned with developing wider disciplinary understanding our (human and other organisms) environmental relations in the anthropocene, where the biosphere and technosphere are irrevocably linked. In this way ‘Experimental Ecologies’ aims to foster:
post-disciplinary research where arts and humanities, natural and computational sciences, traditional indigenous knowledge, and everyday local experiences have an equal footing in addressing key environmental issues at human-environment interfaces.
In this area, “an equal footing” is key, and this perspective and outlook informs much of work in other priority areas developed by Lab members. My own area for example, ‘Intersectionality, Community and Computational Technology’ (ICCT) highlights, challenges, and disrupts the way in which computational technology reproduces and reinforces various inequalities in society. It is concerned with, reflective of, and feeds into the value system of the Lab but it is also concerned with research that is driven by perspectives of equity and inclusion. Above all it is community driven, and its foundations are born from collaborative work with queer and intersectional feminist communities and research praxis – community perspectives are on par (on an equal footing) with academic ones. This priority area reflects existing work within the Lab, specifically through the ‘Feminist Approaches to Computational Technology (FACT) Network, the ARHC-IRC funded network grant, ‘Intersectionality, Feminism, Technology and Digital Humanities’ (IFTe), whose overaching objective is to:
‘un-code’ gendered assumptions, question our digital environments and systems, and embed intersectional feminist methods and theory within DH with a view to the creation of new DH futures
And more recently, ‘Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities’, a two-year project jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) and the Irish Research Council and part of their ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in Digital Humanities Research Grants Call. This project aims to develop feminist praxis, methodologies, and ethics from within and across Digital Humanities projects and research. “Full stack” means we are concerned with issues related to inequalities in DH that span from the infrastructure layer to the representation layer – it reaches, and cuts, across all types of environments. In this sense, the Lab’s priority areas represent critical mass of research that grows through engagement within and across the Lab.
Our priority areas represent things that we care about, things that we want to grow, areas we want to foster and nurture. They are not static or fixed but rather a means for us to articulate our priorities but as we know priorities change as we as individuals, as members of society, as colleagues in a School/University develop. We nurture these areas not for the Lab’s own benefit but for the benefit of those that engage with us.
So, reflecting a year on, does the structure work? Maybe it doesn’t matter what structure we have if the right conversations are happening, if the right collaborations are developing, and if ultimately our members, our community feel involved. Our research structure can only be judged by the collaborations and research they foster, and in this regard, I think we’re not doing too bad!
The Chain has just launched as a series of interlinked reflections from theorists, artists, activists, and others of the Intersections: Feminism, Technology and Digital Humanities (IFTe) network and beyond. Each link in the chain responds in some way to the previous entry, and offers suggestions for entries to follow. Are algorithmic voices gendered? Are algorithmic voices friendly? Who does the work? Can the subaltern do a TED talk? How can we reimagine ourselves in a zoomified world? Start exploring these questions, and others.
We’re launching the Chain as a 3-month writing project that responds to contemporary circumstances where we can’t meet easily, where we are zoom-swamped, and zoombified, where glancing interactions are rarely possible. We are missing times and moments when ‘breaking out’ isn’t a zoom function, when serendipity doesn’t have to be programmed, when ‘walk throughs’ are in physical space, and where interventions follow on. We are missing the kinds of entangled modes of thinking and doing this kind of flow more easily enabled; writing about media art, coding that speaks to theory, practice that finds articulation in words.
This Chain was funded by UKRI-AHRC and the Irish Research Council under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Networking Call’(grant numbers AH/V00199X/1 and IRC/V00199X/1).
Text Analysis with Antconc, with Andrew Salway. Wednesday, 24 February at 15:00 GMT. “This workshop is for researchers who would like to use automated techniques to analyse the content of one or more text data sets (corpora), and to identify their distinctive linguistic characteristics and reveal new potential lines of inquiry. The text data could comprise thousands to millions of words of e.g. news stories, novels, survey responses, social media posts, etc.” More info here. Part of the SHL Open Workshops Series.
Dataset Publishing and Compliance, with Sharon Webb and Adam Harwood. Wednesday, 3 March at 15:00 GMT. “Funding bodies are placing increasing emphasis on data archiving in humanities research. The workshop will have a practical emphasis, aimed at helping you prepare data for deposit into a data archive or repository, to comply with grant applications requirements.” More info here. Part of the SHL Open Workshops Series.
Reality is Radical: Queer, Avant-Garde, Utopian Gaming, with Bo Ruberg, Amanda Phillips, and Jo Lindsay Walton. Monday 8 March at 17:00 GMT. “The Sussex Humanities Lab and the Sussex Centre for Sexual Dissidence are pleased to welcome leading critical game studies scholars Amanda Phillips and Bo Ruberg to explore the politics of contemporary games.Games themselves are a major cultural form, and the ‘ludic turn’ in recent years has also seen game design thinking and critical play practices spill out into many areas of social and economic life.” More info here. Part of the SHL Seminar Series.
Coming to Terms with Data Visualization and the Digital Humanities, with Marian Dörk. “How can visualization research and design be inspired by concepts from cultural studies, sociology, and critical theory? In contrast to the epistemological hegemony that engineering and science has held over data visualization, humanistic engagements with data and interfaces suggest different kinds of concerns and commitments for the study and design of data visualizations. From collaborative research in the arts and humanities arises a need to support critical and creative engagements with data and visualization.” More info here. Part of the SHL Seminar Series.
SHL was established in 2015 by Profs Caroline Bassett, David Berry, Rachel Thompson, Sally Jane Norman, and Tim Hitchcock and in its short life has substantially developed research capacity at the University of Sussex. It has captured £2.6 million in grant income, published over 130 research outputs, and hosted an extensive programme of interdisciplinary events, workshops, conferences, and colloquia. But more importantly, it has built a community of expertise around technology’s role in shaping culture, society and environment and the use of technological tools to undertake research within the arts, humanities and social sciences.
SHL has also extended beyond its founding purposes and intellectual arrangements. Work now ranges from AI to climate justice, ecoacoustics to automated writing, intersectional feminism to open infrastructures. As SHL transitions to a new leadership team this spring, it will undertake a phase of re-examining its priorities, its ambitions, and the challenges it seeks to respond to.
Prof. Hitchcock says: “It has been a profound privilege to have helped establish and later lead the SHL over the last five years — the highlight of a long career. The team taking over leadership of the Lab is remarkable and hugely impressive, and I very much look forward to seeing the Lab grow and change under their auspices.”
The Sussex Humanities Lab is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Schools of Media, Arts and Humanities, Education and Social Work, Engineering and Informatics, and the Library with a network of associates extending across the university. To find out more about our work or to join us visit www.sussex.ac.uk/shl.
Sharon Webb: Let’s start off by saying that it’s amazing that Laurence Hill is officially a Visiting Fellow of the Sussex Humanities Lab [SHL] and of the School of Music Film and Media.
Laurence Hill: I have to say, it’s very exciting for me. I remember seeing Caroline Bassett [former head of SHL] speak about it – I think it was at a breakfast meeting at Wired Sussex, which would have been whenever the Lab first began…
SW: In 2015.
LH: Yes, it was 2015. The idea of a digital humanities lab was something that was completely new to me. I was really fascinated by the idea, and it tied in very much with what Brighton Digital Festival [BDF] was about. In 2015, I was the BDF’s arts advisor and somebody else managed it, and then I took over as director in 2016 and took the festival in a new, slightly more critical direction. So in some ways the Sussex Humanities Lab and BDF came to fruition around the same time, and it feels like there’s been a really nice parallel between the two.
My interests — and as director they directly inflected what the festival was about — were exactly the kind of things that you’re doing, looking at the impacts of technology on culture and on life and society. And that’s really what I wanted the festival to explore as well, within its framework of being part arts and part business.
SW: That’s interesting. When I came to the Humanities Lab, the first big thing that I noticed in Brighton was the Brighton Digital Festival. I was extremely happy to find out that it was happening in the same place that I had decided to move to and work from. From that point I really wanted to get involved. I think my first meeting with you, Laurence, would have been in 2016 or 2017, at a kind of…
LH: … at a town hall meeting, I think. Every year, we would have a town hall meeting around June time, to say, ‘OK this is it – we’re back, this is the festival, come along and find out what we’re doing, come along and meet other people.’ And yes, that was when we first met.
SW: What I really liked about that whole platform, the way those meetings worked, was how open they were – it wasn’t a festival that was just set by the people who were on the top; it was really open and welcoming. And I distinctly remember the first conversation that we had together was around digital preservation, and thinking about digital art and digital preservation and how we might meld the two together.
LH: I think it was after that meeting that introduced you to David Sheppard and Leslie Wood from Queer in Brighton, because I’d met them to talk about that archive and preservation. And I said, ‘No, wait! There’s a person that I’ve literally just met…’ One of those serendipitous things.
SW: And from that point, we had a shared interest in the oral histories of Queer in Brighton and thinking about different ways of representing them in a way that looked to their future sustainability. The conversations that we started together with Queer in Brighton really influenced the work that I’m doing now, and have done over the past two years. The British Academy grant that I got and conversations with you were very instrumental in thinking about doing something that wasn’t just another digital archive – thinking about an artist commission, for example. That really solidified a lot for me in terms of how I think about my own practice.
LH: We talked a lot about reanimation, didn’t we? And that idea of the journey into an archive or into a museum not being a one-way street where something disappears and is gatekept after that, and only available to certain people, at certain times, for certain reasons. The idea that you could take something that was sitting on a memory stick under someone’s bed and make it available to the community that it came from was something that I found really exciting and interesting. We certainly saw eye to eye on that.
SW: And that analogy that you had from that Duty Free Art book, yes?
LH: That’s my favourite analogy.
SW: It’s brilliant, it’s perfect!
LH: It’s from Hito Steyerl’s book Duty Free Art – I think it’s on the very first page, so that book paid for itself straight away just with this one thing. Steyerl talks about a Soviet IS3 battle tank that was sitting on a pedestal in the Ukraine as a Second World War memorial. It was out of action but had never been fully decommissioned, and was therefore available to be driven, by pro-Russian separatists, off its pedestal and back to its former purpose, killing several people in the process. That idea of decommissioning and then recommissioning was very interesting – obviously, we were more positive in what we came up with than the tank example!
SW: Yes, and I think that the whole thing around recommissioning those oral histories really worked well.
LH: That thinking led directly to the work that we did with the Elle Castle, whom we selected alongside David and Lesley from Queer in Brighton, after an open call for an artist to make a work using some of those oral histories that would make them available again. Do you want to talk a little bit about Elle’s work Queer Codebreakers 1.0 and that process?
SW: A lot of that work was thinking about the ethical principles and the curatorial principles of working with historical oral histories and, again, learning from you to allow a kind of playfulness to be part of the experience, and that experimentation is OK. So it wasn’t just about the end product; it was everything in between as well, and we should support that in every way that we can.
Looking back to that first iteration of Queer Codebreakers, Elle did that on her own, essentially. You had sessions with her just talking it through, and I had a lot of anxiety because I couldn’t see the end product until the day before! To me that was a letting-go of control, which is not often the case in things that I work through myself, or research that I do, because I’m doing it. That was a much more collaborative experience; I hadn’t worked that way before, and it was about letting go of control over the final piece.
LH: That’s interesting, because one of the things that that we want to do together is to think about the connection between the academy and the arts and creative businesses – and part of that, for all of those separate sectors, is about necessarily letting go of the ways that they do things. So it’s really interesting that you went through that kind of process yourself. But actually – you know that I have an obsession with messy edges, which I’m now rethinking as unruly edges thanks to Anna Tsing and her book The Mushroom at the End of the World. Well, to me, that’s where the interesting work happens: when people do work slightly out of their comfort zones. If you can find collaborators that that you can trust, that’s where the richness is. There’s richness in the edges and in the cracks, sometimes.
SW: I think that allowed Elle and me to think about what worked and what didn’t work. Even the night before the launch of the first exhibition, we devised some additional questions that we added to the installation, and that engagement, although under pressure, encouraged us to think more creatively about what we would do next time. So, when the opportunity came around for Queer Codebreakers 2.0 to be part of the Queer the Pier exhibition at Brighton Museum, we really had a better sense of what worked. And again, experimenting for the first one supported that; it wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
LH: Yes, that’s the other thing with digital art: it often it feels like an iterative process. In a sense, Queer Codebreakers 1.0 was like a proof of concept. Incredibly well done and well delivered by Elle, but it did need to go forward to further iterations. For me, that’s one of the most exciting things about digital art, and maybe there’s a link with research there: you might have an idea that you write a paper about that then becomes a body of work and it’s also an iterative process.
LH: It’s the same for the creative industries as well. If they’re building something, that’s going to be an iterative process – it rarely gets delivered to market as a fully realised product, which is why we’re constantly bedevilled by updates of everything!
SW: I want to move on to ask you how the Messy Edge conference came about. As an output of the Brighton Digital Festival, I think that it was its most successful element. It’s the thing that I engaged with and found most useful, especially in terms of your curatorial experience or the way that you presented the Messy Edge. It’s been amazing to watch it develop over the years. Do you want to talk a little bit about it?
LH: Sure. The Messy Edge came from the need for a conference of sorts for BDF. I agreed that with the chair of the BDF board and from there, I just ran with it in my own direction really. I’ve famously never explained really where the name came from mainly because I genuinely don’t remember…
SW: I think I’ve heard three versions!
LH: There have been three versions, none of them true! But the name and idea came about through my belief, which we’ve talked about, that interesting work happens at the edges. I wanted to make a space that was the antithesis of the cutting edge, which I find such a sterile idea.
So, the curatorial concept was built on that idea and on the fact that I didn’t want a bunch of straight white men talking. Having had the privilege to go to a lot of digital culture and technology conferences, that was a lot of what I had seen, so I started thinking about programming in that kind of instrumentalist way. Then what became really clear, really quickly, was that if I wanted to get people to talk about the sort of topics I was interested in exploring, the straight white men weren’t the people who were doing that.
I’ll give one quick example – I was interested in the topic of digital colonialism and research led me almost immediately to artist Tabita Rezaire, a woman of colour living in South Africa, whose brilliant work in part explores that topic – so she became the first person that I invited to speak. So I thought, ‘OK, this is going to resolve itself and I don’t have to be so instrumentalist,’ and so it proved. Through taking that approach, the conference started to challenge the dominant narratives of digital culture, which are almost exclusively white, western, male, cisgender and straight.
Last year’s Messy Edge [in 2019] was the final one that I curated (the BDF board have claimed the name as it was conceived when I was under contract with them) and I was super proud of it. That thinking will inform all of my work going forward, including what we do together at SHL – and it’s very exciting for me to get further input from you all.
It would be interesting to loop back to our earlier discussion and make the connection to the Messy Edge. One of the things that I always tried to do was to bring elements of the BDF programme to the conference. We had, for example, Rhiannon Armstrong, who developed the idea of the Slow Gif Movement during a residency we provided, and she returned to talk about that.
At the Messy Edge [in 2018] where you spoke, I invited the performer and activist Emma Frankland and put the two of you in a session together. We did a project with the trans and non-binary community in the city called VoiceOver Brighton, which Emma led. At the conference, she spoke about the power and the importance of digital to distributed communities, but also an understanding that if you want to do that kind of work in a particular community, then you have to allow the people in that community to make the work.
SW: What I loved about that piece was that it captured and presented people’s voices from a marginalised community but critically, also the way that Emma was thinking through who has the right to record and who has the right to access these kinds of oral histories. That thinking was clear in the way she curated the final piece that was exhibited in the gallery on the sea front. This goes back to a conversation that you and I had in the Lab with Caroline [Bassett] and Amelia [Wakeford], about hidden archives and how access for communities is really important. It was a real eye opener for me, thinking through those things and how Emma identified what was for a general audience and what wasn’t. In a lot of my previous work with the Digital Repository of Ireland we’d always talked about open access, but actually, that doesn’t work for all communities. I think, again, that was something that was really important, and that’s influencing how we work with the Queer in Brighton archive as well: understanding that actually some of it isn’t for a general public, and that there are different publics within these spaces.
LH: That was the thing that Emma identified very early on – the opportunity for the trans and non-binary participants to be able to determine themselves whether their content was solely for their community or for a wider audience. It felt like a radical notion in that moment.
SW: I’m also thinking about how you framed that edition of the Messy Edge around the ideas of the right to be forgotten and the right to be remembered. That was a crucial move – it really opened up what maybe the Western notion to access is, when actually to have the right to be forgotten is a privileged position and, as you articulated in that conference call, some people haven’t even been seen let alone remembered. That goes back to the work that I do with community archives, where there is a sense that where digital preservation doesn’t exist throughout the practice there is an idea of double erasure.
Emma and I were on the same panel, and I thought that worked extremely well, because the two of us were talking about similar things. And for me it was also being putting in a space with an arts practitioner; that’s outside what I would normally do, but that’s part of my learning curve – and this has been something that through meeting you and working with you that has come to fruition.
LH: That section with the two of you worked so well, I thought, because you were talking about the same or at least very similar approaches to two different areas of practice, and in a lot of ways coming to the same conclusions even though you hadn’t worked together or even met before. One of my very many happy memories of the Messy Edge.
SW: So, we’ve collaborated on a few things, but thinking now about how we might work together more formally in the Lab, I want to ask – and this maybe is an unfair question! – but what does it mean to you to be a Visiting Fellow of the Lab?
LH: It feels like an achievement to have been awarded that status. I’ve valued my various contacts with the Lab so highly over the past few years, so it feels very exciting.
In practical terms, everything has been somewhat slowed down as we’re having this conversation [because of the Coronavirus crisis], but there are two areas that we’re looking at over the first six months that are connected and both, in a sense, pilot projects. First, and we’ve received some funding for this, is to look at the Lab’s impact on creative businesses in the city and try to make some more concrete connections; and second, I want to run an arts programme within the lab that is also about connecting outwards, and with a view to creating an artistic director role to run alongside my own curatorial practice extending and developing that Messy Edge thinking.
Initially, I need to get in there, when that’s possible, to sit down with people and start looking at the kind of work that’s happening in the Lab currently, and its history. Obviously, I’m aware of some of that but not all of it. It’s very early days and there’s a lot for me to think about, but I’m looking forward to having my thinking shaped by those conversations.
Also, as you know, I did my MA at Sussex couple of years ago and rediscovered a love of learning, and of thinking in a more focused way than normally happens in my head! The chance to reconnect with that, to be in that environment, to hang out in the library, is really important and very exciting to me.
SW: And it’s really exciting for us as well. You know, the Lab started in 2015 and over the past few years we’ve become more involved in the Brighton Digital Festival – that includes me, Alice [Eldridge], Cécile [Chevalier] and other members across the university. Through those involvements, we’ve had so many conversations about various different things, and to now have you as, essentially, part of our team, is absolutely amazing. For me, it’s not about an academic setting, it’s about the people who we navigate towards, so it’s great to have you with us because it’s organic; it makes sense because we’ve worked together over the past few years. And I think, again, it’s about the things that are important to both of us: that sense of community, and that collaboration within communities and supporting each other. I think that it’s a great way for us to see what we can do in the future.
Everyone is talking about the season finale. Tomorrow at 3pm in the lab, Sharon Webb and Anna Maria Sichani will be giving the last in this run of Digital Methods Open Workshops, on the topic data modelling. All are welcome, and there are still places available.
Meanwhile, maybe it’s worth a quick catch-up? So here are few no-nonsense notes from Sharon Webb and Adam Harwood’s absolutely brimming SHL Open Workshop in April, on the topic of creating and publishing research data.
What is research data?
Sharon started us off. Who should think about publishing research data? Everybody! Yes, you humanities researcher. Data is not just numbers. Of course, what counts as research data varies considerably across different subjects, methodologies, topics, backgrounds, and habits. Some classic examples of research data-sets might be a set of measurements, or interview recordings and transcripts … but it’s also worth thinking more imaginatively and speculatively about what constitutes your research data.
One working definition of data might be all the relatively raw information you generate as a researcher in your processes of abstraction and categorization. Formally, that might include text documents (PDF, Word, RTF), spreadsheets, databases, posters, slide decks, sound recordings of field interviews, online lectures, recordings of engagement and knowledge exchange events, podcasts. That might include software, art, music. That might include metadata — data about data.
It got me thinking … do I have research data I don’t even know about?
Why publish it?
What do you encounter, and what processes do you follow, that might be useful to preserve and document for future research? Where might there be opportunities for citation, for citizen research, for collaboration, for audit and validation? What new research might it make possible? What new research might it inspire? Even, perhaps, what creative and artistic interventions? There is a slightly subversive and democratic aspect to all this: making the data public benefits independent researchers. This was one of the real revelations of the workshop for me: just how much fascinating information is already publicly available.
There is of course a slightly more straightforward and pragmatic aspect to all this: the UKRI funding bodies now ask for a data management plan. For example, an AHRC standard route grant will require a data management plan “for grants planning to generate data (3 A4 pages maximum).” The AHRC have recently done away with their technical plan requirement. Other funders (e.g. Marie Curie) ask for a technical plan, and there may be an assumption that any data management considerations will be included there.
Funders don’t generally accept the sentence, “My data is available on request.” Of course, there may be legitimate reasons for not making data available. Researchers should be aware of GDPR and the Data Protection Act. “Personal data” means any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual. DMP Online structures the process of writing a data management plan, drawing on the specific guidance of the chosen funding bodies.
And, fwiw, Sussex also has a policy — “research data should be made freely and openly available with as few restrictions as possible in a timely and responsible manner […] regardless of whether or not the research is externally funded.” That said, there isn’t an actual Research Data Management Police Force roaming campus, as far as we’re aware.
How should I publish it?
One thing to consider is when you will deposit your data. Around grant writing proposal stage, it’s good to build in some time to actually prepare and deposit it. It can be a big chunk of work to get research data ready to be ingested by repositories. It’s not all mindless/mindful gruntwork either: there can be thorny questions around how to curate your data to make it useful for others and for long-term preservation. I can imagine there might be some interesting cross-disciplinary issues arising, and questions about how the framing of data blurs into its analysis and interpretation.
And where to deposit data? “Figshare Sussex probably,” seems to be the short answer. More broadly, it depends who you are affiliated with, and what their policies are. The Research Data Management service (a work-in-progress) may also answer some questions. There are institutional repositories, big generalist repositories, and domain-specific repositories, and there are different governance and funding models (i.e. public vs. commercial). Here are some handy links:
UKDataArchive, funded by the ESRC, is “the UK’s largest collection of digital research data in the social sciences and humanities.”
re3data.org is a database of repositories (incomplete, but filled with good starting points).
FAIRsharing is another database of repositories, with more of a sciences and medicine emphasis.
All Figshare content will be assigned a DOI; CC BY 4.0 is the default license. Figshare also allows you to create and share ‘Collections,’ bringing together relevant datasets (whether or not they’re yours). What you upload to Figshare Sussex will get sucked up to Figshare mothership, which is indexed by Google.
You can also put on an embargo, a fact that for some reason gave me a lovely frisson of melodrama, “My data shall not be available … for ONE HUNDRED YEARS,” etc., and you can generate private links to share VIP access to embargoed data.
Your data will be backed up to Arkivum, which meets another common funding requirement, that the data will be preserved beyond the lifetime of the project. Arkivum keeps your data in three separate geographical locations. It doesn’t do file format shifts yet, but as part of The Perpetua Project (ominous energy), it eventually will do file format shifts as well.
The RCUK Concordat on Open Research Data explains precisely what open research data is, and what researchers can do to make their data open and freely accessible. It’s a long document, and Adam picked out a few key bits. The Concordat asserts the right of the creators of research data to reasonable first use. Support for development of appropriate data skills is recognised as a responsibility of all stakeholders — the university has a responsibility to provide useful services (which in our case is Figshare Sussex, as well as the emerging Research Data Management service).
Adam also touched on the FAIR Data Principles, originally intended for the sciences, but now with much wider adoption. Data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable. These are criteria you can measure your data against toward the end of a research project.
We ended with a whirlwind tour of metadata from Sharon. ‘Metadata is a (love) letter to the future — it makes explicit how “things” can be used.’ Anne Gilliland: ‘In general, all information objects, regardless of physical or intellectual form they take, have three features — content, context, and structure — all of which should be reflected through metadata.’ We had a little look at the Dublin Core standard, on which Figshare is based (if you’re going to add fields of your own, it would be best practice to align them to Dublin Core) and a case study, the Re-animating Data Project (70+ interviews carried out in 1989).
I left with a grateful heart and and a brimming brain, forgetting to sign in again. And also a vague unease. I got to thinking about all the data exhaust I leave behind, in the course of my research and my “research,” all the behavioural surplus I scarcely control and could never deposit, and yet which is deposited somewhere in the marketplace of personal data.
And I was thinking about how data at scale tends to disclose more than ever intended. Data analytics discover patterns that can be used as knowledge, and whose status as knowledge is often undecidable in the contexts in which they are used. I was thinking of those robots and researchers who can gaze hungrily at the “About Me” section of your social media profile, seeing not your attempt at self-expression, but only trait correlation with lemma term-frequency–inverse document-frequency (or whatever). Tech giants have learned the art of growing tall and fat on data crumbs; what will they do with data feasts?
Held annually on the second Tuesday in October, Ada Lovelace Day recognises the accomplishments of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), while also celebrating Ada Lovelace herself as a pioneer of computing science. The overarching aims of the annual event are to increase the profile of women in STEM, and to create and to highlight role-models, so that we can encourage diversity and representation in computer science, in software engineering, and in the sciences more broadly. In 2018 the Sussex Humanities Lab celebrated Ada Lovelace Day with an event called Beyond Numbers.
Ada Lovelace was born in 1815. She was encouraged by her mother, Annabella Byron, to study arithmetic, music, and French. It’s been suggested that Ada’s strict study regime was a deliberate attempt to suppress Ada’s imagination, since Ada’s mother was fearful of her ‘dangerous and potentially destructive,’ imagination given the eccentrics of Ada’s estranged father, Lord Byron (Essinger, 2014).
By the time she was thirteen, Ada Lovelace had already designed a mechanical bird. At the age of eighteen Lovelace formally met Charles Babbage, who would later be heralded as the father of computing science. She became intrigued with Babbage’s proposed “Difference Engine.” Over the years Ada Lovelace studied and translated the maths associated with both Babbage’s Difference Engine and its sequel, the Analytical Engine, as well as the Jacquard Loom. In 1843, translating and annotating Luigi Menabrea’s paper on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, she developed a formula for computing Bernoulli numbers. On the basis of this work — a program to be executed upon machine that did not yet exist — Lovelace has been hailed as the world’s first computer programmer.
But unlike Babbage and Menabrea, who only saw the number-crunching potential of this machine, Ada Lovelace also proposed that if a machine could manipulate numbers then it could do so for any type of “data.” Indeed, the ‘Enchantress of Numbers’ (as Babbage is credited with describing her) stated that the Analytical Engine ‘might act upon other things besides numbers,’ and that for instance, it might ‘compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.’
The Beyond Numbers event, organised by Ioann Maria and Dr Sharon Webb, coincided with Ada Lovelace Day. It was specifically interested in exploring the potential identified by Ada Lovelace for machines to ‘act upon other things besides numbers.’ The aim of the event was to celebrate women, non-binary, and transgender scientists, artists, musicians, researchers and thinkers whose works are based on scientific, technological and/or mathematical methods.
The event opened with Sharon Webb’s historical overview of the role of women in technology, entitled “When Computers Were People,” which also called out the current gender gap in computer science. She was followed by a session from Kate Howland (University of Sussex, Lecturer in Interactive Design) entitled “Talking Programming,” in which Kate gave an outline of her research on designing voice user interfaces for end-user programming in home automation. Cécile Chevalier, Lecturer in Media Practice at the University of Sussex, spoke on “Automata, Automatism and Instrument-Making Toward Computational Corporeal Expressions.” In thinking of the body, technology and expression in computational art, Cecile offered a retrospective of her own artwork. Brighton-based audio-visual artist Akiko Haruna gave a talk on A/V and electronic music scene touching on “Self-Value in the Face of Ego,” where her focus was on encouraging all women to explore the world of electronic music and audio-visual art. She spoke of her personal experiences and the many ways in which digital sound as a medium has liberated her work. Estela Oliva, London-based artist and curator, spoke of “Hybrid Worlds, New Realities,” presenting her new project CLON in which she interrogates the possibilities of new spaces enabled with virtual and immersive technologies such as gaming, 3D video, and virtual reality. Irene Fubara-Manuel in her talk “An Auto-Ethnographic Account of Virtual Borders” presented her piece “Dreams of Disguise” (2018), a traversal of the virtual border through racialized biometric technologies: a project that blurs documentary truth with science fiction to reveal the ubiquitous surveillance of migrants and the rising desire for opacity. The event closed with Ioann Maria’s “Contra-Control Structures” talk on hacktivism, cyberactivism, and women, with an outline of her first-hand experience in creating physical DIY creative spaces.
The day was a fusion of science and creative arts. It reached beyond the “numerical” and provided a friendly space for the local community to find out about one another — a space to share, to engage, and to collaborate.
As a direct result of Beyond Numbers and the positive feedback this event received, FACT/// (Feminist Approaches to Computational Technology Network) was established by Cécile Chevalier, Sharon Webb, and Ioann Maria Stacewicz. In keeping with the aspirations and goals of Ada Lovelace Day, FACT/// Feminist Approaches to Computational Technology Network seeks to promote dialogue, collaboration, and support diverse voices in transdisciplinary computational thinking and environments. The first FACT/// forum was held on Thursday, 7th March at the Sussex Humanities Lab. For more details see fact.network. FACT/// is aCHASE Feminist Network Award and also supported by the Sussex Humanities Lab.
Sharon Webb is a Digital Humanities Lecturer in the Sussex Humanities Lab and the School of History, Art History and Philosophy. Sharon is a historian of Irish associational culture and nationalism (eighteenth and nineteenth century) and a digital humanities practitioner, with a background in requirements/user analysis, digital preservation, digital archiving, text encoding and data modelling. Sharon also has programming and coding experience and has contributed to the successful development of major national digital infrastructures.
Sharon’s current research interests include community archives and identity, with a special interest in LGBTQ+ archives, social network analysis (method and theory), and research data management. She holds a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award 2018 on the topic of community archives and digital preservation, working with a number of community projects, including Queer in Brighton.
Sharon is currently running a twelve-month project funded by the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (2018), ‘Identity, Representation and Preservation in Community Digital Archives and Collections’. This project is an intervention in three important areas: community archives, digital preservation, and content representation. For more details see www.preservingcommunityarchives.co.uk.
About Ioann Maria:
Ioann Maria is a new media artist, filmmaker, and computer scientist. Ioann’s work is focused on hacktivism, electronic surveillance, computer security, human-machine interaction, and interactive physical systems. In her solo and collaborative projects she explores new methods in real-time audio-visual performance.
Ioann is co-founder of the Edinburgh Hacklab, Scotland’s first hackerspace. She was formerly an Artistic Director of LPM Live Performers Meeting, the world’s largest annual meeting dedicated to live video performance and new creative technologies, and a Research Technician in Digital Humanities at the Sussex Humanities Lab, University of Sussex, which is dedicated to developing and expanding research into how digital technologies are shaping our culture and society.