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Just like the Venice Time Machine, many digital humanities projects are creating vast amounts of data. This increasing number of digital resources improves of course the basis for research in humanities. But as long as they are separate entities, the total potential of this collected information cannot be fully exploited. Are there any endeavours for connecting all these resources?

A project for connecting and providing data from different sources is the PoliMedia search user interface. While the focus of media analysis has mainly been on digital newspaper articles until now, this tool can be used for cross-media analysis. PoliMedia connects digitized transcriptions of the debates at the Dutch Parliament with newspaper articles, radio bulletins and television broadcasts, all in their original form. The 2.5 million pages of transcriptions can be searched with full-text search. If the user wants to narrow down the resulting list of debates, he can restrict secondary search parameters. Once the user choses a debate, the related media items are fetched according to debate-specific information and displayed on the interface.

This first example links information sources out of a very specific area of research. Another important characteristic is that the data are accessed by keyword search. The application STAK differs from PoliMedia in both of these attributes: It does not provide a comparable search function and rather than connecting different sources of a certain research field, its goal is to bridge the gap between the digital and analogue environments.
The book is still a very important research tool, but nowadays its physically available information gets augmented with the virtual resources on the web. A problem thereby is that these two environments are completely isolated and that the easily accessible digital information sources cause a shift away from “deep engagement and interaction with physical books“[2]. This results in a loss of serendipity, the finding of new interesting material by chance, which is a central component to the research process of humanists.
In their studies about the relation between physical and digital environments, Martin, Greenspan and Quan-Haase found out that scholars find physical stacks better suited for discovering novel, unexpected information than a catalogue. Since such a surprising encounter with a single key resource can have a significant influence on the outcome of a research, going to a physical library is still very important for today’s research.
The development of the application STAK (Serendipitous Tool for Augmenting Knowledge) tries to connect physical and digital environments. By detecting the scholar’s exact location in a library, STAK can determine his proximity to specific subject headings on the shelves and provide him out of the web with additional information (full-text excerpts, reviews, related works, etc.). In short: “STAK will bring the shelves to live”[2].

Simulated STAK Brower App [2]

Simulated STAK Brower App [2]

An even more general approach for linking different information resources comes from the university Basel. The browser based virtual research environment SALSAH (System for Annotation and Linkage of Sources in Arts and Humanities) which is being developed there connects different digital resources, metadata and research data. But SALSAH does not only simplify the accessibility and availability of professionally digitized sources, it also provides the relevant working tools. This framework goes therefore a step further than the two projects mentioned above: A scholar using SALSAH can not only access and integrate external data sources or visualize all kinds of digital information, he can also transcribe and annotate digital objects and establish relations between them. And once he’s done with his work, for instance annotating and creating links between digital objects, he can make it available for the research community.
Since researchers are constantly modifying data in this dynamic system, new methods have to be implemented in order to make SALSAH a citable source: Versioning shall be made possible with a function for “freezing” a subset of data. Since no comparable network of citable sources and links exists yet, the developers go as far as to announce a “new form of electronic publication”[3].

As we can see, researchers make an effort to develop smart interfaces that connect different data sources and let the users access them easily. This trend is visible in several ambitious projects of different scales: from a strongly domain dependent project like PoliMedia, which links very closely related sources, over STAK, which focuses on specific information environments, until the very general approach of SALSAH, which does not only provide united access to different online sources, but is also a tool for processing them.


Reference:

  1. Kleppe, Kemman. „SUPPORTING CROSS-MEDIA ANALYSES BY AUTOMATICALLY LINKING MULTIPLE COLLECTIONS“
    http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Poster-876.xml
  2. Martin, Greenspan, Quan-Haase. „STAK – SERENDIPITOUS TOOL FOR AUGMENTING KNOWLEDGE: BRIDGING GAPS BETWEEN DIGITAL AND PHYSICAL RESOURCES“
    http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-314.xml
  3. Subotic, Kilchenmann, Schweizer, Rosenthaler. „FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF A SYSTEM FOR ANNOTATION AND LINKAGE OF SOURCES IN ARTS AND HUMANITIES“
    http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-872.xml
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