Today, in Canberra, was a day to discuss digital humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, linked data, collaborations and how to prove the value of our work in this space. All around Australia there have been Digital Humanities Pathways Forums and the one in Canberra was attended by people from GLAMR, academia and the commercial sector, a great spread of different viewpoints.

Listening to Julia Hickie and Hilary Berthon discuss how Trove provides access and aggregates collections I was wondering when someone would bring up the question of proving value (I didn’t have to wait long). For users, if they can easily access the information or data they need, that’s good enough. What most don’t realise is the amount of work that goes on in the background to get databases communicating with one another. To a user, this work is invisible and therefore how would they know to cite Trove in helping them connect the dots in their research? This is an issue Trove staff have encountered and they are currently looking for a way to qualitatively prove Trove’s impact in the research community.

Hamish Holewa showed that Atlas of Living Australia is more than just a platform and DigiVol is more than a transcription tool, they are communities. I’ve used both platforms as a user and transcriber and have experienced the sense of community there. Contributors value the Atlas vision that data value increases when it’s aggregated, integrated and linked. For example, when data is aggregated, integrated and linked Atlas of Living Australia can gather wildlife data to demonstrate the impact of human settlement and climate change on these ecosystems.

On a side note, after listening to Trove and Atlas of Living Australia mention API more than a few times, this tweet:

I brought my four-year-old son to the Forum and the next two presentations were his favourites. Mitchell Whitelaw talked about digitising Raynal and visualising it along with his own project Drifter. When we got home this afternoon we explored Drifter. By listening to the various frog calls, reading some of the Trove newspaper clippings attached and clicking through to the Atlas of Living Australia records, I was able to explain to my son that the information we saw was gathered from various sources and put together to tell us a specific story.  And you know what he asked me? Who decides the stories.

My son’s question is actually a nice segway into Tim Sherratt’s talk on redaction art and access. He reminded us that access is a struggle and to get it, someone needs to push for it. The redaction art Tim found in ASIO files certainly reminded us that our human history is littered with instances where access has been denied. He asked us to also consider the grassroots infrastructures to be just as important as those created by the big organisations for research.

While my son was quite impressed with the redaction art cookies Tim brought to his presentation. They also prompted another exploration when we got home. I showed him this page with redaction art and explained there was something written under the picture of the dog and now that its there we can’t read the original message. I said, this was a way of taking away some of the story. An hour later he showed me a picture in his colouring book where he had drawn over the top of the words “look Mummy, you don’t know the story now, only me”.

I particularly admire the way Mitchell and Tim explain and present their work because it’s then easy to help a child understand its significance through exploration. I know the sector represented at today’s Forum need to prove their value to entities like the Department of Education or Finance to continue working, however, if you can get today’s children engaged and interested in the work you do now, they’ll be your advocates tomorrow.


Till next time!
DFTBA (Don’t Forget to be Awesome)

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