Category Archives: Highlight

Digital Medieval Studies

I talk about creating my DH capstone project.

I talk about creating my DH capstone project.

How DH Has Helped Me Make Sense of My Field

Early in my graduate studies, when I took the Digital Humanities Colloquium at Boston College, the professor had us read a series of definitions of “the Digital Humanities” to introduce us to the scope of the work we might be doing. Many of these definitions rightly focused on interdisciplinarity, computational analysis, multimedia pedagogy and scholarship, and the need for an umbrella term to encourage institutional support and funding. One definition, however, continues to resonate with me as it is particularly germane to my own field of medieval studies: “[u]ltimately, what sets DH apart from many other humanities fields is its methodological commitment to building things as a way of knowing.” This emphasis on DH as primarily a methodology of building things clarifies what I can do with DH. When conceptualizing a new DH project, I begin by asking myself, “what am I hoping to build to help me know something new about this topic?”

Often, the answer to that question has something to do with the materiality of the topic. As a translator in medieval studies, I have spent untold hours poring over manuscripts and textual editions, navigating the webs of cramped handwriting spilling across pages and the matrices of the apparatus criticus. Text encoding, the DH work I have done with such manuscripts, has given me a deeper insight into the physicality of the scribal tradition and allows me to represent the complexity of the folios. Because DH prioritizes the creation of new material, I get to know the material culture of my field more closely than I might have otherwise.

This digital methodology of “building” gives me a different way of knowing the content and the context of the material I study. Both formats, manuscript and XML file, have their affordances for marking intertextual material, line breaks, section headers, etc., and the painstaking encoding process creates an intimacy with the text, which more traditional humanistic scholarship may not allow. In many ways, the detailed encoding (done in an XML file) feels like the practice of copying a manuscript, and the final result visually complements the original folio.

DH methodologies ask me to think about the medieval world in a new way, demanding that I consider how to transfer the technology of the manuscript into digital technology. As I build a digital manuscript of my own, I can almost see through the lens of the scribes themselves how they constantly referred back to their source text to produce a faithful copy. Digital humanities offers a new entry point to the field and literally allows me to continue the tradition I study, and it doesn’t hurt that the end result is really cool, too!

Manuscript viewer built from the XML file above through Edition Visualization Technology v. 1.3. This work-in-progress provides multiple nodes of engagement with both the manuscript and the text itself.

Apple’s Reality Composer, a Free AR App

In collaboration with the Center for Digital Innovation in Learning (CDIL), Digital Scholarship and the BC Libraries have begun exploring the use of AR experiences in teaching and research. As part of this effort, we have been experimenting with Apple’s Reality Composer, a free AR app that allows for the creation of basic AR experiences without the need for coding skills. Here you will find a series of AR projects created with it. Clicking the image on an iPhone or iPad* will automatically open the model.

*Currently, these experiences are only accessible through Apple iPhones or iPads running an up-to-date iOS. We have iPads and Reality Composer as part of our 3D modeling station.

Animated robot AR model as seen on the Apple Quick Look gallery

Lion-headed stamp AR model created in the BC Digital Studio

Simple 3D models in Apple’s .usdz format allows them to be opened in AR and to be in a WordPress or Omeka page, as seen here. Clicking the image on an iPhone or iPad will automatically open the model in AR when pointed at a horizontal surface; clicking on a Mac or PC will download the AR file.

The two models above are simply models, but using Apple’s Reality Composer allows you to create more complex experiences with basic interactions without needing to code.

In the example below, built for a Boston College biology class, 3D models of hominid skulls were created using photogrammetry, uploaded into Sketchfab, and placed in AR to share with students, in order to replicate the experience of engaging with the models in the classroom.

Simply click the 2D image of a skull, and the AR experience will begin to load. Please note that the experience may take 15 seconds to 1 minute or so to load depending on the iPhone or iPad in use and the internet connection, and requires a flat, horizontal anchoring surface.

AR experience created by Nina Araújo; 3D models by Matt Naglak.

Hominoid skull

A second example was created using 3D models of an active excavation site just outside of Rome, Italy. It allows users to “re-excavate” a specific ancient tomb on the site and see the specialized burial technique that was utilized. The experience opens at life-size, so a relatively open space is necessary (Trigger warning: a 3D model of an adult skeleton uncovered which dates to around 100 BC is shown). 3D models by the Gabii Project; AR experience by Matt Naglak.

Ancient tomb outside of Rome Italy

Interested in AR but on a Google or Android device? Check out the variety of AR apps available for download from Google Arts and Cultures or from the Google AR/VR page. Note these apps are mostly also available on Apple products as well.

Digital Accessibility

What is Digital Accessibility?

Being able to access the web means having access to the modern economy, crucial social spaces, and, of course, vast information. Conversely, not having equal access to the web means not being able to participate in society fully. Unfortunately, reduced access is the reality for many people with disabilities who cannot always navigate the web as efficiently or effectively due to a lack of consideration for their technology design needs. (Interfaces not designed with the visually impaired in mind, for example, can be frustrating at best and impossible at worst to use.) However, there is a growing awareness around this issue, and efforts by such groups as W3C WAI, which has established web accessibility guidelines, have led the way. 

To contribute to this vital effort, all who create web content should educate themselves about how to make it as accessible as possible. Reviewing W3C’s Essential Components of Web Accessibility (or see the full guidelines) is an excellent place to start learning. The University of Iowa has a free Accessibility 101 course, which provides helpful instruction on accessibility principles. Web browser extensions, of which there are many, can be used for usability testing. (Usability testing is crucial when designing websites for people with disabilities.) The BC Libraries Digital Scholarship Group recently added an accessibility section to the DS Handbook, containing a growing list of accessibility-oriented resources for digital scholarship project creation. Finally, one helpful set of standards to keep in mind for designing accessible content is POUR:

  • Perceivable: This refers to the users ability to identify content based on their own senses. For many, this may mean using predominantly visual cues, while for others it may mean using none. Alternative text for images, as well as emerging technologies that may include cues for smell and taste are great examples proactive “perceivable” technology.
  • Operable: A user must be able to successfully navigate and interact based on the tools provided – sometimes this could mean the exclusive use of a keyboard instead of a mouse, or allowing for voice commands when working through an interface.
  • Understandable: All users should be able to comprehend the content they are viewing. Presentation and design should be predictable in its layout and design, color choices and patterns should work to improve overall flow and make the interface more comprehensible. Right now, the push for Universal Design would create a consistent style for websites, which could make online interfaces much more consistent and navigable based on the common use.
  • Robust: Websites ought to provide every option to individuals who want to view their content via their necessary means. Making sure that alternative inputs, such as voice commands are acceptable, and that the site can be run on a variety of browsers that may provide specific accessibility related plug-ins.

As you create content online; think about how it can be used, perceived, and understood as a resource for folks who might gather information through a variety of different means, methods, and senses.

Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities

The Digital Scholarship team is partnering with the English and History departments to offer graduate students a Certificate in the Digital Humanities. Courses will be available to Masters and Doctoral students who are interested in learning more about how new technology is shaping the way we gather, share, and present information.

Graduate students already enrolled a program at Boston College will have the opportunity to pursue coursework in any of the following disciplines:

  • Classical Studies
  • English
  • Economics
  • History
  • Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Romance Languages and Literatures
  • Slavic and Eastern Languages and Literatures
  • Sociology
  • Theology

Requirements for the certificate will come via three classes – an introductory course, a departmental course, and a capstone. The first step for interested graduate students is to contact your graduate advisor to receive approval for enrolling in the mandatory introductory course.  

On the whole, this certificate reflects the changing landscape in the humanities. As research in the humanities is utilized and consumed with the guidance of different technologies, it has become increasingly important for scholars to understand how to present research in the most accurate and evocative ways.  

As more and more technologies and systems become available and open for use, strategies around the most effective ways to conduct research are continually evolving – this certificate will provide context around the current ideas in digital scholarship, and pair that with hands-on experiences from around specific departments.

For more information, see the DH Certificate page hosted by the BC Department of History.