Learning XML and Transcription Skills

Our last class of the semester was all about Transcription and learning how to write XML Markup Language in order to categorise data for cataloguing. Although I have used other languages such as CSS, HTML, JSON and Python I have never practised using XML until then, and I found it interesting and enjoyable to try and figure out. What I particularly enjoyed about it was the ability to create new tags while also adhering to strict rules in order to make the XML function.

However, I am very familiar to the transcription side of things, due to my work working with the Freedmen Bureaus Paper for Douglass Day over a year ago. For people who are not knowledgeable in markup languages then using Transcription software as seen on the Smithsonian Transcription website,  makes it very simple for people to get involved and helps to create a kind of digital community who want to help to transcribe these records and documents. I have a blogpost detailing the system that was used for the event, so I won’t be repeating myself here. However, I will say that it is not only the Smithsonian have websites for this, there is also Zooniverse where there are multiple projects featuring items needing transcribing, such as Anti-Slavery Manuscripts which entails, ‘turn our collection of handwritten correspondence between anti-slavery activists in the 19th century into texts that can be more easily read and researched by students, teachers, historians, and big data applications’(‘Anti-Slavery Manuscripts’ n.d.) and the Scribes of the Cairo Geniza which aims to ‘ unlock the secrets of one of the greatest archives of the middle ages. Hidden for centuries in an attic in Cairo, over 300,000 fragments of pre-modern and medieval Jewish texts—from everyday receipts to biblical works—have yet to be fully deciphered’ (‘Scribes of the Cairo Geniza’ n.d.).  Closer to home, Ireland has created a similar website but for a stand-alone project known as Letters 1916 – 1923 which is ‘Ireland’s first participatory digital humanities project. Begun in September 2013 as Letters 1916, it expanded its collection period to the end of the Civil War through a generous grant from the Irish Research Council. Join us in creating this unique resource by sharing letters with us or helping to transcribe previously deposited letters’ (‘Explore Letters 1916-1923’ n.d.). The project is a combination between different organisations and requires the transcription of letters during 1916 – 1932 some of the most historically important years in Irish history. It is interesting that this is the second large scale digital project in Ireland over the last number of years, along with the Beyond 2023 initiative which I have spoken about in a separate blog post. This makes me feel very positive about how Irish organisations are seeing Digital Humanities as a viable way to help restore and transcribe the past in order to make it accessible for the future. It’s only a matter of time before we see more smaller scale projects being completed with a DH lens here in Ireland which makes me very excited about the future of Digital Humanities here in Ireland.

How to combine Heritage and Culture in the Digital World.

I am a student of both Digital Humanities and Global Gallery Studies, which means that I have the ability to look through both the digital and the physical lens, seeing both sides of arguments that ask, ‘Why do we need to digitise everything?’, when the truth is, we don’t. If we went ahead of attempted to digitise every little thing from the past, then we would have excess of information that we don’t really need to tell the story of the past. Which is where the idea of curation comes in, in order to decide what should/shouldn’t be digitised. Which in turn opens a whole other debate as to who is qualified to decide what pieces of our history and culture should we hold onto and what should we erase? This is not a new debate by any means, but it is a growing question that we are still no where near close to finding the correct answer if there in fact is a straight answer. There are some places in Ireland that manage to combine the worlds of the Heritage/Cultural and the Digital World, such as the Beyond 2022 initiative set up my the Irish Government and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and is a

‘an all-island and international collaboration. Working together, we will launch a Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access, virtual reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922’.

(“Beyond 2022 | Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury” 2019)

This initiative helps to complete and image of Irish History which was thought to have been destroyed in the fire. For someone like me, this is a perfect example of Digital Humanities in action, using technology and communities with the knowledge and skills needed  in order to salvage what data or records we have from that time.

One local example of this is Nano Nagle Place which is a heritage space in the centre of Cork City which is dedicated to the life of Nano Nagle and the work of the South Presentation convent. Nano Nagle herself was the founder of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, otherwise known as the Presentation Sisters, Nagle also dedicated her life to the development of Catholic Education in Ireland (“The Story Of Nano Nagle – Nanonagle” 2019). The heritage centre details Nano’s life in Cork while also talking about the Order of the Presentation Sisters including records and photographs from when the school was in operation. They also use a mix of traditional and modern ways to tell the story of the convent from videos to digital maps highlighting Nano Nagle’s trips. The centre is considered to be highly innovative in its use of digital tools and other venues around the country are hoping to adopt similar systems in newer heritage sites, which is what makes Nano Nagle place so unique. While also showing how important and vital digital skills are in order to keep the heritage sector evolving to cater for the next generation of budding curators and historians.

What is Open Access?

In today’s world the internet has become a place where everyone can voice their opinions and concerns about how messed up the ‘real world’ is. I am of the generation who first began having internet in their homes, we were taught how to use Microsoft Office from the age of 7 and so I grew up with technology adapting around me. Due to this, I, like other millennials, are stuck in the middle of generations; the prior, otherwise called the Baby Boomers, who the internet was just trust at in the hope that they may try and adapt to the changing world, then of course you have the Generation Z, those who have been around technology as soon as they are born and are naturally aware of touchscreens, iPad and things like Amazon Alexa. It is my generation, who must both prepare the later generations for the advancement of technology while also contending with the Baby Boomers, who aren’t technological natives, as Barlow puts it in the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace put it, the older generations

‘are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants’.


The fact that the internet can be used to break down boundaries for low income people to gain information for a low amount. This is what the idea of Open Access is all about as Barlow outlined, ‘We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.’ This is one of the most important aspects of the online community, to remember that it is in fact a virtual community where people can share their work and communicate with other people who share their ideals. This is where The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens comes into action. The framework started to be created in 2005 where it aimed to, ‘to provide evidence-based policy support to the European Commission and the Member States on harnessing the potential of digital technologies to innovate education and training practices, improve access to lifelong learning and to deal with the rise of new (digital) skills and competences needed for employment, personal development and social inclusion’ (team 2017). The framework includes 5 competence areas which must be fulfilled in order to make sure the information is accurate and best presented for the online world. These competencies include, Information and data literacy, Communication and collaboration, digital content creation, safety and problem solving.

In conclusion, the use of Open Access in the online world is something that helps to bridge the gap between the lack of knowledge and information overload. It helps to find a medium for across the generations, but it also allows a wider community to access the information without having a to pay to access it.


‘5-Star Open Data’. n.d. Accessed 30 October 2019. http://5stardata.info/en/.

Barlow, John Perry. 2016. ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’. Electronic Frontier Foundation. 20 January 2016. https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence.

‘EOSC Vienna Declaration’. n.d. Accessed 30 October 2019. https://eosc-launch.eu/declaration/.

Hagstrom, Stephanie. 2014. ‘The FAIR Data Principles’. FORCE11. 3 September 2014. https://www.force11.org/group/fairgroup/fairprinciples.

team, FPFIS. 2017. ‘DigComp 2.1: The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens with Eight Proficiency Levels and Examples of Use’. Text. EU Science Hub – European Commission. 28 April 2017. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/digcomp-21-digital-competence-framework-citizens-eight-proficiency-levels-and-examples-use.

‘Vienna Principles a Vision for Scholarly Communication’. n.d. Accessed 30 October 2019. https://viennaprinciples.org/.

Working with Computer Vision

Recently I attended a workshop by Dr Giles Birgel in which he spoke about the use of Computer Vision software in Digital Humanities. As someone who is passionate about Digital Curation, I found this workshop hugely beneficial as it gave a look at some of the programmes that can be used in this field. The definition of Computer Vision is ‘gaining high-level understanding from digital images’ (‘Computer Vision’). Dr Birgel gave a few examples in which this can be used for example, for identifying recurring patterns in art pieces or even on book covers.  This interested me a great deal coming from both an DH undergrad and a MA Global Gallery Studies viewpoint as images and art pieces need digital curation around the world. In a lot of cases, the identities of the artists are a mystery due to the loss of the information. Using Computer Vision, it could be possible to identify an artist’s work by scanning and comparing a recognised artwork to an artwork whose artist is unknown. By looking at the style of the painting, Computer Vision can distinguish different features of the paintings which could help to discover who the original artist is. (Brownlee)

Going forward, this kind of technology will be hugely beneficial in transferring the traditional artworks into the digital age. The technology is far from complete and can have many different features and uses in years to come especially with the increase of institutions wanting to digitise their records and pieces in storage.


Brownlee, Jason. ‘A Gentle Introduction to Computer Vision’. Machine Learning Mastery, 18 Mar. 2019, https://machinelearningmastery.com/what-is-computer-vision/.

‘Computer Vision’. Wikipedia, 12 Oct. 2019. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Computer_vision&oldid=920904355.

The Politics of Social Media

During my DH6004 class this week, we watched a film called The Internet’s Own Boy, a documentary about one of the founders of Reddit, Aaron Swartz, who sadly died in 2013 aged just 26. Aside from helping to create Reddit, Swartz became a spokesperson for internet users during campaigns to bring in censorship laws like SOPA which ‘is an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act. It’s proposed bill that aims to crack down on copyright infringement by restricting access to sites that host or facilitate the trading of pirated content’ (SOPA Explained: What It Is and Why It Matters – Jan. 17, 2012).   He was also one of the founders of demandprogress.org which is a project that aims to ‘seek to protect the democratic character of the internet — and wield it to make government accountable and contest concentrated corporate power’ (About Demand Progress – Demand Progress). The conversation about government interference of the internet has been a long one. In the second year of my degree , I wrote about how Twitter was being used as a campaign tool in modern political campaigns.

In more recent years, the Cambridge Analytica scandal had rocked the social media world, as well as the real world.  It was revealed by one whistle-blower that over 50 million user’s data had been mined in order to compile information on potential voters during the American Presidential Election and the Brexit referendum (Cadwalladr and Graham-Harrison). It just goes to show how social media has evolved over the years and how things need to change in order to get back to how sites like Facebook were previously (Mozur et al.).


Aaron Swartz. http://www.aaronsw.com/. Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.

About Demand Progress – Demand Progress. https://demandprogress.org/about/. Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.

admin. ‘Critical Review of Twitter as a Communication Tool.’ Kayleigh Falvey, 26 Oct. 2017, http://kayleighfalvey.com/digital-humanities/write-a-critical-review-of-twitter-as-a-platform-you-may-consider-how-twitter-works-as-a-research-tool-andor-as-a-pedagogical-tool-andor-as-a-communication-tool/.

Cadwalladr, Carole, and Emma Graham-Harrison. ‘Revealed: 50 Million Facebook Profiles Harvested for Cambridge Analytica in Major Data Breach’. The Guardian, 17 Mar. 2018. www.theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election.

Mozur, Paul, et al. ‘Facebook Faces a New World as Officials Rein In a Wild Web’. The New York Times, 17 Sept. 2017. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/17/technology/facebook-government-regulations.html.

SOPA Explained: What It Is and Why It Matters – Jan. 17, 2012. https://money.cnn.com/2012/01/17/technology/sopa_explained/index.htm#targetText=SOPA%20is%20an%20acronym%20for,the%20trading%20of%20pirated%20content. Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.