Update from the “Unlocking the Past” project

We are delighted to share a short blog piece on the first Unlocking our Digital Past workshop that seeks to capture some of the key discussions we had. It was really nice reflecting on the event when writing this. Please feel free to read and share with anyone who you think might be interested.

https://unlockingourdigitalpast.com/2021/08/05/reflections-on-the-unlocking-our-digital-past-workshop-19-july-2021/

For a peak at the presentations from the workshop, take a look at their website: https://unlockingourdigitalpast.com/blog-2/

Digital archives events

Next week our AHRC-funded project on “Contextualising email archives” will be presenting at two digital archives events – at the same time!

Adam will present follow on work at the third and final AURA event (16 March, 10:30-17:00), while I will be presenting our work at the Digital Archives Learning Event (DALE) “Strictly on the Download” event run by The National Archives (16 March 2-4pm).

Information on the AURA event follows below and you can book here.

Information on the the DALE event follows after the AURA information, and you can book here.

Artificial Intelligence and Archives: What comes next?

This final workshop will bring together all key actors in the archive “circuit”: from creators of data, to archivists and to users (thereby crossing the boundaries between Computer Scientists and Humanities Scholars) with the aim of planning new projects on AI and Archives.

Workshop 3 is organised by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the AURA project team.

Tuesday 16th March

Programme:

  • 10:30 – 10:40 Welcome (Lise Jaillant and Melissa Terras)
  • 10:40 – 11:40 Keynote presentation, “Can Archives make AI Better?”

– Professor Andrew Prescott, University of Glasgow

Chair: Bea Alex, University of Edinburgh

  • 10 minute break
  • 11:50 – 12:50 Focus on Digital Humanities

– Dr Larry Stapleton, “The INSYTE Cooley Laboratory, Waterford Institute of Technology: A Survey of Key Themes, Recent Research and Future Directions”

– Angeliki Tzouganatou, University of Hamburg, “AI, openness and participation in digital cultural archives”

– Dr Jennifer O’Mahoney, Waterford Institute of Technology, “The role of born digital data in confronting a difficult and contested past through digital storytelling”

Chair: Rachel Hosker, University of Edinburgh

  • 1 hour lunch break
  • 13:50 – 14:50 Focus on machine learning/ AI techniques

– Dr Giorgio Maria Di Nunzio, University of Padova, “Bias and Fairness in AI: New Challenges with Open Data?”

– Professor Matthieu d’Aquin, National University of Ireland, Galway, “AI for archives and collections: From processing metadata to analysing content”

– Bram van der Warf, “What comes next? AI for discovery or destruction?”

Chair: Rachel Foss, British Library

  • 15 minute break
  • 15:05 – 15:45 Focus on Ethics

– Dr Jenny Bunn and Mark Bell, The National Archives, “Archives and AI: What now?”

– Dr Adam Nix, De Montfort University, “Finding light in dark archives: Using AI to connect context and content in email”

Chair: David Canning, Cabinet Office

  • 15:45 – 16:45 Roundtable discussion

Melissa Terras; Joe Nockels; Rachel Hosker; Mike Bennet; Kirsty Lingstadt; Anthea Seles

  • 16:45 – 17:00 Short talk and closing remarks (Dr Annalina Caputo, Dublin City University)

Digital preservation in action

About this Event

‘Strictly on the download: digital preservation in action’ will explore how services are utilising digital preservation tools and resources to take next steps in delivering effective and high quality projects, and to think about the needs of a new generation of digital researchers. The event will also include an update on ‘Plugged In, Powered Up’, The National Archives’ strategy to increase digital capacity across the archive sector.

DALE is the Digital Archives Learning Exchange, a network facilitated by The National Archives to explore digital challenges, build capacity and improve digital skills across the sector.

Event programme:

14:00-14:10 Welcome, introductions and Plugged In, Powered Up update

Jo Pugh, The National Archives

14:10-14:30 ‘From Guidance to Action: Implementing Digital Preservation Processes at the Garden Museum’

Rosie Vizor, The Garden Museum

14:35-15:05 ‘Introduction to Digital Archives Graphical Risk Assessment Model (DiAGRAM)’

David Underdown, The National Archives

15:15-15:35 ‘Finding light in dark archives: Searching email archives by connecting content and context’

Prof. Stephanie Decker, University of Bristol

All presentations will be followed by a short Q&A session

Finding Light in Dark Archives (with AI) – recorded online presentation

We have another update on our AHRC-funded research project on Email Archives, as we presented our work with an excellent group of UK and Irish scholars and professionals focusing on AI & Archives.

For more information on AURA and their events follow this link.

Bauhaus digital archive

For those of you interested in archives available online, the Bauhaus Archive has made its digital archive available here: http://open-archive.bauhaus.de/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&moduleFunction=search

There are also a digital history resources available for those interested in the history of the school, which celebrated its centenary in 2019, though the original website has now be changed to https://www.bauhauskooperation.com/ and does not feature quite as much useful historical detail anymore – but hopefully this will come back as they develop the site!

Crowdsourcing digitisation in archives

In another instalment of our digital history series, I wanted to highlight that there is increasingly work being done involving crowdsourcing. Many of you may have read the media reports that during the lock down, a crowdsourcing project to digitise rainfall records has barrelled ahead as people enthusiastically engaged. The project is now complete. Does make you wonder what other archival resources may benefit from such an approach.

The National Archives UK has been exploring this recently as well and the potential for expanding this is really not something that was on my radar at all until recently. An interesting insight into what is happening is provided by a chapter by Alexandra Everleigh, ‘Crowding out the Archivist?’ in an edited volume on Crowdsourcing our Heritage. I am not aware that there are any organization or business-focused crowdsourcing projects underway, but may just be my ignorance. Do let us know if this is something that is being explored or ongoing in an archive near you!

AHRC funding for digital business archives research

I am really pleased to announce that, together with a team of investigators including Dr Adam Nix (De Montford University), Prof David Kirsch (University of Maryland and University of Oxford) and our heritage partners, The National Archives (UK) and the Hagley Museum & Library (USA), we have been awarded funding from the AHRC to investigate how historical researchers may be able to research emails as historical sources, and use this resource to historicise the dot.com boom from the perspective of a software development company. See below for a description of our new project!

Historicizing the dot.com bubble and contextualizing email archives

Summary

Future researchers will have to engage with emails if they are to understand the lives of those who lived in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This is particularly true of organizations and their employees, for whom email has become the default form of internal and external communication. As it currently stands, publicly available email archives are rare, and there has been minimal engagement with them as a historical resource. Indeed, one of the most well-known examples, the Enron Email Corpus, only exists because of high-profile legal proceedings that followed the firm’s bankruptcy and has seen minimal historical investigation since its publication. While this is partly due to its comparative recency, the reading of emails as a historical source is a developing practice and requires particular skills and knowledge that are not traditionally associated with historical enquiry. Despite this, archives and other heritage organizations are increasingly collecting and preserving email data and we are fast moving into the period where the events of the 1990s are of historical interest. We believe that our project offers a timely opportunity to address the gap between current efforts to preserve email and the future requirements that will allow them to actually be read and engaged with.

To address this issue, we seek a better understanding of how email archives can be made more accessible for the purposes of historical learning and research. The problem we focus on here is that, while emails offer valuable insight to researchers, a lack of context often presents a challenge to those wishing to understand their content, inter-relationship and wider historical significance. This de-contextualization can represent a barrier to engagement, to both trained historians and general interest users. Furthermore, existing examples of email archives often purposefully remove personal information, further disconnecting emails from their authors, recipients and connection to related material. For these reasons, our project will make an email archive available in such a way that maintains the relational and network properties that emails hold, as these allow individual emails to be understood in terms of their connection to those that precede and follow them. Furthermore, we will bring the historical context back to otherwise de-contextualized data, allowing researchers to interpret isolated items of communication in a way that appreciates the wider historical circumstances in which they were created.

We will address this challenge through a UK-US collaboration between three universities (University of Bristol, De Montfort University, University of Maryland) and two heritage sector partners (The National Archives, UK, and Hagley Museum and Library, US). Through these collaborations, the project will focus on accessioning and re-contextualizing a worked example of an email archive from a failed US software company from the dot.com era, making it available in various forms to suit the diverse requirements of its potential readers. More specifically, the project has three overall work packages that together deliver on the project’s aim and objectives. The first aspect of the project centres around work linking the constituent emails in the archive together to retain the basic network structure of the communications and making relational links to otherwise disconnected emails based on their content. This will be combined with a user interface that allows the whole archive to be searched and read. The second aspect of the project provides a historical case study of the failed US company based on its archive and will require the development of both a narrative explanation of its history and an online platform for public engagement with it. The final package focuses on the project’s legacy and deals with issues of long-term preservation of the archive, description of best practice, and engagement with project stakeholders.