Good bye 2017. Say hello to 2018!

It’s now about time to summarize this year. It has been a quite intense year, but still really rewarding. Stability and progress, from my point of view, have characterized 2017. And we are looking forward to an interesting year ahead.

Humlab are part of several different research projects – mainly within textual analysis and data visualization. Associate professor Phil Buckland’s (Archeology) SEAD/VISEAD-project is developing and Humlab has a major part of building the database. Professor Pelle Snickars’ Digital models– and Streaming heritage-projects are further developed in collaboration with Humlab. Humlab is making the 3D-models and building digital tools in collaboration within the projects. Together with associate professor Ben Martin, Uppsala University, Humlab is developing methods for textual analysis. My “own” project, “iAccept: Soft surveillance – between acceptance and resistance”, financed by the Wallenberg foundation, has started.

In terms of new projects Humlab is now part of the so called SweClarin-project, a six year long national infrastructural project, financed by the Swedish National Science Foundation, aiming at developing tools and methods for language analysis (in various forms). Pelle Snickars got a new project founded. Associate professor Anna Foka just received fundings from the Wallenberg foundation for a project on digital cartographies for three years. Associate professor Coppélie Cocq is now part of a Norwegian project on Sami research and digital media. Just to mention some new and ongoing projects – some are not mentioned, but not forgotten.

We are also hiring a new system developer. Some more PhD students will work with us during next year. Teaching together with departments at the faculty continues. Events, such as conferences, workshops and seminars, takes place in our premises – often together with the Faculty. Conferences are attended, articles are published, a lab space is maintained, and new collaborations are discovered, etcetera. Several of Humlab-related people were recently published in a new book (in Swedish) called “Digital Humanities – Humanities in a digital age”, a title reflecting how, at least I (and others), view the digital in relation to the Humanities. And the new lab will be inaugurated in January. The lab space has been rebuilt and adjusted to current and future activities. We all look forward to start working there.

humlab rebuild

And so on … It has been, as mentioned, an intense year, and it is not possible to mention everything, but I just wanted give a hint of where we are going during 2018. There are still challenges, but there is a roadmap.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

//Stefan Gelfgren, Director

New project – “iAccept: Soft surveillance – between acceptance and resistance”

Last Friday we had a startup meeting for the project “iAccept: Soft surveillance – between acceptance and resistance”. I, as PI, was granted 3,9 million Swedish kronor (approx. € 390.000) from the “Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation”. The project will start in mid-2017 and run for three years. The project group consists of colleagues with a variety of competences and a multi-disciplinary background, who in their previous research have touched upon related issues, but from different perspectives and angles. The project group consists of Anna Johansson (Humlab), Coppélie Cocq (Humlab), Jesper Enbom (Dept. of Culture and Media Studies), and Lars Samuelsson (Dept. of historical, philosophical and religious studies).


Above: My picture from the Banksy “Laugh Now” exhibition, at Moco Museum, Amsterdam

When using for example Facebook or Google we accept their terms of condition, stating for instance: “By using or accessing Facebook Services, you agree that we can collect and use such content and information in accordance with the Data Policy”. Some might think this is just and fair, others see it as a severe and intrusive form of surveillance.

This project highlights this complex field through a humanistic multidisciplinary approach, and will contribute to broaden a rather polarized debate on surveillance, democracy and digital media. The starting point for the project is the view on soft surveillance as a double-edged sword. The interpretation of surveillance is a matter of how we structure and understand our life in the future, and hence it is a question for humanistic research – as an important complement to existing research.

The iAccept-project will study the paradoxical relation between how we on one hand contest what is seen as unjust or intrusive surveillance, but on the other hand voluntarily give away personal information through our use of for example social media, smartphones, credit cards and shopping behavior – information often open and free to use for compiling data sets to map and interpret our lives. The large amount of digital information we produce provides never before seen possibilities for harvesting data, linking different data sets together and thereby get new information about our lives and actions.

This project studies surveyors and the surveilled and their/our attitudes and ground for surveillance practices. While governmental surveillance (hard surveillance) is given lots of attention, both as regards how it is done and how people respond to it – primarily from a social science or law perspective, less attention is given to surveillance done by commercial and noncommercial actors (also known as soft surveillance).

Stefan Gelfgren, Director, Humlab

New project in collaboration with Uppsala University – textometry and topic modelling

Ben Martin, History of ideas, Uppsala University has been granted a project on ”The Culture of International Society: How Europe’s Cultural Treaties Forged a Global Concept of Culture, 1919-1968”. Martin is working in close collaboration with Humlab for analysing the material. Humlab is part of developing tools and methods for data retrieving and analysis.

From the description:

Martin will examine the historical emergence of a global concept of culture in the twentieth century by analyzing a rich and largely untapped source: cultural treaties between states. That culture can be used to legitimate power is well established. This is also the case in international relations, where contrasting ideas about “culture”–cosmopolitan versus nationalist visions, for example–have been used to justify systems of domination over states and peoples. An anti-racist consensus on the equal value of the world’s cultures is a premise of today’s post-colonial world order. But where did that concept of culture come from and how did it win out over rival visions, above all the notion of “Civilization” associated with European imperialism? How are such global concepts formed and disseminated? Cultural treaties–legally binding agreements on what forms of culture shall be exchanged between two or more nation-states–offer a good source for a historical investigation of these questions. They illustrate how states agree on what culture is, what culture can and should do, and to what degree states should promote or regulate it. Through a comparative, multi-method study of the cultural treaties of several Western European states from 1919 to 1968, my project explores the emergence of a global concept of culture, based on the hypothesis that this concept, in contrast to earlier ideas of civilization, played a key role in the consolidation of the modern international order.

Working in close cooperation with digital humanities specialists at Umeå University’s Humlab, Martin will explore the source material offered by these treaties by approaching it as two distinct data sets. First, to chart the emergence of an international system of cultural treaties, they will use quantitative analysis of the basic information, or “metadata” (countries, date, topic) from the complete set of cultural treaties. Their analysis of this data will identify historical trends in the emergence of a global network of bilateral cultural treaties and to compare that to the global webs established by multilateral agreements. Second, to identify the development of concepts, they will observe the changing use of key terms through quantitative analysis of the content of these treaties. By treating a group of cultural treaties (from Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, between 1919 and 1968) as a single data set (or text corpus), they will be able explore the treaties using textometry (the statistical analysis of lexical data) and topic modeling—the computer-assisted analysis of the frequency of and interrelations among key terms in large groups of texts. Topic modeling will identify which key areas of cultural activity were regulated by the treaties over time and by world region. Third, to see and compare the transnational networks forged by these agreements, they will link data from the text and metadata analyses to map coordinates via geographical information systems (GIS), creating historical maps to reveal patterns and simultaneous developments better than historical narrative can. Finally, to determine which treaties were most copied, and to isolate elements that rendered some more successful than others, they will create evolutionary visual models, what Franco Moretti calls “trees”, that chart the preservation or elimination of key features of the treaties over time. Humlab will provide technical assistance in curating data, methodological development, text analysis, network analysis, and the use of GIS and other mapping and visualization technologies.

Mixed interests

Since I came to HUMlab about a half a year ago a lot has happened in my working (and private) life. In the beginning I wasn’t sure of what to do at HUMlab, and I wasn’t sure of what HUMlab actually were all about. Coming from the History of ideas, I had a vague idea that HUMlab were dealing with the fuzzy area between technology and humanities. And now my working life lies in that confusing area.

I’m currently working with a proposal aiming for EU’s 7th framework programme, developing an identity service for museums, archives and libraries, based on the CIDOC-CRM model. It’s a very technical project where HUMlab will coordinate the project and also provide the project with a humanistic approach and humanistic competences.

However, this week I was offered, through the professor in Museology, to participate in a conference dealing with the CIDOC-CRM model. The day after I received an invitation to the European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) and a session about “religious transformations since the 1960s”. Yesterday I was asked to give a lecture on the course “Church and revivalism in Skellefteå” (a town north of Umeå), and that was only a few hours after talking to the museum here in the town about future collaborations between the museum and HUMlab.

This week has been exceptional, but I can’t imagine so many environments where it is possible to combine such a variety of interests – and I like it.

Postdoctoral scholarships

Only one week left. Last date for application: 30 November.

HUMlab has received external funding for a new initiative to support research in digital humanities – in particular in the areas of participatory media, electronic literature, digital cultural heritage and digital art. The postdoctoral fellowships are for one year with a possible extension for another year. Read more here.

Religion and ICT

A few days ago I held a seminar, “Religion on the Net, and religion in the heart”, at the Department of Religious studies concerning ICT and religion (in a broad sense). We read Christopher Helland’s text “Online Religion as Lived Religion” and had a discussion ranging from how to define religion today, to what impact the digital revolution have had on traditional churches and denominations.

In my own research I’ve been interested in how social transformations relates to religious. In my dissertation I studied the changed perception of religion in the late 19th century Sweden. In a later book I wanted, very broadly, to integrate perspectives from both the history of ideas with church history in order to describe and analyse how the role of religion has changed in Northern Europe over the last five decades (i.e. from the Reformation until today). And, in short, if we want to understand the role of religion in contemporary society the digital transformation of society needs to be accounted for.

The “digital turn” raises many questions concerning religious faith and practices of today. For example: What does it mean for traditional religious structures and ritual practices that faith moves from physical buildings and the physical congregation to cyberspace? What happens with traditional clerical hierarchies in cyberspace? How does religion online differ (if so) from religion off line? Is it possible to keep faith in an absolute truth when the pluralistic nature of the Net tends to promote pluralism and relativism (the flipside is an increasing fundamentalism)?

There are many more questions and a lot of research to be done. However, the seminar concluded that if people live their religious life on Internet, and if churches and various religious representatives are online, theologians have to go online as well.

Amazed and intrigued

I’ve been amazed and intrigued almost every day the last weeks. A couple of weeks ago I started my position as research co-ordinator at HUMlab. Previously I’ve worked as a senior lecturer and researcher in the History of Ideas at the Department of Historical studies, a department which can be described as digital Hades compared to the HUMlab environment. What a difference!

Now, every day I discover the possibilities of various forms of ICT I’ve never seen before. I’ve also started to realise how little I’ve known about, and been aware of, the huge impact of the digital revolution in many people’s personal lives, and in my own life as well.

It was in the end of last year I knew that I’ll work for HUMlab this autumn. And that’s why I promised myself on New Year’s Eve that I’ll digitalize my life during this year – and I’m on my way. A few days ago I “moved” my agenda into my cell phone.

However, since I have my intellectual roots in traditional humanities I still have a critical (but curious) attitude toward ICT and its impact on social transformations. After this year I’ll evaluate my personal digitalization project and see if I’ve gained something, or if it is more reasonable to go back to my normal analogous life.