a new semester

Tomorrow the fall semester starts proper and while the lab has been active all of August, next week will be quite different. Several programs will start using the lab at the same time, and there will be new researchers and international guests in the lab. One of the new research fellows is Paul Arthur. He will arrive proper tomorrow, and we are very happy to have him in the lab. This is from his website:

In 2010 Paul Arthur takes up the position of Deputy Director of the National Centre of Biography and Deputy General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the History program at the Australian National University. Since 2007 he has been a Curtin Targeted Research Fellow in Information Commons at Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia, and an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Research School of Humanities, Australian National University. During 2009 Paul Arthur is a visiting fellow at two international centres — Center for Cultural Analysis, Rutgers University, USA (teaching his seminar course ‘Writing History with New Media’), and HUMlab, the digital humanities centre at Umeå University, Sweden.

Paul will soon introduce himself and his work on this blog.

The fall semester will be intense in many ways – many educational programs using the lab, digital media and industry activities, continued installation of the new part of the lab, several conferences, seminars, several research and development projects (youtube, domestic violence, bio mapping, environmental archaeology, internet based population database), disputations (Therese Örnberg Berglund will defend her Ph.D. thesis on October 17, 2009), Umeå 2014 and much more. We are also planning for a new lab on the new Arts Campus (if you are in Umeå and understand Swedish – there is an event at the Design School on September 8).

People involved in projects and activities will use this space to talk about their work. From my point of view, I am looking forward to an exciting academic year. There was a major event in the lab in May 2009 – an inauguration and start-up event – which attracted people from all over the place and which made it quite clear that there is much interest in and support for HUMlab. Based on this trust, we will continue to develop HUMlab as a meeting place and bring our experience and what we have learnt (together with you) into the planning of HUMlab-X on the Arts Campus. Our vision still draws on the original conceptual grounding of the lab:

The basic idea behind HUMlab, as articulated early on, is to facilitate the meeting between the humanities, culture and information technology, or put differently, to be a meeting place for the humanities, culture and information technology.

The relative vagueness of this description has often been a strength, but nevertheless, over this semester, I will use this space (as well as a couple of articles I am working on), to flesh out my understanding of what HUMlab is and can be. Most important, unsurprisingly, are you – everyone who is part of the lab (whether in Umeå or elsewhere).

building a screenscape (wireless?)

If you have visited HUMlab recently, you have probably noticed that there are quite a few screens around. Not only individual screens but a number of large’lab screens’. In the extended part of the lab, there is a screenscape currently being implemented with a great number of screens and a basic idea of multiplexity and multiple frame while maintaining a sense of one screenscape. This is quite a large and complex system and I am working on an article right now trying to outline some of the issues at play here.

Currently, however, I am thinking of wireless connectivity to screens and projectors. This is something I have been interested on and off for quite some time now. There are projectors with wireless functionality to be purchased and there are a number of (but not too many I think) adapters you can connect to an exisiting projector. There are also software soultions that require a server computer connected to the projector.

Some findings:

  • resolution is limited (naturally), but there is a span here and the low resolution solutions are probably not good enough.
  • many adapter solutions require a USB dongle of some kind to be connected to the laptop (or other computer to display images on the screen/projector) – from this point of view use of a standard wireless network is much better.
  • there is wireless usb technology for this kind of purpose, but again, you will typically need dongles unless you have a laptop with wireless usb built in.
  • most alternatives I have seen are operating system specific and for instance, a Windows computer may remotely download software required to connect to a projector through the wireless network, but this will not work for other operating systems.

I would like a solution/device that is not dependent on dongles and that works for Windows, MAC and Linux. Also, resolution must be decent. Any suggestions?

Also, since we are implementing a display and audio infrastructure for the new part of the lab, it has occurred to me that maybe the best thing for this part of the lab would be to have a dedicated server whose job it was to manage incoming wireless display (and audio) data from laptops (mainly) and deliver it to screens in the lab through existing distribution systems. Probably there would have to be some kind of  control or management system (to allow management of incoming sources). Anyone interested in building this? 

For other screens in the lab we would probably have to rely on individual adapters or the like so my guess is that we need both.

The rationale for all this, of course, is that it should be as easy as possible to connect to screens from (in particular) laptops. Imagine a class setting for instance, a research group or an artist showing their work. With a low threshold there is a likelihood that people would share their stuff more often, which I think is important to the lab.

At Nobel Symposium “Going Digital”

I am currently at Nobel Symposium 147 “Going Digital: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Aspects of Digitization” at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. This is the first morning and the program will continue for the whole week. This morning Robert Darnton, Harvard University, will start the day off through “A Literary Tour de France, 1778”. Subsequently Adrian van Der Weel, Leiden University, will talk about “Explorations in the Libroverse” and just before lunch, Nicholas Barker, The Book Collector, will about “Google, Gutenberg and earlier revolutions in communication”. If time allows, I will do some reporting here.

Update: There is a windows media stream available from here.


I gave a talk yesterday in the lab for the Spaces for Learning conference at Umeå University. Here is the abstract:

From optical fiber to conceptual cyberinfrastructure

Could an acqarium or a bean bag be more important to a technology rich learning space than a workstation or a screen? Using HUMlab as a case study, and the current discussion of cyberinfrastructure and e-science as a vantage point, a number of factors will be discussed that play into the design, use and development of technology enriched learning spaces. It will be argued that we need to be concerned with detail as well as more general design principles and what may be called conceptual cyberinfrastructure.

It was great to do this in the lab as I could physically draw on HUMlab and the history of the lab. Among the more general points I made was:

  • the importance of allowing and supporting exploration
  • the importance of paying attention to pay attention to small details
  • the importance of persistently engage with the space
  • think about design principles
  • the importance of situating spatial configuration, design and technology in a held-together conceptual-level framework
  • retrofitting is always going to be important (work with the space you have – making it situated)
  • the task is not only to find out about what can be done and how, but also to make it happen – and to that we need to engage in institutional, policy-making work

I have come up with an array of tentative design principles (for an article I am working on) and I will present those here at some point, and part of my argument was that we we need to work at multiple levels:

  1. details (that can play a very important role)/actual implementation
  2. design principles
  3. conceptual cyberinfrastructure/conceptual underpinning

I also related to the discourse of cyberinfrastructure and e-science – both critically and in terms of how the humanities can position itself to tweak that discourse and create funding opportunities etc.

Also, I enjoyed making use of two screens when presenting (experimenting) and also the screenscape in the new part of HUMlab.

learning spaces, transforming religious values and eclectic tech carnival

While most of the university is slowing down (the semester is soon over), things remain rather hectic at HUMlab. This past weekend, Ele Carpenter’s exhibition Open Source Embroidery premiered at the BildMuseet, and this coming week the large-scale event Eclectic Tech Carnival will happen in the lab. ETC has been co-organized by HUMlab fellow Stefanie Wuschitz and project worker Karin Jangert (and others).

Also, two conferences will make use of HUMlab this coming week. The first one is the “Changing Societies – Values, Religions, and Education” conference organized by the School of Education at Umeå University and supported by the Swedish Research Council. Here one session will take part in the lab and the three following presentations will be done by HUMlab affiliated researchers:

Religion in New Places: Retoric of the Holy in Online Virtual World of Second Life. Jim Barrett (English literature).
Virtual churches: Transforming religious values and practise. Stefan Gelfgren (History of Ideas).
Some experiences of using Internet based platform in Religious Education. Hanna Zipernovszky (Religious Studies).

On Thursday and Friday, Umeå University will host an international conference on “Spaces for Learning” (organized by the School of Education in collaboration with HUMlab), and two presentations will be made by myself and postdoctoral fellow Erica Robles in HUMlab. Hopefully we will be able to use the space playfully.

From Optical Fiber to Conceptual Cyberinfrastructure. Patrik Svensson.
The Psychology of Information Displays: Designing Screens For Social Contexts. Erica Robles.

A very promising week indeed!

Hypercities, Traweek, DML Studio and Transformative Scholarship

I am spending a week in Southern California to do mixed work. The day before yesterday I participated in a meeting at UCLA mainly on the HyperCities project with most of the project group (I think). It is really an interesting project which I have followed at a distance through contact with PI Todd Presner over the years. The project has developed on multiple levels from a standalone more informational platform to a very rich, multi-layered, web-based, modular, multiple-city, data rich and fairly spectacular interpretative tool which allows exploration of rich scholarly issues in through an experimental, attractive and very promising platform.

At the meeting I met with Philip J. Ethington who told me about the new Center for Transformative Scholarship at USC.

The core mission of the Center for Transformative Scholarship (CTS) at USC is to facilitate, explore, test, and advance the potentials of new media and networked scholarship for scholarly research, analysis, and publication. The CTS is a University-wide resource, hosted by the University Library, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the School of Cinematic Arts. […] CTS is committed to working with faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students who seek to realize the emerging scholarly potential of massive online archives, the potential of collaborative environments and tools for analysis and interpretation of those archives, and the potential of new forms of publication via the Internet and other new media.

Yesterday I took part in a workshop at UC Irvine with Sharon Traweek on her current work, databases, knowledge networks, cyberinfrastructure, policy issues, collaboration and interdisciplinarity. Traweek is (obviously) very good and I really enjoyed the workshop. I also met with David Theo Goldberg who just got back from visiting us in Umeå and Mimi Ito. They are both involved in/run the new Digital Media Learning Studio (MacArthur Fundation supported) and I had an oppurtunity of meeting the team – a most impressive and interesting group of people.

Tomorrow I hope to submit my article “Humanities computing as digital humanities” as well as visiting UCSD in San Diego.

five postdoctoral fellowships

Five international postdoctoral positions in the digital humanities are now available at HUMlab, Umeå University, Sweden from September 1, 2009 or January 15, 2010. The call is open, but 1-3 positions may be allocated to the areas of “religion and the digital”, “digital journalism”, “architecture and the digital”, “next generation digital humanities tools” and/or “visualization in the digital humanities”.

HUMlab is an internationally recognized center for the humanities and information technology. Much of the work takes place in a 5,300 square feet studio space at the center of the university and in different kinds of digital and hybrid environments. HUMlab is based on a double (or triple) affiliation model where much of the work is done in close collaboration with the humanities (or other) departments. HUMlab offers an open, friendly, creative and intellectually rich milieu for doing work in the humanities and information technology.

The fellowships are for one year. Another year may be possible based on a review as well as the availability of funding. Collaboration is a central part of the ethos of HUMlab and among our strategic partners are Kulturverket (local award-winning culture organization), Lund University (the Humanities Laboratory), King’s College London (Centre for Computing in the Humanities) and the University of California (UC Humanities Research Institute).

Applicants will be expected to have a Ph.D. in a humanities discipline. In exceptional cases, other areas and backgrounds can be of interest as well. Applications should include a description of an envisioned postdoctoral year-long project.

Please see http://blog.humlab.umu.se/postdocs for more information. Applications should be submitted electronically by June 18, 2009. We look forward to receiving your application.

inauguration on May 14

Last week, the new part of HUMlab was inaugurated by the County Governor. It was a day full of talks, a 20+ project showcase, international guests and a large crowd.












This photo shows the County Governor using the multi touch function of the screen to reveal/paint a scene.

We will be posting more photos and stories in this space later – including reporting on the international symposium that took place the following day.