Visiting Student Researcher at Stanford/CESTA

In the fall of 2016, I was a visiting student researcher at CESTA (Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis), the digital humanities hub at Stanford University. During two months I had the opportunity to meet great scholars in my field (in this case people engage in digital text methods), observe the inspirational and collaborative research conducted at the Literary Lab, and every day go and work in CESTA’s creative and open space on the top floor in the Wallenberg Hall (when I was not reading in the beautiful Green Library).


In my PhD project, I use different methods to study the ideas that shaped why and how the Swedish state communicated with the citizens in the 1960s and 1970s and, in particular, how the changing concept of information in post-war western societies configured the idea and use of governmental information. I use, for example, digital quantitative text methods, were I am especially interested in text mining the corpora of Swedish Governmental Official Reports (Statens offentliga utredningar, SOU, 8000 published since 1922–), as a way to study the “voice” of the Swedish state and the governmental discourse of information and media issues.


During my visit at Stanford, I worked on a topic modeling project (with LDA/Mallet) to find co-occurring topics within the SOU corpora, as a way to situate (in my case) the information topic, i.e. the information discourse, in a cluster of interlinked topics and reports. Thus, to better understand the information politics in broader political framework in the context of the report series. Thanks to my supervisor Pelle Snickars, I have the opportunity to collaborate with Roger Mähler at Humlab, who helps me to develop my research from a technical point of view. As a result of my two months work, I presented some findings at a workshop in Vancouver (“How to do things with millions of words?”) and had an open seminar at CESTA in the beginning of November.

As a PhD student (in media and communication) with a digital humanities profile, I am also affiliated with Humlab where I am engaged in with different projects concerning digital text methods. Last but no least, I want to thank Humlab for supporting my visit at Stanford!

// Fredrik Norén

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Tensaii Experience Cypher™ A series of workshops held in HUMlab-X

Recently the firm Tensaii had a series of workshops called Tensaii Experience Cypher™ in HUMlab-X and this is how they describe themselves and the method behind the workshops:

“Tensaii AB is a consulting and user experience design firm. We are an inspiration agency that help our clients to realise and validate their ideas, fast and cost-effective. We are experts in the process of designing meaningful and valuable experiences.

Tensaii Experience Cypher™ is inspired by IDEO and Google Ventures – Design Sprints that focuses on speeding up the process of product development to save money and time. Our unique focus for the Tensaii Experience Cypher™ is knowledge transfer, cooperation and that we are all teachers with the each one teach one mindset. 

The theme was – integration and diversity in Umeå. We had students from the design school, the university and other interested people. During five phases and from hundreds of ideas, three were prototyped by three separate and independent groups. The three results showed solutions that focused on having a meeting place with activities to help natural integration through joyful activities. Some of the activities were games, food, dance, clothing and more. One team had a digital app or service to find the meeting place, RSVP and what theme it was.”

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Closer to a virtual reality – a short course by Humlab

Recently the interest in virtual reality has come to life again after having been dormant since the 90’s. Since then much has happened in terms of both hardware and software. A couple of years ago companies and enthusiasts started showing up around the world presenting different solutions that might be able to deliver what the technology was unable to do twenty years ago.

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In 2016, we have seen the launch of three major VR bets. Oculus, which is backed by Facebook, was the first to launch this new generation of headsets in the form of the Oculus Rift. The game company Valve in cooperation with the HTC is behind the Vive and during the autumn came PlayStation VR from Sony.

In addition to these quite expensive and relatively sophisticated systems, there has been a series of cheaper solutions with headsets in plastic or cardboard that you can use to watch VR apps on your smartphone.
The development takes place primarily within the computer game and entertainment industry, but interest is also evident from research, education, arts and other areas.

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At Humlab we are involved in several projects where we test the technology and explore what it could be used for. As part of Humlab’s short course series, we provide introductory courses and workshops where participants will have the opportunity to try out the technology and discuss its capabilities and limitations. The first course was given on November 16 and more chances will come in the spring term.

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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.

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Advances in Digital Humanities with new PhD course at the Faculty of Arts

During the fall term 2016 Humlab provides a new PhD course, Digital Humanities II: Applications. The course offers a specialization in theoretical and critical perspectives in digital humanities through seminars and individual digital projects.

Stefan Gelfgren introducing the course
Stefan Gelfgren, Director of Humlab, opened the course with a discussion on the topic of Digital humanities or humanities in a digital age?

The course is a deepening and continuation of the course Digital Humanities I: Introduction which was given during the Spring term 2015. Humlab has received funding from the Wallenberg Foundations for the course in the context of a commitment to research and younger scholars in the digital humanities.

Gísli Pálsson, a doctoral student in archeology, will work during the course with the project The farm-as-network: tracing the tendrils of agency across Iceland‘s medieval landscape.
Gísli Pálsson, a doctoral student in archeology, will work during the course with the project The farm-as-network: tracing the tendrils of agency across Iceland‘s medieval landscape.

The course will conclude with presentations of the individual projects on January 10, 2017.

For more information, contact:
Coppélie Cocq
Responsible for pedagogy and education, Humlab

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Digitizing Ancient Dance

On April 20 and 21 2016, members of the Oxford-Umeå research project Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers (ADMD), in association with Lausanne-based dance academy
Le Marchepied made use of Sliperiet’s motion-capture facility as part of our investigation of dance reconstruction. ADMD was established in 2013 to conduct practice-led research into the ancient Graeco-Roman performance genre known variously as orch?sis, tragoedia saltata (“danced tragedy”) or tragic pantomime. This was a form of solo storytelling through movement popular between the first and fifth centuries CE. Using evidence from textual and iconographic sources, we have been working with live dancers to re-imagine the art-form. In this phase of the project, we are examining the implications, both practical and theoretical, of digitizing orch?sis. What does it mean to translate dance in a post-human world? What does the re-embodiment or re-enactment of orch?sis signify in a context where the electronic interface has become a mundane means of mediation between dispersed human bodies? Can the digital be incorporated into the terpsichoreal?


Helen Slaney getting acquainted with motion-sensing gaffer tape in the company of Jim Robertsson and a Marchepied dancer.

On day 1, once the system was calibrated, each of the five participating dancers was captured performing a 4-minute piece which they had previously rehearsed. The pieces consisted of episodes from the Roman poet Ovid’s mythological compendium Metamorphoses, accompanied by recorded music (composed by Antoine Fachard) and a libretto in Latin. Using the OptiTrack hardware in conjunction with the Motive: Body interface – which was visible to the dancers as a projection throughout – introduced several new factors into their performances. The system has difficulty, for instance, differentiating levels of energy or tension in parts of the body, representing all movement as uniformly smooth and effortless. As there were no markers on the fingers, the hand gestures which are so important a part of the orch?sis vocabulary could not be distinguished. Weight and resistance are likewise hard to convey. Because the markers are attached to joints, subtle movements such as trembling cannot be read; such movements need to be rendered in a more explicit fashion if the system is to interpret them. We need to find ways to convert the electrical firing of muscular innervation into the electrical signals of the motion-capture system. Of course, much of this could be deferred to post-production, but another option is to develop effective translation techniques for meeting the medium halfway and adapting this dance form to make it comprehensible not just to human viewers but also to the alternative sensory faculties of a machine.

IMG_2584Anna Foka calibrating all 12 cameras in the motion capture system

Day 2 involved more recording, this time of some exercises pertaining to the expression of emotional states, and some experimentation with capturing the movement of cloth. The costumes worn in orch?sis, long, flowing robes which cover the dancer and enhance his/her plasticity, are essential to this form of dance, but cannot be captured by OptiTrack using conventional methods. We found that the cloth could not be designated as a “rigid body” with extra markers because they weighed it down and distorted it, meaning that only the swinging ends were tracked rather than a floating surface. The dancer could, however, wear a translucent veil over the capture suit without obscuring too many of the markers. It was important that the costume be worn as its presence or absence affected the dancers’ movements profoundly.

The next challenge for ADMD will be animation. We now have a gallery of raw capture videos consisting of green stick “skeleton” figures which we propose to convert into avatars of dancers performing in Roman theatre spaces. (If any animators – commercial or amateur – are reading this, especially if you have ideas regarding the digitization of cloth, please get in touch!) This workshop has been a fascinating exercise in what might be termed distributed reception; that is, relocating the cognitive act of processing movement from the locus of a human being to a (distributed) technological recipient. As such, it has provided a stimulus for rethinking the purpose, substance, and destination of classical texts pertaining to dance.


Sophie Bocksberger acquiring hands-on experience of the motion-capture software programme


ADMD Oxford: Helen Slaney & Sophie Bocksberger

ADMD HUMlab: Anna Foka

Technician: Jim Robertsson

Le Marchepied: Ilario Santoro, Judith Desse, Marie Lévenez, Ivan Larson, Léa Roméo

ADMD acknowledges the support of the Fell Fund, TORCH, St Hilda’s College, The Balticgruppen Foundation & Riksbankens Jubileumsfond


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On Monday, March 7, during the Sami festival Ubmejen Biejvieh, Humlab hosted , a conference about how digital technology can preserve and develop the Sami languages.
The conference was arranged by the Sami Parliament’s Language Center, Humlab, Umeå Municipality (International Affairs and Centre for Multilingualism) and the Swedish Sami Association (SSR).
Sami language workers, teachers, coordinators in municipalities, representatives of the Sami Parliament’s Language Board, Sáminuorra (Sami Youth Organization of Sweden) etc (about 40 participants) gathered in Humlab X for lectures and discussions.

– “It is obvious that the technology and the opportunities are there, but there is a need for venues to discuss and coordinate how these can be applied in the best way to strengthen and develop the Sami languages, their use and visibility,” says co-organizer Coppélie Cocq, Humlab.

#digigiella16 | Photo by Peter Steggo
#digigiella16 | Photo by Peter Steggo

The presentations and the panel discussion are available in our seminar archive:

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