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Travel Reports - September 2007
9th - 12th September 2007, Digital Resources for the Humanities and Arts (DRHA 07): 'Doing Digital'. Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, England

More information about the DRHA 2007 programme and abstracts of papers are available online from

Daisy Abbott, Sarah Jones, Hannah Little: Panel: Representing Performance

The AHDS Performing Arts team led a panel discussion on the issues surrounding the representation and documentation of performance. Daisy, Sarah and Hannah presented for around 15 minutes each, followed by time for questions. Daisy commented on the interrelationship between performance and context, how performance studies had been heavily focused on the audience experience in the past, how traces of a performance can include such diverse elements as the physical impact on the performer's body, ephemera such as programmes or posters, the performer's memories of the performance and the skills they learnt in order to produce the work, photographs or video coverage, etc, and that such traces can be accidental or deliberate records. She discussed the ways in which the archive can arguably supplement or supplant memories or the work, that physical objects held in the archive are not necessarily as durable as we might like to think, and opened out discussion around what constitutes an archive of performance.

Sarah added to this by pointing out that how archivists document and preserve information influences (to a greater or lesser extent) how we later view events and that creators have a selection process and betray bias during their selection activities. Sarah argued that archivists should be aware of their inevitable bias and the effects of their decisions (for example, if an artist is aware that a particular performance of their work is going to be recorded for the archive, this may well affect the performance), and that the creative element of archiving and curation should be explicit, as it is in the activities of artists. She commented that archivists' processes of selection should themselves be documented, in order to reflect the active role of the archivist. She added that having multiple points of access to the performance in the record, can only improve the accuracy of the archive, although in practical terms this adds considerably to the resources required. Sarah emphasised the inevitably partial image reflected by documentation, quoting Verne Harris' description of an archive as 'a sliver of a window onto an event'.

Hannah discussed the notion of authenticity, both in performance and in a document, and discussed the idea of the original work, in terms of 'original' having a variety of meanings, such as the first version, the perfect version or the complete version, and the different values propagated by each. Hannah commented that every performance can be argued to be an original as it can only be performed in the present, and that details of every performance will alter from one occasion to the next. She outlines differences between different types of 'authenticity' and posited the idea of the archive as a form of forgetting, as a replacement of remembering. The panel papers presented by the AHDS Performing Arts/HATII team are available here: Abbott, Jones, Little.

Greg Crane: Rosy fingered dawn in a digital age

Professor of Classics at Tufts University, Editor in Chief of the Perseus Project, Crane speaks from a humanities, and particularly classics, perspective. The title of Crane's plenary speech comes from a recurrent phrase in the writing of Homer, who he identifies as the producer of one of the earliest preserved substantial bodies of creative work, and one that acts as a watermark of the heights that literature and indeed culture can attain. Crane asserted that his 'objective criteria for the value of work' is its 'interest to intelligent people' and using that criteria, Homer has 'never been bettered'. Crane drew a difference between the arts and humanities, delineating the humanities as 'understanding human expression' and the arts as 'creating human expression'. Crane discussed the fact that scholars have been working with the same media, i.e. information printed on paper, for centuries, and listed four features of digital objects which were significant differences from previous forms of academic sources, i.e. print media.

  1. Separating content and presentation
  2. Recombinant data
  3. Dynamic data - e.g. Wikipedia (representing information accessed by the masses, as opposed to scholars / researchers / etc)
  4. Books talking to each other (a quote from Marvin Minsky)

Crane acknowledged that these processes all have an error rate, which varies, but is always present or should be assumed to be present. Crane suggested some new functionality for humanities scholars within digital objects.

  1. New user interactions: readers talk, books listen
  2. Customisation: user provides information to the system which allows it to provide information relevant to that particular user to enhance the digital resource, e.g. the user can provide a vocabulary profile (a definition of one's vocabulary in a given language) which allows the computer to show the user terms or vocabulary within a digital resource that the user doesn't know.
  3. Personalisation: Crane's example was the 'customers who are interested in X project also viewed Y' type selling on Amazon's website.
David Robey, Lorna Hughes, David Shepherd: After the AHDS

David Robey offered a resolutely positive presentation of the funding-withdrawal situation and stressed that even though he was quite clearly opposed to the AHRC's argument for withdrawing funding from the AHDS, he was resolved to open up questions about what exactly the field is losing with the loss of the Service, and how colleagues might work to compensate for this loss.

David was concerned to establish some way of taking care of the vital functions of the Service, and pointed out that until this AHRC decision, the UK had the strongest system of centralised support for ICT in arts & humanities research.

David suggested that with the end of the centrally funded system in this country that this funding withdrawal represents, institutions are going to have to rethink their contribution to archiving and preserving creative work.

The issues David listed which need attention are:

  1. Accessibility and preservation of digital resources: David reported that the situation differs for material which has already been ingested by the AHDS, and material which hasn't, or has not completed the process of ingestion. David asserted that relevant individual institutions will pick up and take care of resources as far as they feel it to be necessary, whereas it is not so straightforward for material which has not been ingested, as part of the AHDS intake process involved the application of rigorous technical standards and the supply of specific technical information, which facilitated the long term preservation of digital material. David also pointed out that to maintain functionality, digital objects need to be kept updated, and that AHDS' expertise had made this as easy as possible for depositors.
  2. Visibility of digital resources: David suggested that to compensate for the loss of the integrated catalogue provided by the AHDS, researchers will have to rely more on university library catalogues, Google searches and organisations such as Intute (whose funding was also currently in doubt). David mentioned the JISC institutional repository programme which they are currently expanding, and pointed out that institutional repositories are more experienced with holding copies of 'electronic off-prints' rather than ingesting complex digital objects, but that this may change in the future.
  3. Optimisation of digital resources: David stressed the importance of reusable, user-friendly resources in useful formats for researchers.
  4. Digital project management: AHDS will no longer be around to supply this advice and this will be a problem as there is no clear idea of who will be able to supply this in future. David is confident researchers will continue to require this expertise.

David discussed the value of ICT guides, worked on by Craig Bellamy at KCL, and their position as critical as a single point of access to all the training materials for digital objects within arts & humanities. The ICT guides were put forward as a way of sharing community knowledge and perpetuating standards to partly replace the AHDS advisory function.

Lorna Hughes of the AHRC Methods Network, also due to finish in March 2008, established the importance of digital objects as ubiquitous and essential to research within the arts & humanities in the UK. Lorna stressed that digital objects lead to new types of research and new communities of practice. The Methods Network was funded by the AHRC to look at how digital objects were used in research in UK arts & humanities and to establish the methodologies of use, i.e. what people do with digital resources? Are people doing surprising, unexpected things with them? Lorna reported that there is a shortage of tools to exploit material that could be digitised, and there is currently insufficient funding to develop the tools required. There is also insufficient funding to access tools being developed and a lack of infrastructure for digital scholarship. Lorna is also concerned about long-term accessibility, models of funding for the necessary cross-disciplinary practices and the limited progress that has been made with cross-council funding.

Lorna commented that the original Methods Network legacy plan was to deposit everything with the AHDS. Now, as that is clearly no longer an option, they plan to host their data at KCL, where it has been assured a 3-year existence on the KCL website. They have also launched a new website ( as an attempt to present evidence of value of their work, document how new methods are emerging, continue to supply communities of practice and take existing intellectual community and bring it together virtually.

David Shepherd of Sheffield University's Humanities Research Institute posed the question, what can HEIs do to mitigate the effects of the end of AHDS? He referred to the White Rose repository shared by the universities of Sheffield, York and Leeds, and described it as 'not anything like capable of offering the flexibility and capability of services like the AHDS'. David felt the White Rose repository was a good example of the level of resource that most researchers within HE had access to, and thus felt the AHRC's stated reasons for withdrawing funding were not sound. David reported that even before the end of AHDS funding, there was a discussion re. the network of centres of excellence for researchers within the digital humanities and a system of preferred partners. This would involve scholars from inception through to delivery of projects. There would be a peer review system and resources would be available longer than 3 years as stipulated by the AHRC funding. David commented that it was important to keep contact with the AHRC through consultations, visits etc, and that his experience of them was that they were generally a 'listening organisation'. He commented that the AHRC were in danger of panels becoming more conservative about digital outputs as valid outputs of research, and of digital outputs being regarded as secondary and / or ancillary. He also commented that ICT can shape research and modes of enquiry.

During comments, Greg Crane pointed out that he felt there was often not clarity about exactly what was going to be lost by the loss of the AHDS. David R responded that it was the advisory capability of the service, the preservation of complex data and the interoperability of data sets, as even very capable institutional repositories do not necessarily offer access to researchers outwith the host institution, and that communication between repositories was often problematic. Other comments suggested that a Bit-torrent style, person-to-person model could be a more useful way for future digital preservation, that there was uncertainty about the direction UK HE would go re. rivalry between the different institutional repositories as opposed to the conception of national research holdings, that there was an intrinsic intellectual quality to digital resources outwith or beyond resources only created for RAE-relevant research, personal academic career development, etc, the importance of more attention being paid to the creation of metadata, and that the standards imposed by the AHDS ingest were actually more important a loss than the Service's repository function.

Dr Paul Ayris: Scholarly Communication in the Arts and Humanities

Dr Ayris is head of library services at UCL. He's also a member of the board of LIBER and UCL's copyright officer, and compared scientific research with the arts and humanities in order to shed light on current issues related to changing models of scholarly communication. He noted that conventional subscription models to scientific journals can be a barrier to access. Serials, the primary source of secondary research for the sciences, have undergone a crisis of access ('the serials crisis', i.e. that the cost for HE libraries for subscription to academic journals is increasing far beyond the rate of inflation, and thus the rate of any increase in library funds in recent years), meaning that libraries have to compromise either on their budgets for journals, or move money from a different budget (e.g. the monographs of Arts and Humanities) in order to be able to meet the increased pricing. This obviously means a significant proportion of research is becoming unavailable to researchers at any given institution. Ayris provided some interesting statistics to show this to be the case. However, this crisis has acted as a driver for funders to mandate that articles are made Open Access and are deposited in at least one online repository.

E-journals have revolutionised science research, as articles become widely, freely available, without time or location restrictions. This mandate is far less common in the arts and humanities than in the sciences, and this, as well as the increased pressure on library budgets, has a knock-on effect on A&H scholars' access to research materials. Ayris posed the question: will e-books have the same effect for A&H that e-journals have for science? He mentioned several schemes such as the Digital Course Readings Service at UCL ( which has become extremely popular with students; there are thousands of downloads of material every month. Ayris also mentioned Google's book digitising project ( - Paul posed the question of how this project will affect small to medium sized HEI libraries, and how these libraries will be able to justify their existence to senior university management in the near future, when such huge resources will be available online to individual computer users - and the Superbook project at UCL (

Ayris showed results of a perceptions study about UCL users of ebooks, which showed a young age profile (17 - 35) are more likely to use ebooks, and that such resources were liked for their convenience and lack of necessary physical space for storage, but were perceived as difficult to annotate, and difficult to read. In Paul's study, 21% of users located their resources via Google, and 38% via the library catalogue.

Ayris described the Budapest Open Access initiative which relies on two complementary strategies for increasing access: self-archiving and Open Access repositories of journals such as the Directory of Open Access Journals ( and projects which aim to unify or add utility to these resources such as SHERPA's RoMEO ( and the Repository Interface for Overlaid Journal Archives (

Ayris discussed PhD theses as important but significantly underused resources due to the difficulties of discovering them, expressing concern that a vast amount of research output, in the form of dissertations, is being kept on shelves in paper form, sometimes amounting to kilometres of shelf space, and is not being disseminated in any way. He mentioned DART-Europe (, initiated by Dartington and UCL and with partners across Europe, which aims to allow the dissemination, location and retrieval of all dissertations from partner institutions. UCL now have a mandatory requirement (except in cases where 3rd party agreements disallow it) for all dissertations to be deposited with DART-Europe in the same way that a paper copy is usually deposited in the university library. On the current UCL download chart, three of the top ten downloads were dissertations, and they each scored over 100 downloads in one month, which results in a much higher level of exposure than the traditional hard copy usually attracts. He also mentioned the Bologna Process ( as steps towards increasing access to this type of resource.

Ayris emphasised that universities need to have publishing strategies (without necessarily having a physical press), see "University Publishing in a Digital Age" (July 2007, for more information. He also pointed to the importance of digital preservation and examined the work of the LIFE project in estimating the costs of digital curation at an item level (see

He displayed a preservation costs model, using the equation preservation = technology watch + preservation frequency x overall preservation action. Ayris is very clear that he does not feel academics should sign their rights away as a condition of publishing, and posited that a non-exclusive licence to publish was a much better model than a lot of current practice, and that UCL recognises that IPR in academic output belongs to the individual who created the output, not the institution. He reported that this approach is formalised in the university's IPR policy and was supported by the unions. Paul commented that some other institutions have contrary policies but that he was very doubtful they would stand up in a court of law if challenged. He also referencing the Copyright Addendum Engine (

Alun Edwards, Miriam Murtin, Tim Machin and Chris Stephens: Welcome to Life 2.0

A presentation on the educational uses and potentials of the online virtual reality environment Second Life ('SL'), developed by Linden Lab, an American company. SL was inspired by cyberpunk literature, specifically 'Snow Crash', Neil Stephenson's 1992 novel published by Penguin. The team covered the basics of the website, membership, avatar creation, some protocols, existing companies and universities present in SL (including 'Education UK Island'), the current developments in capability (Skype has been recently incorporated, allowing characters to talk to each other using voice in real time), etc. Tim Machin gave a brief, interesting overview of the current state of art practice and art commerce within SL and pointed out that the line is very blurred between the routine creation by users of the environment within the software, and activity presented as art. There was a brief mention of the psychological experiences reported by users of their identity with SL, and how they felt about encountering other characters. There was also a screenshot of an 'in-Life' crime scene, and a brief acknowledgement that crime exists in SL, is referred to, on at least some occasions, as 'griefing', and is rare, especially within education areas. Hugh Denard set up a virtual exhibition, providing delegates with an opportunity to explore Second Life while at the same time demonstrating how the Theatron 2 project has been developed. VRML models have been imported into Second Life, providing greater accessibility to one-to-one scale, navigable models of several European theatres. The panel also discussed the practical benefits of Second Life as a meeting space for collaborative research and pointed to the success of conferences that have taken place virtually.

Barry Parsons: Audiovisual Conservation

In the context of the Capturing the past, preserving the future project at the University of Bristol ( Barry Parsons described the challenges of preservation associated with large amounts of video data. The National Review of Live Art is the United Kingdom's major festival of live and performance art. For over twenty years, it has been extensively documented, creating around 1000 hours of video. The life of a VHS is typically less than 30 years, therefore the project is digitising material for the survival of content as well as for enhanced access. Parsons noted that since the withdrawal of funding to the AHDS, sustainability has become a huge issue for the project as the digital version is likely to be the only surviving copy in 10 years' time. He noted several issues relevant to digitisation: standardisation, technological obsolescence, and the integrity of data. In terms of the latter, best practice recommends saving video in uncompressed formats to reduce the reliance on compression software and preventing the video from losing authenticity due to compression. However this means that the project will create (and have to preserve) over 50 terabytes of data. Parsons asserted that digitisation is no longer primarily a technical issue but an economic and political one. He proposed two solutions, in light of the current UK infrastructural context: firstly to create large institutions for data preservation (for example via the British Library or a similar organisation), or to rely on a more organic 'ecological' approach, where data is preserved on a piecemeal basis, individual organisations scavenging resources by aggregating 'lost' data from various places to which it has been copied, and seizing opportunities for funding preservation work when they appear.

Helen Varley-Jamieson: Upstage: Live Online Collaborative Performance

This presentation was delivered from various locations around the world via a live platform for 'cyberformance' called Upstage ( and Skype. Helen Varley-Jamieson demonstrated the application, which had been developed from chat application technology, and talked about its primary aim of supporting performance art, rather than being geared towards social or business communications. She described the work of performance company Avatar Body Collision ( and other performers in using the Upstage tool. There are interactive walk-throughs of Upstage on the first Wednesday of every month.

Maria X: Deptford TV: Strategies of Sharing

Deptford TV ( is an open networked project for collective film-making. The project is also building a collection of work and the platform supports collaborative editing and post-production. More information about the project is available from the website and full transcripts of interviews are also available from

Marcus Foth: Digital Narrative and New Media in Urban Planning

Foth discussed the crossover of people/place/technology and presented work being done in alternative ways to characterise the quality of urban spaces through the telling and retelling of experiential narratives. He described multimedia tool development to incorporate narratives of community into urban development and renewal. As an example, the Sharing Stories project tells the social history of the Kelvin Grove Urban Village ( and other tools include History Lines (see for more information) and City Flocks (see A similar UK-based project which focuses on digital storytelling by communities is Capture Wales (

Seamus O'Hanlon: Communities, Museums, and Technologies

This presentation described the Women of Farms Gathering Heritage Collection, a project which aimed to build and preserve community memory based on museum objects donated by a specific rural community. O'Hanlon described activities such as local history workshops in partnership with rural residents in order to investigate who owns a shared community past. Similar projects include Breaking the Silence ( and the DART project ( as a pilot programme, as well as being delivered as learning objects by JORUM ( The project avoids having to produce metadata and a bespoke delivery system by re-using existing catalogues and integrating with current platforms. In terms of sustainability, Young described an innovative solution. Long-term preservation and delivery will be carried out for free within the UK for educational purposes, funded by the commercialisation of the resource in the US and for other overseas markets using CURL ( and JSTOR. Although this model leads to access limitations for the resource and less control for institutions, it is one strategy to ensure that funds are generated for the long-term safety of the digital data.

Elena Pierazzo: Hofmeister XIX

This presentation concentrated on the workflows used in the marking up of this complex music reference data in XML. Steps that need to be supported are editing, encoding, checking, publish, and retrieval. Pierazzo speculated about the possibility of developing common frameworks to support workflows of this kind, noting that working processes are of interest in addition to the primary research outputs of projects.

John Walsh et al: Navigating Texts Online

Similar themes were picked up in the next presentation where the possibilities of sharing workflow documentation for the development of page turning software, digital object management, and preservation using open source tools (such as Fedora, was discussed. Walsh noted that the community is still lacking a well-documented workflow for the derivation of METS documents from authoritative TEI files and hoped that open source METS Navigator software would find re-use in other research projects in the future.

Deke Weaver: The Palimpsest Project

Deke Weaver's plenary was a classic example of reinventing traditional forms by using digital technologies. The Palimpsest Project, described as a kind of digital illuminated manuscript, draws on storytelling traditions. Letters and diaries from the Urbana-Champaign region's archive are digitally animated, brought together with images of the area's past and displayed on the Siebel Center's video-wall. Using this organically evolving 'database' of real life movement in conjunction with the set database containing the diary data, the movement of staff and students through the building is tracked and processed, triggering changes in the narratives, allowing new stories to be uncovered and reflecting the way in which history shifts. Weaver's entertaining introduction to the project demonstrated the evolution of ideas of installation art over time, asking why many artists continue to pursue a close relationship with technology, to experiment with age-old artistic concepts. His mention of the Institute for Applied Autonomy ( was particularly interesting as it demonstrates unambiguously and controversially how art and technology can advance a social agenda.

Jimmy & Beth Miklavic: Interplay

In the first of the day's parallel sessions, these two performers described their theatre company, Another Language ( and their work into telematic, collaborative performance. Another Language hosts a virtual venue which, for each performance, collects and mixes content from collaborators and outputs the collaborative work over the network using Internet 2 technology. One very interesting point in this presentation is the fact that very few (real world) performance spaces have the hardware to support performance over the Access Grid, so telematic performers must instead learn to adapt to non-traditional spaces such as lecture theatres and conference halls.

Ian Willcock: Developing an Infrastructure to Support Creativity

Willcock described a problem familiar to many, which is that when artists wish to start working with multimedia or digital technologies, much programming effort is duplicated as each individual project attempts to build new software or systems from scratch. He introduced his work in developing an infrastructure which will support diverse, innovative creative practice, yet is generic enough to benefit multiple different artistic purposes. The work began with a survey of how multimedia is currently used in live performance in terms of creative activity and system development order to understand exactly which processes could be supported by the infrastructure. The initial results identified the following themes for exploitation of technology: connectivity and interaction; access to resources (including hardware, existing bespoke tools which remain hidden from the public view, and expertise); and the need for tools to be usable by non-technologists. Willcock emphasised that artists and musicians spend years learning to use the instruments of their art and that it is unrealistic to have an expectation that digital 'instruments' can be learned in a short space of time. The generic tool to support creativity is designed on a simple, open, set-based model and based on the concept of various artistic cues, for example: if [x happens] then [result].

Miriam Murtin: PRISM

This new resource from PALATINE (the HE subject academy for performing arts, allows users to view, assemble, and share collections of exemplar works in performing arts, grouped by 'isms'. It was developed in reaction to lecturers' and students' need for contextualisation of digital resources as well as being able to easily access high quality examples. The materials are linked to via thumbnails, the value of PRISM lies in the catalogue records as well as suggestions for use in learning and teaching. Murtin explained that the resource was funded by the Distributed e-learning programme and is currently undergoing evaluation using RUFDATA (see Murray Saunders (2000) 'Beginning an Evaluation with RUFDATA: Theorising a Practical Approach to Evaluation Planning' from Evaluation Vol 6(1): 7-21, and Morae Usability (

Paul Stapleton: Dialogic Evidence: Documentation of Ephemeral Events

Reporting further on the Dialogic Evidence project (see also the AHDS Performing Arts Summer School report: Stapleton addressed archives as unfaithful representations of live performance events and contextualised the Live Archives wiki ( amongst other online archives of documentation of art and artistic events such as,,, the 'image cloud' on This focus on the potential of emergent social web technologies as means to archive, discuss and remember live performance led to some extremely interesting discussion which picked up on some of the topics discussed in the earlier panel on Representing Performance.

Gavin Bryars: Conceptual clarity and technical elegance

Gavin Bryars reckons he's the only full-time professional composer in Britain, having no other job such as teaching or conducting. If this is the case, he has a pretty unique perspective on the current state of contemporary orchestral music. He has, of course, an undeniable pedigree of composed works, innovation and collaboration with legendary artists and composers, such as Derek Bailey, Tom Waits, Robert Wilson and Brian Eno, and presented an entertaining overview of around half a dozen of his previous works and current projects, balancing thoughts around the formation of concept with technical detail, right down to the brass tacks of how one can conduct five separate groups of musicians from a raft in the middle of a choppy Albert Dock, Liverpool, in rain and encroaching darkness.

Gavin presented short excerpts of various works, explained some of the creative and technical processes of each one, and commented on the various effects of the various technologies involved. He made the point that there is a certain amount of courage required for working in analogue as opposed to digital, as analogue editing, for example, requires physical cutting of the - often only - tape recording of a session. He compared the working processes of two recordings he had made of one work, 'Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet': an analogue recording in the 1970s and a digital rerecording in the 1990s. Interestingly, Gavin reported, the earlier version was much quicker and simpler to make. The recording session and mix-down was completed in six hours in one location. The digital version, in contrast, took over six months, involved two principal locations around 3000 miles apart, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the analogue recording to make. Gavin ended his presentation by showing a small clip of a production with Merce Cunningham, who now produces his choreography using Danceforms software, and famously rehearses his dancers without music.

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Page last updated: 5th December 2007