DHBenelux2023 trip report

Two weeks ago, I visited the 2023 edition of the Digital Humanities Benelux conference in Brussels. It turned out this was the 10th anniversary edition, which goes to show that the Luxembourgian, Belgian and Dutch DH community is alive and kicking! This years gathering at the Royal Library of Belgium brought together humanities and computer science researchers and practitioners from the BeNeLux and beyond. Participants got to meet interesting tools, datasets and use cases, all the while critically assessing issues around perspective, representation and bias in each.

On the workshop day, I attended part of a tutorial organized by people from Göttingen University on the use of Linked Data for historical data. They presented a OpenRefine and WikiData-centric pipeline also including a batch wikidata editing tool https://quickstatements.toolforge.org/.

The second half of that day I attended a workshop on the Kiara tool presented by the people behind the Dharpa project. The basic premise of the tool makes a lot of sense: while many DH people use Python notebooks, it is not always clear what operations specific blocks of code map to. Reusing other peoples code becomes difficult and reusing existing data transformation code is not trivial. The solution of Kiara is an environment in which pre-defined well-documented modules are made available so that users can easily, find, select and combine modules for data transformation. For any DH infrastructure, one has to make decisions in what flexibility to offer users. My hunch is that this limited set of operations will not be enough for arbitrary DH-Data Science pipelines and that full flexibility (provided by python notebooks) will be needed. Nevertheless, we have to keep thinking on how infrastructures provide support for pipeline transparency, reusability and cater to less digital literate users.

On the first day of the main conference, Roeland Ordelman presented our own work on the CLARIAH MediaSuite: Towards ’Stakeholder Readiness’ in the CLARIAH Media Suite: Future-Proofing an Audio-Visual Research Infrastructure. This talk was preceded by a very interesting talk from Loren Verreyen who worked with a digital dataset of program guides (I know of similar datasets archived at Beeld and Geluid). Unfortunately, the much awaited third talk on the Distracted Boyfriend meme was cancelled.

Interesting talks on the first day included a presentation by Paavo Van der Eecken on capturing uncertainty in manually annotating images. This work “Thinking Outside of the Bounding Box: A Reconsideration of the Application of Computational Tools on Uncertain Humanities Data” and its main premise that disagreement is a valuable signal are reminiscent of the CrowdTruth approach.

A very nice duo-presentation was given by Daria Kondakova and Jakob Kohler on Messy Myths: Applying Linked Open Data to Study Mythological Narratives. This paper uses the theoretical framework of Zgol to back up the concept of hylemes to analyze mythological texts. Such hylemes are triple-like statements (subject-verb-object) that describe events in text. In the context of the project, these hylemes were then converted to full-blown Linked Open Data to allow for linking and comparing versions of myths. A research prototype can be found here https://dareiadareia-messy-myths.streamlit.app/ .

The GLOBALISE project was also present at the conference with presentation about the East-Asian shipping vocabulary and a poster.


At the poster session, I had the pleasure to present a poster from students of the VU DH minor and their supervisors on a tool to identify and link occupations in biographical descriptions.

VU DH Minor students’ poster https://twitter.com/victordeboer/status/1664199079251832832

The keynote by Patricia Murrieta-Flores from University of Lancaster introduced the concept of Cosmovision with respect to the archiving and enrichment of (colonial) heritage objects from meso-America. This concept of Cosmovision is very related to our polyvocality aims and the connection to computer vision is inspiring if not very challenging.

It is great to see that DHBenelux continues to be a very open and engaging community of humanities and computer science people, bringing together datasets, tools, challenges and methods.

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Listening to AI: ARIAS workshop report

Last week, I attended the second workshop of the ARIAS working group of AI and the Arts. ARIAS is a platform for research on Arts and Sciences and as such seeks to build a bridge between these disciplines. The new working group is looking at the interplay between Arts and AI specifically. Interestingly, this is not only about using AI to make art, but also to explore what art can do for AI (research). The workshop fell under the thematic theme for ARIAS “Art of Listening to the Matter” and consisted of a number of keynote talks and workshop presentations/discussions.

The workshop at the super-hip Butcher’s Tears in Amsterdam, note the 1.5m COVID-distance.

UvA university professor Tobias Blanke kicked off the meeting with an interesting overview of the different ‘schools’ of AI and how they relate to the humanities. Quite interesting was the talk by Sabine Niederer (a professor of visual methodologies at HvA) and Andy Dockett . They presented the results of an experiment feeding Climate Fiction (cli-fi) texts to the famous GPT algorithm. The results were then aggregated, filtered and visualized in a number of rizoprint-like pamflets.

My favourite talk of the day was by writer and critic Flavia Dzodan. Her talk was quite incendiary as it presented a post-colonial perspective on the whole notion of data science. Her point being that data science only truly started with the ‘discoveries’ of the Americas, the subsequent slave-trade and the therefor required counting of people. She then proceeded by pointing out some of the more nefarious examples of identification, classification and other data-driven ways of dealing with humans, especially those from marginalized groups. Her activist/artistic angle to this problem was to me quite interesting as it tied together themes around representation, participation that appear in the field of ICT4D and those found in AI and (Digital) Humanities. Food for thought at least.

The afternoon was reserved for talks from three artists that wanted to highlight various views on AI and art. Femke Dekker, S. de Jager and Martina Raponi all showed various art projects that in some way used AI technology and reflected on the practice and philosophical implications. Again, here GPT popped up a number of times, but also other methods of visual analysis and generative models.

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Web Science 2013 (and a bit of CHI)

Nana presenting the VOICES paperLast week, coming back from Mali, I extended my stopover in Paris for a week to visit the Web Science 2013 conference, which was colocated with CHI 2013. It was my first time visiting the WebSci conference and I want to use this short post to share my impressions. My colleague Paul Groth visited both conferences as well and wrote an excellent trip report.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the fact that it was colocated with CHI and that participants were encouraged to go to eachothers sessions. I visited a panel on speech technologies, which is
The Web Science conference started for me with the IFIP VASCO workshop followed by the Web Science education workshop. I think theoretically for a young field as Web Science it is a good idea to discuss the different programmes and it was nice to hear the different aspects of the curriculums. I hope that next year, the VU Web Science minor is listed on the different international web pages as a good example of how to do a Web Science programme for non-computer science students.very relevant in the light of our VOICES project. The CHI interactivity demo sessions were very cool and convinced me to try to send in something to this conference next year.

Data-DJ Paul Groth

The conference itself featured a nice keynote speech by one of the “Fathers of the Internet” Vint Cerf and by the great Cory Doctorow on the horrors of DRM. It was very nice to hear about Internet Law and copyright protection from someone who -as an artist- is on the potential benefiting end of the discussion.  Doctorow is at the same time well versed in the technical details and can tell a coherent story (no slides!).

Although I was very skeptical about the format beforehand, I feel the Pecha Kucha session  was a very successful endeavour. Paul Groth presented our paper on online prayer [1] excellently and Nana Gyan did a great job telling the Web Science audience about our work in Mali [2]. Both papers were among the 8 papers that were nominated for best paper, so that is a great achievement!

Some of the other sessions dragged on a bit too long and although I appreciate the intent of trying to make the conference more interdisciplinary, I felt that some of the philosophically and sociologically oriented papers were not that well presented. In some cases it was hard to find where the “science” was.

Some papers I liked:

  • Taxis Metaxas story on the analysis of “Narco-tweets” and citizen journalism in Mexico. Mr. Metaxas gave a very passionate account of his research in Mexico and played a voice recording of the anonymous citizen journalist @MelissaLotzer. A very example of socially relevant research.
  • Another good presentation about web journalism is the talk by Souneil Park  Challenges and Opportunities of Local Journalism: A case study of the 2012 Korean general election.
  • I liked Harry Halpin’s talk on the question of whether or not the Web extends the mind although I’m not sure if I can judge it on its philosophical merits.
  • I saw some nice posters, including one on the Open Annotation specs, one on a webtool for supporting archeologist

All in all it was a nice conference, and it was very interesting to see that in a lot of presentations  the meta-discussion on what constitutes Web Science, what its scope is , what the methodologies are, was discussed to great lengths.

Hope to be there again next year.

Archeology Poster

[1] Fabian Eikelboom, Paul Groth, Victor de Boer and Laura Hollink (2013) A Comparison between Online and Offline Prayer. In Web Science 2013. [PDF]

[2] Nana Baah Gyan, Victor de Boer, Anna Bon, Chris van Aart, Stephane Boyera, Hans Akkermans, Mary Allen, Aman Grewal, Max Froumentin. Voice-based Web access in rural Africa. In Web Science 2013

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