Digital Humanities and the Archaeology of Reading

FeaturedDigital Humanities and the Archaeology of Reading

LIS can be a very broad discipline that covers everything from theories of information, social media, scholarly communication to the effects of the internet on human thought. It also supports and intersects with many academic disciplines, with elements of science, sociology and humanities. As digital technology has evolved the discipline of LIS has adapted to confront and consider issues that have arisen around the management, conservation, preservation of documents in the digital realm. It has also utilised the potential of digital technology and tools to not only preserve physical documents, but also make them available to new audiences.

One academic discipline which has also begun to harness the potential of digital tools and technology is the humanities. Much like LIS they too work with documents, such as books and manuscripts, and make use of digitisation, digital libraries and data mining. Indeed, as Welsh1 notes there has even been a debate as to whether LIS, as an academic discipline falls within the humanities, noting the placement of some iSchools within humanities department in some Universities, whereas in others, such as #citylis it is grouped with computer science. To further complicate matters, humanities itself has a subset known as Digital Humanities which as I noted before is concerned with utilizing Digital tools to enhance their understanding and knowledge of humanistic texts. The history of the Digital Humanities, dates back to the early 1990s, when humanities scholars realized that the internet could provide them with new methods for exploring and discussing scholarly texts. And in 1994 the Text Encoding Initiative(TEI) was launched as standard for the representation of texts in digital form.

Gabriel Harvey by Thomas Nashe via Wikemedia Commons

Gabriel Harvey and The Archaeology of Reading

Born in Saffron Walden circa 1550 Gabriel Harvey, was an English writer and friend of Elizabethan poet Edmund Spencer. He was a scholar and well educated studying Christ College Cambridge, before becoming a fellow at Pembroke Hall (later College), in 1570. After failing to be elected a master of Trinity Hall Cambridge, he would go onto complete his doctorate of civil law at Oxford. During the last decade of the 1500s he engaged in a pamphlet-war with Thomas-Nashe and retired in 1598, having again failed to obtain a mastership at Trinity Hall.2

As well as publishing commentaries he was a prolific annotator of books, his annotations have become the subject of study as much as his letters, providing a window of insight into the way in which reading was carried out in the early modern period for scholars such as Anthony Grafton and the late Professor Lisa Jardine. The density and extent of annotations made by Harvey, have proved a considerable challenge for anyone studying his texts. Not only did they include marginal notes, but also underlining of words, and use of symbols each with a specific meaning, requiring deciphering and understanding not only at page level, but also within the wider body of the text as a whole and perhaps also Harvey’s collection of books.

On¬†Thursday October 13, UCL’s Centre for Lives and Letters (CELL) hosted a launch event for phase one of the Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe. Having an interest in early modern history, Digital Humanities and libraries, I signed up to what was billed as a workshop on the history of reading and the Digital Humanities, to see what I could learn. The answer quite a lot!

A Digital Bookwheel

The Archaeology of Reading(AOR), is a digital humanities initiative from CELL, Johns Hopkins University, and Princeton University, funded by the Mellon Foundation. The project is intended to build upon:

…several decades of humanistic research that has focused upon the printing revolution of the sixteenth century, and the widespread practice by active readers of leaving often dense, interpretive manuscript annotations in the margins, and between the lines, of the books they read. This diverse evidence of annotation provides a considerable range of unique and largely untapped research materials, which reveal that readers‚ÄĒmuch as users of the internet today‚ÄĒadapted quickly to the technology of print: interacting intimately, dynamically, socially, and even virtually¬†with¬†texts.3

In many ways this could be an LIS project, current LIS research often considers and examines the way in which technology is changing the way we think and consume information. This project looks at annotation by readers such as Harvey as evidence of how they adapted to print, that is how print affected their reading habits. My first assignment for #citylis took a similar approach, in considering how the changes is in the form of documents, from Manuscript to Printed Book affected LIS and to a degree human thinking. LIS researchers have also drawn parallels between the information explosion of printing and that of the internet (See Bawden & Robinson 2000), and it was this that drew me to the event.

A page from Harvey's T. Livius, Romanae historiae principis (1555) showing his annotation
A page from Harvey’s T. Livius, Romanae historiae principis (1555) showing his annotation

The evening took the format of presentations followed by a Q&A from a panel that included AOR-chaeologists. Earl Havens, Johns Hopkins University Principal Investigator for AOR, kicked off the vent with a talk about the genesis of the project, a meeting between himself and Anthony Grafton, where they were discussing how Harvey read his copy of Livy‚Äôs History of Rome. Information overflow was a theme of the discussions of the project and of Harvey‚Äôs own writings and readings, as co-principal investigator Matthew Symonds (UCL/CELL) talked about their approach of ¬†treating Harvey‚Äôs annotations, as a dataset, he gave a useful definition of big data, as being ‚Äėtoo much information‚Äô for one person to handle.

Symonds talked about the role of curation¬†saying that the word is not commonly¬†recognised in the contact of¬†Digital Humanities projects, but that it is a bad sign if projects don’t talk about curation, arguing that it affects decisions¬†and involved the prgmatics of corpus selection,¬†getting not just the books, but also the right editions and taking care of them.

Dr Jaap Geraerts, Postdoctoral fellow at CELL, gave an overview of the technical aspects of the project, discussing the different layers served up by the interface of the AOR website. This includes a storage layer, archive layer and a tools access layer which an IIF API for serving up images, through the Mirador viewer. The use of IIIF ensures that the project integrates standards which will allow for future interoperability and allow for future migration to interoperable viewers with greater capacity. The top two layers comprise the AOR website and the aforementioned viewer.

Technical structure of the AOR -
Technical structure of the AOR – Source:

He went on to discuss how the different teams kept in touch via fortnightly Skype meetings, during the two year development period, saying also that there was close integration between the developers and the humanities staff.

Geraerts gave an interesting presentation¬†on the development of the XML framework used for the project, highlighting how they built a custom specification to accommodate the variety of different¬†types of annotations created by Harvey. He explained that they chose an XML Schema over simple transcription of the annotations, as an¬†unstructured data¬†approach would not have been sufficient to allow them to answer the questions they wanted to ask.¬†For AOR it was decided that they would create their own schema, rather than use an existing one, such as the one developed for TEI¬†which seen as¬†too¬†¬†‘top-heavy’ for their purposes. The Schema developed was constructed around classification of different annotation types, but is also¬†flexible enough that it could be easily updated to¬†allow the inclusion¬†of additional books. It also¬†takes advantage of XMLs rich data functionality to allow the tagging of mentioned authors and cross searching¬†the entire corpus.

In all 13 books were chosen for the project with the 13th being purchased and immediately digitised by Johns Hopkins, specifically for the project. All annotations were translated from Latin to English, and across the entire corpus the captured nearly  230,000 words to create the data-set. The platform allows a range of query based searches and includes an advanced search function which allows you to combine searches across multiple annotation types.

Example of advanced search in the Archaeology of Reading
Example of advanced search in the Archaeology of Reading

Silence and emotion in the Margins

Arnoud Visser (University of Utrecht) gave a presentation gave an interesting presentation ¬†on the presence of silence and emotion in Harvey’s annotations, looking at what was unwritten, absence or alluded to in Harvey’s marginalia. He cited various examples of where Harvey had written either cryptic or admonishing marginalia, either addressing himself or the writer.

In one example he wrote in his copy of Livy:

Multa uix audeo scribere, qua[e] obit√®r cogito legens..”¬†
“Much of what I think in passing while I am reading, I hardly dare to write down…”¬†

Screenshot of Harvey's Livy p.481
P.481 of Gabriel Harvey’s Livy featuring the annotation: “Much of what I think in passing while I am reading, I hardly dare to write down…” (bottom of page)

Elsewhere, he implores himself to spend more time simply reading rather than annotating, writing:

“Minus scriptionis: plus, plusq[ue] lectionis mihi conducit, expedit actori. Ecc√® Liuius ipse instar omnium notarum schola[e], aut obseruationum mundi.”

” It would be proper for me and expedient for a man of action to do less writing, and much more reading. Look, Livy himself is equivalent to all comments of the academy, or observations in the world.”

Annotation at the bottom of page p.386 of Harvey's Livy
Harvey’s Livy with the annotation reminding himself to: “do less writing, and much more reading”

Visser compares¬†Harvey’s interactions with his texts to Luther’s reading of Erasmus,¬†arguing that much like Luther Harvey was not a ‘kind reader‘, citing pages¬†in Luther’s own books where¬†ink splodges on the pages where left where he had slammed the book shut in anger.¬†As he writes in Erasmus, Luther and the Margins of Biblical Understanding:

“The marginalia vividly show which arguments triggered Luther’s ire. Ink marks on pages opposite to those with heated notes reveal how Luther on some occasions closed the book without even waiting for the ink to dry.“4

A slide from Arnoud Visser's Presentation on emotion in Harvey's Marginalia
A slide from Arnoud Visser’s Presentation on emotion in Harvey’s Marginalia
Luther's copy of the New Testament in which he describes himself as 'not a kind reader'
Luther’s copy of the New Testament in which he describes himself as ‘not a kind reader’ via Annotated Books Online

By contrast Harvey at least appears more respectful and even admiring of his authors, as seen by Anthony Grafton and the aforementioned late Lisa Jardine in their now seminal article on how Harvey read Livy when they note that:

Near the beginning of the Livy he has a long note on Livy’s style and its importance: Livy’s style, especially in the speeches. No Latin or Greek speeches deserve more careful reading or meticulous selection than Livy’s; Perion assembled them into a sort of technical order. Hence, when I have time to read, or to imitate, or even to emulate speeches, I prefer no others to these, or others of Livy’s, which are both sharp in sense and polished in expression.

After the presentations had finished there was a drinks reception, including¬†commemoration of Lisa Jardine, and the announcement of a further grant from Mellon Foundation for Phase 2 of the project. This will be more ambitious¬†and aims to make 21 books belonging to the lost library of Dr John Dee from British libraries, UCL and the Royal College of Physicians.¬†There was also a speech by¬†Bill Sherman, Head of Research at the V&A,¬†and John Dee scholar, who spoke about how Dee’s marginalia are far more visual than Harvey.He is currently¬†working on a study of visual marginalia called The Reader’s Eye, asking if ‘reading’ is the right word to describe the activities of Dee and Harvey. The visual nature of Dee’s reading will pose challenges for the next phase requiring significant reworking of the¬†xml schema.

John Dee's drawing of a ship on a page of the complete works of Cicero Photograph by John Chase, image © Royal College of Physicians
John Dee’s drawing of a ship on a page of the complete works of Cicero – Photograph by John Chase, image ¬©Royal College of Physicians

During the reception I had a chance to briefly talk to some of the panellists and guests, such as Geraerts and the Librarian from the Royal College of Physicians, the latter of which was kind enough to tell me more about John Dee and his Library.

Early Modern Information Retrieval

It was a very interesting event, despite the fact that I had never heard of Gabriel Harvey prior to the evening, and new equally as much about the study of marginalia. And it made me think about whether marginalia can be seen as documents in their own right. Clearly they are mostly (con)text dependent, I believe they may sometimes be classified as a paratexts, but can we consider these to be documents in their own right distinct from the original text?

Furthermore, Harvey’s marginalia form a kind of early modern hypertext with numerous cross references between parts of individual texts and across multiple texts, as Grafton and Jardine note:

“In addition to the richness and density of annotation throughout them, there is persist- ent echoing of sentiments from one book to another; cross-referencing of one of these authors in the margins of another; recognizable continuity of handwriting, to the extent that we can sometimes hazard a guess as to which book succeeded which other in the circulating process of reading and annotation; narrative notes about contemporary or near contemporary affairs continued from the margins of one volume to another..”(p.51)

This multithreaded approach to reading makes it harder to view the marginalia of individual texts in isolation, but rather as constituent parts of a larger whole. In LIS terms Harvey‚Äôs approach to his texts could be considered a form of early modern hypertext or linked data, where the reader moves back and forth between documents.¬†His marginal notes make it apparent¬†that he worked on several books at a time. This was by no means an insignificant undertaking, practically and logistically it required having space to not only access but also write in up to 15 books at a time with handwriting which was described, by rival Thomas Nashe no less, as being more elaborate than¬†“many a copyholder or magistral scribe that holds all his living by setting schoolboys copies”5

Harvey’s practices¬†of reading could only have been possible through use of an invention of Agostino Ramelli, the book wheel. The book wheel was one of several designs published by Ramelli, a military engineer, in his book Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli (The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli). The machine utilized a system of cogs and gears, known as epicyclic gearing, normally found in astronomical clocks,¬†to ensure that all the books remain at a constant angle so that the reader could keep their place.

Bookwheel, from Agostino Ramelli's Le diverse et artifiose machine, 1588
Bookwheel, from Agostino Ramelli’s Le diverse et artifiose machine, 1588 – Wikimedia Commons

As Ramelli wrote about his design

“This wheel is made in the manner shown, that is, it is constructed so that when the books are laid on its lecturns they never fall or move from the place where they are laid even as the wheel is turned and revolved all the way around. Indeed, they will always remain in the same position and will be displayed to the reader in the same way as they were laid on their small lecturns, without any need to tie or hold them with anything”7

For me the discovery of the existence of such a machine is almost as intriguing as the books of Harvey and explains the choice of logo for the AOR website and blog. It also further  informs us about early modern approaches to reading and information retrieval, as Grafton and Jardine put it:

“The book-wheel and the centrifugal mode of reading it made possible amounted to an effective form of information retrieval – and that in a society where books were seen as offering powerful knowledge, and the reader who could focus the largest number of books on a problem or an opportunity would therefore appear to have the advantage”.8

Just as we(in LIS) study the history of books, documents and Libraries, so too we should consider also the history of reading, and reading practices to gain greater insights into how knowledge is¬†acquired from books and other how the understanding of and knowledge. As Haven’s remarked following the announcement of the project in 2014:

‚ÄúThere are so many parallels between our project, and the digital world of information that we live in today….these notes reveal a largely unvarnished history of personal reading within the early modern historical moment. They also embody an active tradition of physically mapping and personalizing knowledge upon the printed page. The added practice of referencing and cross-referencing other works in these marginal annotations also allows us, like those early readers, to engage with the presence of ‚Äėvirtual libraries‚Äô within the space of a single book.‚ÄĚ.9


  1. Welsh, A (2012) “Historical bibliography in the digital world” in¬†¬†Warwick et al (2012)¬†2012, Digital humanities in practice¬†Facet : London.
  2.  The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe: Centre for Editing Lives and Letters
  3. Senchyne, J. (2016) “Between Knowledge and Metaknowledge: Shifting Disciplinary Borders in Digital Humanities and Library and Information Studies” in Debates in the Digital Humanities¬†Minneapolis : University Minnesota Press.
  4. Visser, A (2016) Erasmus, Luther, and the Margins of Biblical Misunderstanding in For the sake of learning : essays in honor of Anthony Grafton Leiden ; Boston : Brill.
  5. ¬†Grafton, A & Jardine, L (1990)¬†“Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy Past & Present, No. 129 (Nov., 1990), pp. 30-78
  6. Nashe, T ¬†Selected Writings, ed. S. Wells in¬†rafton, A & Jardine, L (1990) “Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy Past & Present, No. 129 (Nov., 1990), pp. 30-78
  7. (2016). Agostini Ramelli Describes a Renaissance Information Retrieval Device and Other Machines (1588) :
  8. ¬†Grafton, A & Jardine, L (1990)¬†“Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy Past & Present, No. 129 (Nov., 1990), pp.48.
  9. Exploring the Archaeology of reading.(July 10, 2014) News Release. Johns Hopkins University Office of Communications. 
Further Reading

British Library Digital Conversations: EThOS & Multimedia PhD Theses

British Library Digital Conversations: EThOS & Multimedia PhD Theses

Kicking off the autumn season of LIS related events, I recently attended an excellent #bldigital talk on EThOS and Multimedia Thesis, alongside #citylis students @NowrinShohana and@Chrisjph. The event hosted in the British Library’s Bronte Room was described as a celebration of non-text and multimedia outputs being submitted with digital theses, and was full of intrigue and surprises.

EThOS and the PhD Theses

EThOS is the UK national database for theses, operated by the British Library, it stores details of all UK PhD theses, and provides full-text downloads for the majority of submissions either directly or through links to individual institutions. Traditionally PhD Theses are heavily text-based and although there have been previous attempts to incorporate multimedia outputs into them, there is still limited support for these, as we learnt during the evening and where they have been included it has largely been in analogue format as part of the appendices. To date only one

The event focused on the issues faced by PhD candidates who are innovating with digital and multimedia as part of their research, but face difficulties in incorporating such outputs into their theses. The evening began with a brief introduction from Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)Digital Curator at the British Library, who welcomed everyone to the event which before handing over to the evenings chair Coral Manton(@CoralAnimation).¬†Coral is herself a current PhD candidate, at University of Plymouth‚Äôs i-DAT research and design collective, she has professional background working in Libraries, Museums and Immersive Digital Practice (something that sounds very relevant to #citylis, which often talks about how we can records immersive documents and experiences).¬†Coral’s current research is focused on the development of an immersive museums collections database,¬†creating data visualisations of collection data enabling “enhanced curatorial and visitor understanding”1

As part of a research placement with the British Library, Coral has been investigating multimedia and non-text PhD research¬†and examining ways in which¬†EThOS¬†can adapt to meet the challenge of such outputs.¬†This has led her to meet a variety of PhD candidates whose theses don’t conform to the traditional text based output or whose research has led them to use digital technologies, such as motion capture, virtual avatars¬†or apps for data-collection. Among her discoveries was that many of the researchers she spoke to had¬†had very little or no contact with their Library, especially with regards to issues of data management and archiving, leading to situations whereby they were unable to include¬†images and artwork,that formed an integral part of their work, in their final submission. (See this blog¬†post¬†more¬†details of Coral’s work).

Imogen Lesser

The first speaker of the evening was Imogen Lesser (@ImogenLesser) from the University of Kent, her¬†doctoral research is¬†on the architecture of the language used Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, and the spaces created within the texts. As part of her research she has used both digital technology and traditional media, such as drawing and sculpture to convey her ideas¬†and map out the spaces and relations between spaces created within the text of Peake’s work. Her first step was to compile a digital document in the form of an excel spreadsheet identifying¬†spaces¬†within the text,¬†from which she¬†produced a digital map, using AutoCad of¬†the relationship between spaces found in the four texts. To better understand the spaces detailed in Peake’s work Imogen produced a series of incredibly detailed drawings as well as models.¬†¬†She took the¬†digital maps and printed them out at before drawing over them to create A1 1:10,000 scale maps as an aid to her writing.

To help showcase her work and make it more accessible she put on an exhibition in which she displayed her drawings and sculpture alongside excerpts from the texts. One of the main problems that Imogen is facing is that while the maps and architectural drawings are the most effective way of representing the spacial data, extracted from the text providing a more accessible means of disseminating her research, there is no effective means of incorporating such work into her thesis. Even though her drawings and models are the most effective means of conveying and examining the spaces in the text she is still expected to  write 80,000 words, architecture is a language in itself, which can not  effectively  be related through text, this relates closely to something that Coral Manton said about video, arguing that rather than having to describe a video, it would be simpler to be able to include the video as part the thesis.


This would be a common theme for the evening, how to effectively convey research that doesn’t lend itself to textual methods of description, the emphasis on text based thesis, excludes the use on non-text media, even when they are the most effective means of relating information. For Lesser one of her main concerns is the storage and archiving of her work such as drawings through her library and their accessibility. If she submits her drawings as¬†an appendix to her thesis,¬†they won’t be¬†stored or¬†accessible through the Library. A better system for archiving and making them accessible is needed.

Craig Hamilton and Harkive

Craig Hamilton (@craigfots) from the School of Media at Birmingham City University was the evenings second speaker. Craig’s research focuses on¬†“how the experience of listening to and consuming popular music is changing, with a particular focus on digital technologies.”2¬†In order to do this Craig developed Harkive¬†an online platform that utilises digital¬†crowd-sourcing techniques to collect stories and comments about¬†the how, where and why of people’s music listening habits.

Craig’s background is in music and music technology but he had develop skills of a data scientist and programmer in order to make sense of the data he has collected through the Harkive project. He spoke about how he had to learn R, a programming language for handling data (see here¬†for more ¬†details) and was able to develop his skills through utilising podcasts, meetings with “tech-guys” and attending conferences, in order to understand how to utilise and harness the data he would be¬†gathering. It took him 9 months to learn R from scratch, through a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration with members of the R online community, something he believes he would never have achieved through reading a manual.

His¬†research has produced¬†to a range of non-text and multimedia¬†outputs, which has helped him in explaining his research to others, attract collaborators and disseminate his research.¬†All of the¬†outputs¬†he has created he considers part of¬†the work he has done for his PhD and¬†include a Data Explorer, the Harkive API, and code repository. The latter allow others to reuse and build upon¬†his existing code, or reuse the data in their own work. He has also created a series of blogs, how-to-videos and a Harkive Podcast, to¬†aid the dissemination of his research. For Craig dissemination and finding ways to¬†bring his research to a wider audience is important and he cites the fact that he receives public funding makes it his responsibility¬†to ensure that his research is widely disseminated and accessible. On the question of archiving his research or data with the Library, Craig said that it wasn’t something he had considered or been asked. He uses GitHub to manage his code and said¬†that the his funders (AHRC)¬†did not appear to be directly concerned with the infrastructure surrounding his data, but were very pleased that he appeared on Radio 4.

Tara Copplestone Archeogamer

The last speaker of the evening was Tara Copplestone (@gamingarchaeo) a PhD Student at the universities of York and Aarhus. Her research looks at how the creation and communication of video games might provide new methods of building arguments about archaeology. She focuses on making arguments through the narrative of games and game-play  rather than through reading. She had written a postgraduate thesis about

Her research into ‚ÄúArchaeogaming‚ÄĚ interrogates how creating and communicating through the video-game media form might provide novel methods of assembling¬†arguments about archaeology. Part of her thesis involves creating games and examining the ways in which video-games depict past. This involves¬†going out to archaeological sites and creating video-games¬†with the archaeologists on-site, working with games publishers to find out why they depict the past in the way they do and considers other ways in which they could present history in games. She also gets archaeologists to make their own games and observes how the medium of games influences their choices and narratives in the depiction of archaeology.

Although Tara’s focus is on archaeology through games, it ¬†could be argued that her work is highly relevant to LIS. At #citylis¬†we have often discussed the challenges that LIS practitioners face when recording and documenting immersive experiences and documents, as well as¬†considering¬†the nature of the document in the age of virtual reality and the evolving internet. The forthcoming Documenting Performance¬†symposium¬†will examine¬†the document in relation to theater and performing arts and considers how we can document and preserve the¬†essence of live performance and it seems to me that Tara’s practice and work could could be¬†another perspective that informs¬†documentation in this sense.

Her approach has been to focus on the process and the branching narratives of the¬†video game are¬†examined placing her ¬†research “at the intersection of code, art and narrative and has a particular focus on challenging how academic and creative practices can interpolate with each other through the video-game medium.3

For Tara using games is an effective way of exploring how archaeology is carried out and how¬†archaeology is explored and thought of. Although she has produced 8 different case studies, its not the outcomes that are important to her compared to the process. She made reference concept of procedural rhetoric‘ coined by¬†Ian Bogost,as well as to Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ to affirm that the process and experience of gaming is an argument (rhetorically)in itself.

A significant¬†problem she faced was how to record all aspects of the process, which couldn’t necessarily leading her to create various additional outputs that could be included in her thesis such as the Archaeogaming idea generator¬†as well a various Dummies ¬†In addition to this she¬†created her own application system in order to record all the many elements of the process, beyond what screen capture or code itself could achieve, leading to¬†to questions of how to store the 32 terabytes of data that she has generated from working on this every day for two years.¬†The most common suggestion she gets from well meaning advisers is¬†to transcribe it and¬†¬†“Put it in the appendix”¬†effectively putting her in a position of having to produce two PhDs!

Another difficulty she has faced is issues of Copyright and plagiarism. She had to stop publishing her games to online open platforms because of the risk of self-infringement. A third issue she has had to deal with relates to issues of co-creation, co-authorship and deviating away from the linear structure of traditional documents and models of knowledge transmission, towards more branching narratives, where the reader is also author.


Following on from the presentations¬†was ain which the panel took¬†¬†questions from the audience. One of the more interesting questions from an LIS perspective was about what support could Librarians provide. This was met with somewhat muted response from the panel, who stated that they had¬†little to no help from their Librarians.Hamilton stated he hadn’t considered asking the Library about storing his data, although he said he could consider giving his code to the Library, he wasn’t fully sure if this would¬†be of value. For Lesser, she felt that their needed to be greater advocacy from Librarians about how they could support candidates pursuing no-traditional PhDs, especially at the start of the process. Copplestone on the other-hand said that she was working with the Library to develop best practices,¬†whilst she learnt about Copyright the Library learnt about games, in many cases she said that people only understood her research once they had participated in it.

All on the panel agreed that Multimedia PhDs enabled research to be more widely disseminated to the public and felt that they had an important responsibility to disseminate and communicate this knowledge to the public as widely as possible. Asked about the sector is adapting to better support non-text and multimedia PhDs they said that its a slow process of incremental change, but changes are taking place, although its still down to researcher to initiate the dialogue.


This was a great  evening with some great speakers, whose passion for their work is unmistakable despite the challenges they face.  The evening brought into focus the question of what is a PhD, to paraphrase fellow guest Karolina Andersdotter (@Karolingva) is it merely a 80,000 word PDF?, oral defense (viva) or are we measuring something more?How important is the presentation of knowledge and learning to understanding? And does the formal language of PhDs and academic writing impede the wider understanding of academic research. In many ways this also ties into the question of whether knowledge and academic research should be consider public good? And if it is how do we go about making it accessible to the wider public.

For the LIS community we can consider questions of how we can assist in the documenting and recording of non-text outputs and processes. We have been considering what a document is and how we can record immersive experiences, we should look for input from researchers such as Craig, Imogen and Tara and see what their perspective is.

We¬†also need to consider how we can provide better solutions for the storage and accessibility of¬†research data and even non-text outputs ¬†whether they are games, video audio or other forms that are not yet obvious¬†for PhDs and communicating such solutions to the wider community.¬†Clearly, as well, we should be¬†proactive in our approaches,¬†it’s not enough for us to sit an wait for researchers to come to us, we need to be collaborating with them to develop these soloutions.



  1. Digital Conversations @ British Library: Ethos & Multimedia Phd Theses
  2. British Library Digital Scholarship Case Studies Craig Hamilton: multimedia PhD research
  3.  Description: British Library Digital Conversations: EThOS & Multimedia PhD Theses (1/2: Talks)

Further Reading

Videos from the evening are available via YouTube: