Sydney Digital Humanities Research Group

Sydney Digital Humanities Research Group

The Sydney Digital Humanities Research Group aims to consolidate existing faculty resources in the field of digital humanities and to connect individual scholars and their projects within a collaborative framework in order to progress research in this area. Rather than looking at digital humanities as if it were a homogeneous field, our research group intends to frame digital humanities research as the people and questions that comprise it, acknowledging that an effective centralised digital humanities strategy has to embrace a diversity of technologies and methodologies, not favour a particular one or, worse, make the mistake of believing that digital humanities is a particular thing. In the rich, diverse and complex environment generated by showcasing and connecting the current digital endeavours of Sydney scholars, the main objective of our research project is to evaluate critically how these approaches and methods can most effectively enhance textual and visual scholarship, and, even more importantly, how the sum can become better than its constituent parts by creating a network which will offer opportunities for collaborative research and coherent engagement at the University of Sydney. In doing so, the group will reassess the ways in which technologies applicable to digital humanities reshape traditional forms of scholarly communication around text and image research.

Lead Researcher: Francesco Borghesi

Participants: Mark Allon, Linda Barwick, Mark Byron, Jeremy Hammond, Ian McCrabb, Jennifer Milam, Chao Sun, Shane White, Stephen Whiteman, Roland Fletcher, Adrian Vickers, Monika Bednarek, Gerard Goggin, Francesco Bailo, Jonathon Hutchinson, Justine Humphry.

Upcoming events


Towards a Digital History of Print Culture: From FBTEE to Global Book Trade Project

Presenter: Simon Burrows, Western Sydney University
Date: Friday, 25 May 2018
Time: 3- 4.30pm
Location: SOPHI Common Room (822), Level 8, Brennan MacCallum Building - A18, The University of Sydney

This paper has twin aims. First it discusses how the French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe (FBTEE) database project at Western Sydney has been taking a big data approach to challenge accepted views of the enlightenment and eighteenth-century culture. Second it will explore how the project is working towards developing a linked data ecosystem for studying the reception of books and ideas between and across historical periods, and some of the challenges and opportunities involved in taking such an approach remain considerable. Marrying together, curation and online presentation of multiple bibliometric datasets produced using different sources, by different teams, at different times, using differing disciplinary norms and for different end purposes presents formidable practical and conceptual obstacles. The resources that result are likely to be complex and require highly refined analytical tools to interpret them. But since our technologies are agnostic to historical context, the FBTEE project and allied projects are now beginning to apply them to further times and places including projects on the C18 British Atlantic world and C20 Australia.

Simon Burrows is Professor of Digital Humanities and Professor of History at Western Sydney University, Australia. He holds his DPhil from Oxford and has also worked at the Universities of Waikato (NZ) and Leeds (UK). He is best known for his path-breaking digital project on ‘The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe’ and is now lead investigator on its successor project, the ARC funded ‘Mapping Print, Charting Enlightenment’ project. He is also an investigator on Jason Ensor’s sister project, ARCHivER, an Australian National Data Service funded linked data project on the Angus and Robertson Archive. Simon Burrows is author of French Exile Journalism and European Politics, 1792-1814 (2000); Blackmail, Scandal and Revolution: London’s French Libellistes, 1758-1792 (2006) and A King’s Ransom: The Life of Charles Théveneau de Morande, Blackmailer, Scandalmonger and Master-Spy (2010). He has co-edited important collections on Press Politics and the Public Sphere (2002); Cultural Transfers (2010); and The Chevalier d’Eon and his Worlds (2010). A further monograph entitled Enlightenment Bestsellers is scheduled for publication in early 2018 and a co-edited collection on Digitizing Enlightenment for 2019. He can be contacted at


Trouble in the Database: Precision and Ambiguity in Historical Sources

Presenter: Paul Jaskot, Director, Wired! Labs, Duke University
Date: Friday, 11 May 2018
Time: 2- 4pm
Location: Fisher Seminar Rm 218, Fisher library

This workshop will offer a presentation and discussion of working with precision and ambiguity in historical sources. We will begin with an overview of the problem by looking at the case study of analyzing spatial information derived from an historical architectural journal and the problems and possibilities for visualization and analysis that such a source allows. The workshop will then move to open discussion of strategies and possibilities for working with ambiguity using digital methods.

Public lectures

A Plan, a Testimony, and a Digital Map: Analyzing the Architecture of the Holocaust

Presenter: Paul Jaskot, Director, Wired! Labs, Duke University
Date: Thursday, 10 May 2018
Time: 6- 7pm
Location: Philosophy Room S249, The Quadrangle

The Holocaust was a profoundly spatial experience that involved not only the movement of millions of European Jews but also their confinement and murder in sites specifically built for the genocide. Paul Jaskot’s talk addresses how perpetrators thought of their building projects and, conversely, how victims experienced these oppressive spaces. Analyzing the architecture of the Holocaust helps us in understanding the larger development, implementation, and context of this crucial event. In addition to an architectural plan and a specific survivor testimony as examples, the lecture also explores how recent methods in the Digital Humanities-particularly digital mapping-can be used to investigate plans and testimonies to raise new questions about the architectural and historical significance of the Holocaust.

Past events

Three Literary Questions You Can Only Answer Through Stylometry

Presenter: Hugh Craig, University of Newcastle
Date: Friday, 27 April 2018
Time: 3- 4.30pm
Location: Fisher Exhibition Meeting Rm 223, Fisher library

Stylometry applies statistical measures to literary language. Its main application to date has been in authorship questions, and its use there – while still sometimes controversial – is now broadly accepted. The New Oxford Shakespeare (2016), for instance, enthusiastically embraces stylometry-based attributions of plays and parts of plays. This talk will focus on a second strand of stylometry, which involves broader stylistic questions. These are generally on the boundary between the scholarly and the literary-critical. I will consider the following, aiming to give some insights into the possibilities and limitations of the methods as they stand for literary analysis:

What is the typical 1990s British novel?

Is Christopher Marlowe really an author?

Is Shakespeare’s language modern or archaic?

t is open to debate whether these are strictly literary questions, and also whether stylometry can in fact answer them definitively. My general contention, however, will be that this form of the digital humanities has findings of interest for the humanities generally, by way of its attempt to learn something through strictly abstract and mathematical processes about works where questions of meaning, ideology and cultural context would seem to be paramount and inescapable.

Issues in Digital Archiving and Publishing

Presenter: Mitchell Whitelaw, ANU
Date: Friday, 13 April
Time: 2- 4pm
Location: Fisher Exhibition Meeting Rm 223, Fisher library

This dialogue/workshop, which brings together researchers from NTU, ANU, and Sydney, will explore a series of issues surrounding archives, access, and publishing in the Digital Humanities. Affordances of digital technology, lack of protocols for peer review, scholarship publishing and evaluating impact (Gold, 2012), are some of the teething concerns when working on Digital Humanities (DH) projects. In this workshop, the following topics will be covered:

Digital publishing and archiving for different types of data (visual artefacts, geospatial, visualisations, etc)

Going beyond the digital archive with rich browsing and exploration methods

Re-defining digital publication and evaluating such projects

Interdisciplinarity in the Digital Humanities

Presenter: Hedren Sum, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Nanyang Technological University Libraries
Date:Thursday, 12 April 2018
Time: 4-5.30pm
Location: Fisher Exhibition Meeting Rm 223, Fisher library

Digital humanities (DH) often involve the integrative work and collaborative practices from different disciplines. The “complex, changing, and multifaceted interdisciplinary” nature of the field make it challenging to be succinctly defined (Davidson & Savonick, 2017). In this seminar, I will be sharing DH trends in NTU, and approaches in designing platforms to organise, showcase and collaborate in interdisciplinary research through a case study in a research project under the Digital Intangible Heritage of Asia (DIHA) research cluster at NTU College of Humanities and Social Sciences. I will also discuss my process for designing the “researcher portal” for the upcoming collaborative project, “Site and Space in Southeast Asia”, based at Sydney University in partnership with NTU Libraries and National Gallery Singapore.

How to Teach Digital Humanities? Experiences and Expectations

Presenter: Gerhard Lauer, University of Basel
Date: Wednesday, 21 February 2018
Time: 4.15-6pm
Location: Exhibition Meeting Room 1 (223), Level 2, Fisher Library

Since large amounts of texts and objects became just a keystroke away and tools to explore data are available for non-computer scientists, the use of computers transforms the humanities as they transform other parts of society as well. The integration, however, of computer-based methods and research methodologies into the curricula of scholarly areas is not that simple. Statistics and formal models are not commonly part of the humanities. Sceptics about machine based research are widely shared in the humanities. While in linguistics or in archaeology a tradition of more scientific like methods are part of the disciplines many humanistic disciplines have only a small tradition of formal methods. In this talk I will discuss the systematic problems of teaching Digital Humanities as well as the many random factors of establishing new study programmes in the humanities.

Gerhard Lauer, Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Basel, recently published Humboldt’s writing on education (2017) and together wit Nicolaas Rupke a volume on the natural historian Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (2018). He is associate editor of the Journal The Scientific Study of Literature and one of the founding editors of Journal of Literary Theory. Professor Lauer researches and publishes on Jewish and Yiddish literary history, cognitive literary studies and digital humanities. His most recent book (in press) is about reading in the digital age.

Tracing the spheres of “public” in Europe, 1700-1910

Presenter: Mikko Tolonen, University of Helsinki
Date: Wednesday, 31 January 2018
Time: 4-6pm
Location: SLC Common Room (536),
Level 5, Brennan MacCallum Building
The University of Sydney

This paper will introduce Helsinki Computational History Group’s way of combining digital humanities and intellectual history. After an introduction of the group, the paper will focus on two different case studies that aim to track the development of public discourse in different parts of Europe.

The eighteenth-century saw a transformation in the practices of public discourse. With the emergence of clubs, associations, and, in particular, coffee houses, civic exchange intensified from the late seventeenth century. At the same time print media was transformed: book printing proliferated; new genres emerged (especially novels and small histories); works printed in smaller formats made reading more convenient (including in public); and periodicals - generally printed onto single folio half-sheets - emerged as a separate category of printed work which was written specifically for public consumption, and with the intention of influencing public discourse (such periodicals were intended to be both ephemeral and shared, often read, and then discussed, publically each day). This part of the paper studies how these changes may be recognized in language by quantitatively studying the word “public” and its semantic contexts in the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). It maps different uses of the term with an aim to show how the late eighteenth century is a distinctive period in a Habermasian sense, compared to earlier times with respect to pamphleteering in particular.

The second part of the paper focuses on the language, location and form of newspapers in Finland, 1771-1910. During this period newspapers developed as a mass medium in the Grand Duchy of Finland. This happened within two different imperial configurations (Sweden until 1809 and Russia until 1917) and in two languages Swedish and Finnish. This paper uses the metadata information about the newspapers to statistically trace the expansion of public discourse in Finland. By relating information on publication places, language, number of issues, number of words, size of papers, and publishers and comparing that to the existing scholarship on newspaper history and censorship, the paper aims at reaching a more accurate bird’s-eye view of newspaper publishing in Finland after 1771. The paper focuses in particular on the interplay between the Swedish and Finnish language papers, and suggest that the while the discussions in the public were inherently bilingual, the technological and journalistic developments that are traceable through machine reading methods advanced in different speeds in Swedish and Finnish. Toward the turn of the century 1900, Finnish papers started dominating the public discourse which changed the understanding of the language relations in the country. This part of the paper further assesses the development of the press in comparison with book production and periodicals, pointing toward a specialization of the newspapers as a medium in the period post 1860.

Mikko Tolonen is an intellectual historian. His main research interest is in the Scottish Enlightenment. Tolonen is the PI of the multidisciplinary Helsinki Computational History Group. His monograph, Mandeville and Hume. Anatomists of Civil Society was published in 2013 by the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford.