DAH 2D, 3D and Virtual Worlds

The DAH PHD session originally delivered for the 15th November 2011.

Reimagined for 2014!

The virtual environment has, in many respects, exploded the cultural apparatus of print that has been the norm for over five centuries of human history.  However the creation of narrative, and the experience of art through performance and experience remain core concerns as we move through dimensions from the sheet of paper, to modelling Michelangelo’s David and into the virtual world of World of Warcraft or Second Life.  This seminar seeks to chart what remains constant and what is transformed in the cultural interstices between 2D and 3D and virtual worlds.

Digital remediation and the turn towards visual culture is marked in many aspects of contemporary life – including DAH.  Today’s session seeks to explore some key elements within those acts of remediation and the emerging intermediality of scholarship where an often radical interdisciplinarity is required for publishing today.

When the result of scholarship was a thesis – 80,000 – 100,000 words of script, in a defined format – there was no thought into the means and manner of expression.  The aspect of textual transmission was a given – and helpfully further broken down into subsections – ‘Literature Review’, ‘Methodology’, ‘Bibliography’.  While these aspects of the thesis will still survive in the DAH context – the range of possibilities for how we read and think about the new knowledge derived from our data has been transformed.  How we represent and mediate that knowledge is a profound interpretive act.  Choices we make with regard to visualisation and interface will shape how readers, viewers or ‘end-users’ will interpret the thesis.  If it is not on white A4, in black print, Times New Roman, or Arial – what will it look like?

A new aspect of dimensionality needs to be considered as the temporal and spatial relationships are fixed within the boards of a thesis, not so in say, an immersive alternative reality environment.  The opportunity to engage with new methodologies is in turn the most liberating and the most daunting potential of DAH.

In this shifting intersection of analysis and description – how will you use visualisation?  Will you use it at all?  How will you manage it?  The minute you begin to design a web page you are creating a narrative for your scholarship.  You are setting a narrative arc for your user to follow?  The potential for immersive technologies and analytical visualisation tools augments this mode of exploration – into less creator defined paths, and offering at least the illusion of choice and chance to the user viewer.  In creating a virtual environment for a user to explore – they may choose their own path through the theatre, or other simulation.  By making a range of datasets open to manipulation – results other than your own may be extrapolated within the environment of a tool that you have created.

Different research questions can arise from these methods in terms of: open data, collaboration, remediation, place, space and performativity, impact and outreach.

Mirroring those concerns, and following on from the previous discussion on data,  here are the questions for the forum:

On Representation:  Digital tools for the representation of humanities materials are expanding the potential and possibilities for how we read, think, interpret and understand when exploring our different research questions. Interdisciplinary understanding is a foundational aspect of this endeavour.   No longer is the 100,000 word PhD, printed on A4 sheets, the only outcome of the PhD – how do you envisage representing your original contributions to the discipline of the Arts and Humanities?

On Visualisation:  There is a shifting intersection between more descriptive and analytical use of visual components in digital environments and research tools. Theorising ‘new’ readings, and questioning shifts in representation within the digital sphere  may well be a core concern of many of your research questions.  How do you conceive of the visualisation of your projects, will it be text, image, sound, or none, or a combination of all of the above?  In your consideration of your methodological approach have you theorised the transmission or communication of your ideas?  How will others interact with your project?  The barriers between more descriptive and more analytical approaches are also constantly shifting as researchers become more and more acquainted with formulating research needs in a digital context  – what are your needs?  How do you imagine that you may best visually represent, interpret and finally communicate your data, text or otherwise?

On Interpretation:  Technology can help us to augment and clarify our interpretive acts, but is not a substitute for the scholar’s apprehension of their research objects in their context.  Still, the interpretive acts of scholars can be made explicit through technological means, and in particular through visualisation.   In contemporary ‘visual’ culture, visualisation (which is an act of interpretation in itself) facilitates those interpretations; charts, maps, film and other methods seek to communicate the knowledge derived from this interpretation of data to a wide range of end users, and through many media forms.  Have you considered how your interpretative actions may be made visible | communicated to your audience?

On Remediation:  Scholarship is an act of remediation – taking data in its raw form and transforming it to create new knowledge and original contributions to your disciplines.  Within print culture the act of transmission is set firmly within norms formed over 500 years of print culture, yet digitality encourages us to radically rethink that transmission and to theorise our understanding of that act, to query how best communication is achieved, and to demand still more from technology to enable us to achieve and communicate our vision, as scholars, of what knowledge is.  Intermediality is now part of our culture – although by its nature it is not static – have you considered how the act of remediation transforms the transmission of knowledge?  What are possible losses and gains in the remediation of culture through technological means?

Some useful links in beginning to tease out these questions:

This is the ACH Association for Computers in the Humanities page for DAH ‘Questions and Answers’ – the link is a series of answers in the forum from international experts to the question… ‘how can we use visualisation in DH?’

The area is further problematised at papers and blogs relating to The Berlin Symposium.  In this Google sponsored event invited (problematic in itself) participants theorised the innovative and evolving web via a number of lenses.  Most interesting was the use of professional illustrators to visualise and thus track/map the discussions – here.

A more academic paper – recently published by Patrik Svensson director of the HUMlab at Sweden’s Umea university explores the challenges of creating a research infrastructure that can handle the interdisciplinarity – it is in DHQ, Digital Humanities Quarterly – here is the link – in the article he suggests that  ‘a model based on conceptual cyberinfrastructure and design parameters can be one way of connecting the ideational level with actual implementation. HUMlab at Umeå University serves as a case study’.

Some ideas from practitioners in the field are found here: http://www.nedimah.eu/news/why-and-how-do-we-use-visualisation-our-work-3rd-nedimah-infoviz-workshop

This is an old ACH Association for Computers in the Humanities page for DAH ‘Questions and Answers’ – the link is a series of answers in the forum from international experts to the question… ‘how can we use visualisation in DH?’

Some examples:

Text visualisation using Dickinson’s poetry from Forbes at MATlab at UCSB.  He uses Samuels and McGann to introduce his visual remediation of the text as an interpretive act:

“Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann, in their article “Deformance and Interpretation,” take a seemingly whimsical fragment written by Emily Dickinson and read it at face value, asking how a reader can “release or expose the poem’s possibilities of meaning” and show language as “an interactive medium.” Poems, they claim, citing Shelley, lose their “vital force when they succumb to familiarization.” They imagine instead unfamiliar deformations of literature that offer “a highly regulated method for disordering the sense of a text.” In so doing, they posit that the practice of “performative” critical models provides an important “anti-theoretical” interpretation not available to traditional interpretative criticism.

(reposted from Literature+ blog)

Did you ever read one of her Poems backward, because the plunge from the front overturned you?

–Emily Dickinson”

Digital Humanities Specialist (Blog at Stanford U).

Elijah Meeks used Gephi to visualise networks – using colour well – and showing how we can use visualisation to answer research questions clearly.  His network analyses and the development of his plugin answer research questions – and as he says, they’re ‘pretty’ too.

In a post on ‘algorithmic literacy’ and ‘graph data models’ he surveys changes in accessible mapping for all over the past 6 years – and urges a more reciprocal relationship, and at the very least an understanding of code from humanities participants:

“Google Maps came out six years ago, and eventually lead to Google Earth and a set of spatial data standards and practices that, while not necessarily being everyone’s (or my) first choice for analysis and representation, has fostered such an amazing level of spatial literacy and participation.  Community-driven spatial projects like Look Back Maps, Omnes Viae and iNaturalist are all driven by the Google Maps API but, more importantly, are made possible due to the absurdly high number of people who understand maps and spatial analysis in a manner that was previously only demonstrated by GIS professionals and cartographers.

If Google Ripples is more like Google Maps and less like Google Wave, then in a few years I won’t have to explain what a graph is, and simple network metrics like weighted in-degree, betweenness centrality and closeness will be as commonplace as polygons, markers and layers.”

Also ilab at the UCSB – where they focus on the four ‘i’s – Imaging, Interaction, and Innovative Interfaces.

The 3D examples previously were subject to downloadable plugins – “if you have silverlight” etc  …  the microsoft narratives site explores ‘Rich Interactive Narratives‘ RINs.  Take a look at the Ladakh Valley interactive video to examine how this interruption of the linear may work.   Through HTML5 the necessity of downloadable plugin is disappearing – so those boundaries are collapsing

Other immersive and gaming potentials for humanities were discussed at Playing with History conference at Niagara in October 2011 – the list of abstracts and names are available here.

Google glass has had a transforming impact on our understanding of possibilities – with gains as well as losses – in terms of an accessible immersive reality.

There’s a number of new projects emerging – one of which is the Keys to Rome project: http://www.keys2rome.eu/  and also the Virtual Museum Transnational Network Sarajevo Survival Tools project http://www.v-must.net/virtual-museums/vm/sarajevo-survival-tools 

As a complete aside – I meant to mention Derrida’s (1995) ‘Mal d’Archive’ – or Archive Fever, at some point, but did not get around to it – it is reviewed in English at the Historein website.  Derrida unpicks the need to create more archives – and makes us question how we perform and mediate the act of scholarship. In the Tate Papers – the Tate’s online journal the archive is further analysed as a method of representing knowledge by Sue Breakell in an article ‘Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive’.

35 Responses to DAH 2D, 3D and Virtual Worlds

  1. Brendan Dooley says:

    In a minute we’re going to look at Velazquez and Picasso, in the upper right hand of the screen

  2. franklynam says:

    The plugin problem is going to change with HTML5. 3D support natively. Direct graphics access etc.

  3. OrlaMurphy says:

    Yes – but it is an example of anticipation too – that we push forward what is considered possible and ultimately the ‘method’ will come…

  4. Brendan Dooley says:

    Representation depends also on what you are allowed to represent. Velazquez for instance had more strictures (perhaps) than Picasso

  5. Brendan Dooley says:

    We move to visualization next– have a look at Andrew Prescott’s example of the Eolian Harp, at

  6. Simon says:

    Hi, Simon from Galway here. Just wanted to make the point that Picasso’s Meninas gets rid of perspective [the ceiling] on the point of 3-D vs 2-D.

  7. gerry watts says:

    REPRESENTATION is like a Russian Doll–the more you uncover, the smaller it gets. It’s an epistemological cul de sac.
    Any jokes?

    • OrlaMurphy says:

      Absolutely – no immediate jokes (sadly) – but the important thing from the beginning is awareness – and documenting the process…
      ESAD the escience and ancient documents project at Oxford tries to look at supporting the decision making process in terms of visualisation and interpretation – well worth a look – in particular the work of Segolene Tarte

  8. gerry watts says:

    Dara: pedagogy and how people learn differently; thus if it’s multi-media it accommodates the learning ability spectrum. The phd product will be available to more people.

    Hilary: visualisation has to be much more active: the idea of interactivity is central. So the objective will be to set up a forum to facilitate communication. Model will be a confessional platform.

    Generally we discussed the democratic mature of interactivity; unlike the artist who takes material and presents it as a fait acompli, interactivity is a shared creative process.

  9. franklynam says:

    Is visualisation deterministic? Obviously it is. We don’t necessarily control the user’s journey through the data. We do a bit though – Frank. (Stream of consciousness) Toma is not happy with this, Why? visualisation is an alternative view and an alternative point of access to a set of data. And the determinism question is irrelevant because all forms of representation are constrained.

    Does the visualisation you choose shape your thinking? Yes. e.g. Online bookshop for the knowledge producer. It separates the books. Although it also allows them to be pooled – their ideas.

    Excuse the randomness of the thoughts.

  10. Group “B” here in Cork.

    For Sara Wentworth, it’s a question of audio rather than visual representation. It’s notation as representation (perhaps visual?)

    For Luke, Giorgio and James, it’s a question of remediation for the purpose of disseminating new symbolic and spacial understanding of existing material and textual data.

  11. Daniel Fitzpatrick says:

    Nora and I were wondering about ‘cinemagraphs’ in relation to her work, some slightly tacky examples here –

    Basically a still photograph with minor moving image elements. A form of visualisation that certainly has existed for some time but is now easy to distribute. New distribution models, new formats for distribution favour ‘new’, or more likely pre-existing but little used, forms. Raising questions about technological impact on aesthetic norms.

    Here’s another example by Hans Op De Beeck http://www.hansopdebeek.com and an older piece by David Claerbout – The Shape of Time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWKVx6DFlO0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Daniel NUIG

  12. Let’s not forget the twitter #tag (that’s a visualisation there) folks: dahphdie

  13. ConorLynch says:

    One persons visualistation may not best represent a particular data set. I like the idea of offering the end user the option of viewing data in various representations or allowing end users to interpret data in the manor that best suits them.

  14. gerry watts says:

    Originality is a term that works fine in everyday life but once you look closer, it is quite an empty term. I can not see how originality is possible when every construct contains the germs of the past.An infection runs through human creativity and there is no cure for it, no avoiding it.

  15. nella porqueddu says:

    Dealing with primary sources from WWI and investigating the notion of space and sense of belonging in border areas at the front line between Italy and Austro-Hungary, I plan to use “mapping” both as an analytical and descriptive tool and as a further visualitation strategy. The idea is to use Mapping in a new and more creative way. The point you were raising before about objective and subjective visualization and representation strategies is fundamental. It will in fact be a delicate issue to convince traditional scholars of the particular use I am adopting to study and describe sense of belonging in these areas through unconventional “mapping” (applied not to map conflicts but rather to map memory and recollection of some aspects related to it). This problem will be a main issue which needs to be addressed, as overcoming scepticism will enable me to refine the way in which I will apply this tool to my research work. While dealing with data in unconventional ways we do enconter a set of problems that need to be faced.

  16. Brendan Dooley says:

    Gadamer says (p. 307)
    Interpretation is not an occasional post facto supplement to understanding; rather, understanding is always interpretation and hence interpretation is the explicit form of understanding. In accordance with this insight, interpretive language and concept were recognized as belonging to the innter structure of understanding. This moves the whole problem of language from a peripheral and incidental position int the center of philosophy. We will return to this point (says Gadamer– but, so will we………

  17. gerry watts says:

    A man with a limp, a woman with a buggy and my mother-in-law were standing at a bus stop.
    The bus turned up on time.

  18. Mairead Ni Chroinin says:

    I will be creating theatre performances using mobile technologies … I suppose the ‘knowledge’ I will be representing, interpreting and remediating will be how narrative relates to space, and how people experience space and their own ’embodiement’ (as Katherine Hayles discussed) through narrative. But because performance is ephemeral, I will also be documenting it – and I haven’t thought yet about the best way to present that as part of my PhD…

  19. Catherine Ann Cullen says:

    The answer to the question posed by Orla Murphy, that is, ‘what is my PhD going to look like?’ is, ‘That depends on the practical tools I acquire in the course of this PhD, or how soon I can get the information I need from the DAH programme. I am still not sure how much of the digital work – website and interface design etc that I will be expected to do myself, or how much assistance I will be given. Once I have this information, I will be able to cut my digital coat according to my digital cloth.’

    • Sara says:

      agreed, I could tell you what my project would look like ideally if I had all the time and expertise in the world, but if I’m going to have to do the whole thing by myself and don’t have all the expertise necessary, it could end up looking very different

      • OrlaMurphy says:

        Yes – all the more reason to be thoughtful and aware of the potential and limitations within the period of the PhD … seek advice from your supervisor about the key practitioners in your area, stay updated, and feel part of a community

    • OrlaMurphy says:

      We are encouraging reflection about all of those elements Catherine and Sara- some ideation is not harmful, imagine something and see what is possible? Drive the technology – in semester two you will see that a simple website, in xhtml, might take 10 minutes to build. I hope that just as I knew little about voxels and triangulation in year one – through steady progress through the course of the PhD, I gained this knowledge and was able to apply it usefully to my research question. Industrial Light and Magic we are not – but we can, through knowledge and application, contribute meaningfully to our chosen spheres.

  20. Imho, it is too early to think about representation. There are many techniques and tools in R&D labs that may be available before we start ‘writing’…and we are not aware of those right now.

    • OrlaMurphy says:

      True Vikas – all the more reason to keep an eye on developments, and leverage those solutions to best suit our needs – if not become involved, perhaps through a meeting with these R&D people at conferences, often they too are looking for content paradigms to show their latest innovations. The field changes almost daily – mutatis mutandi is the metaphor!

  21. Dr Murphy’s work is an example of how we can avoid static remediation. In her work, the medieval stones were not simply re-imaged, they were re-imagined so that their secrets might be unlocked by present and future scholars alike. The product of this has unique scholarly value – it has transcended the mere efficiency of instruction that is associated with electronic scholarly discourse.

  22. Luke says:

    Well Im hoping that my interpretive actions can be made explicitly visible by making available as many of my sources as I can through digitisation. The intention is to allow others to see the material I used and show the processes that led to my conclusions. I suppose the major benefit/issue that may be had with providing my raw data and showing my processes is I will be leaving it entirely open to others taking my work and showing where I may have made mistakes.

  23. OrlaMurphy says:

    understanding is always interpretation – Gadamer…

  24. noraduggan says:

    Interesting exhibition now in The Lab, Foley St., Dublin 1
    ‘Quantified Self’ 18 Oct – 3 Dec
    Group show, collaboration between Lab and Shimmer Research

    In her statement about her work in the exhibition ‘One Letter Poem’ (Video 9 mins) participating artist Bea McMahon writes;
    ‘What became apparent to me (and this is just a feeling) was that the data sat firmly outside of the horse/symbol; it had no penatrative qualities. I thought about it a little more and remembered George Boole, who severed the relationship between symbol and things (in Cork in the 19th Century). With his symbolic or Boolean logic, and idempotent operators that don’t leave a trace on their subjects, he paved the way for the computer revolution of the 20th Century.’

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