A History of Place 2: Indexing

I opted to compile the index of A History of Place myself. I made this choice for various reasons, but the main one was that the index seemed to me to be an important part of the volume’s framing and presentation. Reflecting on this, it seems a little ironic, as in some ways a book’s index exemplifies the age of the pre-digital publication. Using someone’s pre-decided terms to navigate a text is antithetical to the expectations and practices of our Googleized society. Let’s face it, no one reading the e-version of A History of Place is ever going to use the index, and in some ways compiling the index manually, reviewing the manuscript and linking key words with numbers which would, in due course, correspond with dead-tree pages felt almost like a subversive act.

But like an expertly curated library catalogue, an expertly compiled index is an articulation of a work’s structure and requires a set of decisions that are more complex than they may at first seem. These must consider the expectations and needs of your readers, and at the same time reflect, as accurately as possible, the current terminologies of your field. The process of indexing made me realize it gives one a chance (forces one in fact) to reflect – albeit in a bit of a hurry – on the key categories, terminology and labels that oneself and one’s peers use to describe what they do. It thus forces one to think about what terms mean, and which are important – both to one’s own work, and to the community more broadly (some of whom might even read the book).

There is also the importance of having a reliable structure. As I outline in the book itself, and have written elsewhere in relation to crowdsourcing, some have argued that using collaborative (or crowdsourced) methods to tag library catalogues for the purposes of searching and information retrieval disconnects scholarly communities from the ‘gatekeepers of the cultural record’, which undermines the very idea of the academic source itself (Cole & Hackett, 2010: 112–23) [1]. Cole and Hackett go on to highlight the distinction between “search” and “research”; whereby the former offers a flat and acrticial way into a resource (or collection of resources) based on user-defined keywords, whereas the latter offers a curated and grounded “map” of the resource. While, in this context, Cole and Hackett were talking about library catalogues, exactly the same principle applies book indices.

I don’t wish to overthink what remains, after all, a rather unglamorous part of the writing process; however even in the digital age, the index continues to matter. Even so, there is no shame at all in busy academics (or any other writers) delegating the task of compiling an index to a student or contract worker, provided of course that person is fully and properly paid for their efforts, and not exploited.  But I think it is necessary to have a conversation with that person about strategy and decision making. What follows is some examples from A History of Place which exemplify issues which authors might wish to consider when approaching their index, and/or discussing with their indexer.  By discussing these examples I try to explore the decisions I made about which terms and sub-terms I decided to include, and why.

To begin with the practicalities, the wise advice provided by Routledge was:

You don’t have to wait for the numbered page proofs of your book to arrive – start to think about entries when you have completed the final draft of your typescript. The index is always the last part of the book to be put together and submission of your final copy will be subject to a tight deadline. Preparing it now may save you time later on. [emphasis added]

I would suggest that it is a good idea to think about these even before the numbered proofs turn up.

And then

On receipt of [numbered proofs], you should return to your already-prepared list of words. Use the numbered proofs to go through your book chapter by chapter and insert the page numbers against each entry on your list. (You can use the ‘Find’ function to locate words within the proof PDF.)

The gap between compiling your original list and adding page numbers will help you to evaluate your designated entries once more. Have you missed anything obvious? Are your cross references accurate and relevant? Revisit the questions under the heading ‘Choice of Entry’.

When you are satisfied that your index is complete, put it into alphabetical order.

You will come to love proper names in the early stages of this process. For example there is only one way you can represent Abraham Ortelius, or Tim Berners-Lee in your index; and no decisions involved in how to define the page limits for the references to them.

However, the process of selecting abstract terms for inclusion is more challenging. There were arguments both for and against including the word “Bias”, for example.  All maps are biased of course, and in theory this could have applied to most of the examples I discuss. However, it forms an important topic of much recent literature on neogeography (for example), which address the ways in which neogeographic platforms perpetuate social bias due to their demographies (mostly white, male, Western etc). Therefore, inclusion made sense as it referenced explicit discussion of bias in secondary literature (mostly in the chapter on neogeography). It was possible to connect this to “collective bias” via the cross-referencing option of “see also”, of which Routledge advises:

  • See

If the entry is purely a cross reference, the entry is followed by a single space, the word ‘see’ in italics and the cross reference. For example:

sensitivity see tolerances

Note that under the entry for ‘tolerances’ there is no cross reference back to ‘sensitivity’. Page numbers should not be stated where ‘see’ is used.

  • See also

This should be used to direct the reader to additional related information.

This is a useful distinction, because it forces one to consider whether terms are synonymous versus relevant.  “Bias” and “collective bias” is a good example as the original term is somewhat fluid and required some pre-hoc consideration but is clearly different from “collective bias”.

Highly specific and specialized terms presented less of a problem.  Chorography, for example, features prominently in my index, but it could potentially have had any number of “see also…” references. However, given it is such a specialized term, I made a pragmatic decision (based partly on what I thought a reader using the index would need/want) to have it simply standalone, with no cross-references at all.

The most challenging terms were the big, important ones with multiple potential meanings. “GIS” is probably the most obvious example for A History of Place. Most of my arguments touch in some way on how spatial thinking in the humanities has emerged from, and been shaped by, GIS and related technologies, so the challenge was to divide the term up in to subsections which are a) useful for a potential reader, and b) reflective of disciplinary practices. My strategy was to treat branches of GIS which have been explicitly recognized and differentiated in the literature – such as Critical GIS; Qualitative GIS; Participatory GIS Historical GIS and Literary GIS – as separate index terms, linked as “see also” references. These are then tied only to specific occurrences of that term in each case. For discussions of GIS not explicitly relating to those terms, I used “and…” references which were tied to my chapter themes. This enabled me to divide the myriad references to GIS into sections which accord logically with the book’s structure – “- and archaeology” “- and and spatial analysis”, “-and text”, “-and crowdsourcing” and so on.

“Neogeography” created similar problems, but this type of term is compounded when the field moves so quickly. A recent paper by Linda See and others illustrates just how difficult this term is to pin down. I think all I can draw from this is that such index terms will need some considerable revisiting in the event of there being any future editions(!).

So, the agenda for that initial conversation with your indexer should, I would suggest, include:

  • Strategies for dealing with abstract terms, and deciding which are relevant and which are not
  • Highlight important, wide ranging terms, and what sub-categories you think they should have
  • How to identify specific terms which may or may not need “see also” references
  • Which sort of circumstances demand you to signpost between related terms using the “see” option.
  • Flag terms – for your won reference if nothing else – that may not be easily “future proofed”.

 

[1] Cole, R., & Hackett, C. (2010). Search vs. Research: Full-text repositories, granularity and the concept of “source” in the digital environment. In C. Avery & M. Holmlund (Eds.), Better off forgetting? Essays on archives, public policy and collective memory (pp. 112–123). Toronto.

Call for members: Major new Institute opens at King’s College London with Getty Foundation support

The Project

The 18-month Institute in Digital Art History is led by King’s College London’s Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) and Department of Classics, in collaboration with HumLab at the University of Umeå, with grant support provided by the Getty Foundation as part of its Digital Art History initiative.

It will convene two international meetings where Members of the Institute will survey, analyse and debate the current state of digital art history, and map out its future research agenda. It will also design and develop a Proof of Concept (PoC) to help deliver this agenda. The source code for this PoC will be made available online, and will form the basis for further discussions, development of research questions and project proposals after the end of the programme.

To achieve these aims we will bring together leading experts in the field to offer a multi-vocal and interdisciplinary perspective on three areas of pressing concern to digital art history:

●       Provenance, the meta-information about ancient art objects,

●       Geographies, the paths those objects take through time and space, and

●       Visualization, the methods used to render art objects and collections in visual media.

Current Digital Humanities (DH) research in this area has a strong focus on Linked Open Data (LOD), and so we will begin our exploration with a focus on LOD. This geographical emphasis on the art of the ancient Mediterranean world will be continued in the second meeting to be held in Athens. The Mediterranean has received much attention from both the Digital Classics and DH communities, and is thus rich in resources and content. The programme will, therefore, bring together two existing scholarly fields and seek to improve and facilitate dialogue between them.

We will assign Members to groups according to the three areas of focus above. These groups will be tasked with producing a detailed research specification, detailing the most important next steps for that part of the field, how current methods can best be employed to make them, and what new research questions the participants see emerging.

The meetings will follow a similar format, with initial participant presentations and introductions followed by collaborative programme development and design activities within the research groups, including scoping of relevant aspects of the PoC. This will be followed by further discussion and collaborative writing which will form the basis of the event’s report. Each day will conclude with a plenary feedback session, where participants will share and discuss short reports on their activities. All of the sessions will be filmed for archival and note-taking purposes, and professional facilitators will assist in the process at various points.

The scholarly outputs, along with the research specifications for the PoC, will provide tangible foci for a robust, vibrant and sustainable research network, comprising the Institute participants as a core, but extending across the emerging international and interdisciplinary landscape of digital art history. At the same time, the programme will provide participants with support and space for developing their own personal academic agendas and profiles. In particular, Members will be encouraged to and offered collegial support in developing publications, both single- and co-authored following their own research interests and those related to the Institute.

 

The Project Team

The core team comprises of Dr Stuart Dunn (DDH), Professor Graeme Earl(DDH) and Dr Will Wootton (Classics) at King’s College London, and Dr Anna Foka of HumLab, Umeå University.

They are supported by an Advisory Board consisting of international independent experts in the fields of art history, Digital Humanities and LOD. These are: Professor Tula Giannini (Chair; Pratt Institute, New York), Dr Gabriel Bodard (Institute of Classical Studies), Professor Barbara Borg (University of Exeter), Dr Arianna Ciula (King’s Digital Laboratory), Professor Donna Kurtz (University of Oxford), and Dr Michael Squire (King’s College London).

 

Call for participation
We are now pleased to invite applications to participate as Members in the programme. Applications are invited from art historians and professional curators who (or whose institutions) have a proven and established record in using digital methods, have already committed resources, or have a firm interest in developing their research agendas in art history, archaeology, museum studies, and LOD. You should also be prepared to contribute to the design of the PoC (e.g. providing data or tools, defining requirements), which will be developed in the timeframe of the project by experts at King’s Digital Lab.

Membership is open to advanced doctoral students (provided they can demonstrate close alignment of their thesis with the aims of the programme), Faculty members at any level in all relevant fields, and GLAM curation professionals.

Participation will primarily take the form of attending the Institute’s two meetings:

King’s College London: 3rd – 14th September 2018

Swedish Institute at Athens: 1st-12th April 2019

We anticipate offering up to eighteen places on the programme. All travel and accommodation expenses to London and Athens will be covered. Membership is dependent upon commitment to attend both events for the full duration.

Potential applicants are welcome to contact the programme director with any questions: stuart.dunn@kcl.ac.uk.

To apply, please submit a single A4 PDF document set out as follows. Please ensure your application includes your name, email address, institutional affiliation, and street address.


Applicant Statement (ONE page)
This should state what you would bring to the programme, the nature of your current work and involvement of digital art history, and what you believe you could gain as a Member of the Institute. There is no need to indicate which of the three areas you are most interested in (although you may if you wish); we will use your submission to create the groups, considering both complementary expertise and the ability for some members to act as translators between the three areas.

Applicant CV (TWO pages)
This section should provide a two-page CV, including your five most relevant publications (including digital resources if applicable).

Institutional support (ONE page)
We are keen for the ideas generated in the programme to be taken up and developed by the community after the period of funding has finished. Therefore, please use this section to provide answers to the following questions relating to your institution and its capacity:

1.     Does your institution provide specialist Research Software Development or other IT support for DH/LOD projects?

2.     Is there a specialist DH unit or centre?

3.     Do you, or your institution, hold or host any relevant data collections, physical collections, or archives?

4.     Does your institution have hardware capacity for developing digital projects (e.g. specialist scanning equipment), or digital infrastructure facilities?

5.     How will you transfer knowledge, expertise, contacts and tools gained through your participation to your institution?

6.     Will your institution a) be able to contribute to the programme in any way, or b) offer you any practical support in developing any research of your own which arises from the programme? If so, give details.

7.     What metrics will you apply to evaluate the impact of the Ancient Itineraries programme a) on your own professional activities and b) on your institution?

Selection and timeline
All proposals will be reviewed by the Advisory Board, and members will be selected on the basis of their recommendations.

Please email the documents specified above as a single PDF document to stuart.dunn@kcl.ac.uk by Friday 1st June 2018, 16:00 (British Summer Time). We will be unable to consider any applications received after this. Please use the subject line “Ancient Itineraries” in your email. 

Applicants will be notified of the outcomes on or before 19th June 2018.

Privacy statement

All data you submit with your application will be stored securely on King’s College London’s electronic systems. It will not be shared, except in strict confidence with Advisory Board members for the purposes of evaluation. Furthermore your name, contact details and country of residence will be shared, in similar confidence, with the Getty Foundation to ensure compliance with US law and any applicable US sanctions. Further information on KCL’s data protection and compliance policies may be found here: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/terms/privacy.aspx; and information on the Getty Foundation’s privacy policies may be found here: http://www.getty.edu/legal/privacy.html.

Your information will not be used for any other purpose, or shared any further, and will be destroyed when the member selection process is completed.

If you have any queries in relation to how your rights are upheld, please contact us at digitalhumanites@kcl.ac.uk, or KCL’s Information Compliance team at info-compliance@kcl.ac.uk).

Sourcing GIS data

Where does one get GIS data for teaching purposes? This is the sort of question one might ask on Twitter. However while, like many, I have learned to overcome, or at least creatively ignore, the constraints of 140 characters, it can’t really be done for a question this broad, or with as many attendant sub-issues. That said, this post was finally edged into existence by a Twitter follow, from “Canadian GIS & Geomatics Resources” (@CanadianGIS). So many thanks to them for the unintended prod. The linked website of this account states:

I am sure that almost any geomatics professional would agree that a major part of any GIS are the data sets involved. The data can be in the form of vectors, rasters, aerial photography or statistical tabular data and most often the data component can be very costly or labor intensive.

Too true. And as the university term ends, reviewing the issue from the point of view of teaching seems apposite.

First, of course, students need to know what a shapefile actually is. A shapefile is the building block of GIS, the datasets where individual map layers live. Points, lines, polygons: Cartesian geography are what makes the world go round – or at least the digital world, if we accept the oft-quoted statistic that 80% or all online material is in some way georeferenced. I have made various efforts to establish the veracity of this statistic or otherwise, and if anyone has any leads, I would be most grateful if you would share them with me by email or, better still, in the comments section here. Surely it can’t be any less than that now, with the emergence of mobile computing and the saturation of the 4G smartphone market. Anyway…

In my postgraduate course, part of a Digital Humanities MA programme, on digital mapping, I have used the Ordnance Survey Open Data resources, Geofabrik, an on-demand batch download service for OpenStreetMap data, Web Feature Service data from Westminster City Council, and  continental coastline data from the European Environment Agency. The first two in particular are useful, as they provide different perspectives from respectively the central mapping verses open source/crowdsourced geodata angles. But in the expediency required of teaching a module, they main virtues are the fact they’re free, (fairly) reliable, free, malleable, and can be delivered straight to the student’s machine, or classroom PC (infrastructure problems aside – but that’s a different matter) – and uploaded to a package such as QGIS.  But I also use some shapefiles, specifically point files, I created myself. Students should also be encouraged to consider how (and where) the data comes from. This seems to be the most important aspect of geospatial within the Digital Humanities. This data is out there, it can be downloaded, but to understand what it actually *is*, what it actually means, you have to create it. That can mean writing Python scripts to extract toponyms, considering how place is represented in a text, or poring over Google Earth to identify latitude/longitude references for archaeological features.

This goes to the heart of what it means to create geodata, certainly in the Digital Humanities. Like the Ordnance Survey and Geofabrik, much of the geodata around us on the internet arrives pre-packaged and with all its assumptions hidden from view.  Agnieszka Leszczynski, whose excellent work on the distinction between quantitative and qualitative geography I have been re-reading as part of preparation for various forthcoming writings, calls this a ‘datalogical’ view of the world. Everything is abstracted as computable points, lines and polygons (or rasters). Such data is abstracted from the ‘infological’ view of the world, as understood by the humanities.  As Leszczynski puts is: “The conceptual errors and semantic ambiguities of representation in the infologial world propagate and assume materiality in the form of bits and bytes”[1]. It is this process of assumption that a good DH module on digital mapping must address.

In the course of this module I have also become aware of important intellectual gaps in this sort of provision. Nowhere, for example, in either the OS or Geofabrik datasets, is there information in British public Rights of Way (PROWs). I’m going to be needing this data later in the summer for my own research on the historical geography of corpse roads (more here in the future, I hope). But a bit of Googling turned up the following blog reply from OS at the time of the OS data release in April 2010:

I’ve done some more digging on ROW information. It is the IP of the Local Authorities and currently we have an agreement that allows us to to include it in OS Explorer and OS Landranger Maps. Copies of the ‘Definitive Map’ are passed to our Data Collection and Management team where any changes are put into our GIS system in a vector format. These changes get fed through to Cartographic Production who update the ROW information within our raster mapping. Digitising the changes in this way is actually something we’ve not been doing for very long so we don’t have a full coverage in vector format, but it seems the answer to your question is a bit of both! I hope that makes sense![2]

So… teaching GIS in the arcane backstreets of the (digital) spatial humanities still means seeing what is not there due to IP as well as what is.

[1] Leszczynski, Agnieszka. “Quantitative Limits to Qualitative Engagements: GIS, Its Critics, and the Philosophical Divide∗.” The Professional Geographer 61.3 (2009): 350-365.

[2] https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/blog/2010/04/os-opendata-goes-live/