The Digital Day of Ideas is an annual showcase and networking event for digital scholarship across the University, featuring workshops, seminars and invited speakers from the wider Digital Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences community.


Digital Day of Ideas 2019 took place on

Wednesday 29 May

at the University of Edinburgh Business School.

View the Digital Day of Ideas 2019 Eventbrite page

The day included keynote lectures from:

Professor Ethan Watrall (Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology; Associate Director of MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences, Michigan State University)
View the lecture:

Professor Lesley McAra (Director of the Edinburgh Futures Institute, The University of Edinburgh)

View the lecture:

Dr Tamson Pietsch (Senior Lecturer in Social and Political Sciences; Director of the Australian Centre for Public History, University of Technology Sydney).

View the lecture:

After lunch, delegates attended parallel workshops; topics included LiDAR technology, Text analysis with R, and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI).

A series of lightning talks ran concurrently with the workshops, and a poster session took place during the evening reception.



9.00   Registration and coffee

9.30   Welcome & Introduction

Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage, University of Edinburgh

9.45 Public or Perish”: Charting a Path for the Future of Digital Heritage

Ethan Watrall

The domain of heritage has undeniably entered an age in which “the digital” impacts all aspects of scholarship and practice.  Curation, preservation, documentation, research, teaching, management, public outreach and engagement – all are inextricably intertwined with digital methods and computational approaches.  But where does heritage go from here?  What does the future of digitally inflected work within the domain look like?

Drawing upon a diverse range of examples from institutions, scholars, practitioners, and projects, this talk argues that the path forward for scholarship and practice in digital heritage is first and foremost publicly engaged.  It is a future in which the practice of digital heritage is fundamentally collaborative and community driven, and the outcomes are open and discoverable, useful and usable.

10.45 Coffee break

11.00  Can data driven innovation change the world? A meditation on the purpose and values of the 21st Century University

Lesley McAra

The fast-moving developments in data, digital and artificial intelligence have been described by some, as marking a fourth industrial revolution, by others, as a ‘second renaissance’, transforming the modalities through which we encounter and understand social phenomena, with profound implications for the ways in which knowledge is produced, purveyed and consumed. Some commentators lay emphasis on the far-reaching social, economic and cultural benefits that these developments might procure, still others highlight their dystopic possibilities: structurally redundant populations, mass control and surveillance, unregulated tech conglomerates.

Using the Edinburgh Futures Institute as a case study, Lesley will offer some critical reflections on the role of the 21st Century University in navigating this complex terrain and the challenges and opportunities it poses for our scholarly community. 

12.00 Lunch

13.00 Workshops & Lightning Talks 

Workshop topics:

  • Digital Humanities and Remote-Sensing; Introduction to LiDAR
  • Working in 3D with the uCreate Studio
  • Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI): Introduction and hands-on
  • Cleaning Your Data with OpenRefine
  • Basic Text Analysis using R 
  • Can you just Digitise? Digitising the Collections 

See below for full descriptions of workshops.

15:00 Coffee Break

15:30 Why podcasting matters to historians: History Lab – Australia’s first investigative history podcast

Tamson Pietsch

As Impact and Engagement is becoming crucial to the funding, ranking and regulating of research, Humanities researchers are scrambling for ways to connect with audiences beyond the academy.  At the same audio is becoming increasingly central to the way people access information culture: podcasting is replacing linear radio broadcasting and Google has announced that by 2020 it wants 50% of searches to be voice enabled.

The History Lab podcast exists in this gap. Launched in May 2018 as a national engagement platform for the Humanities in Australia it has attracted a large listenership, with the first five episodes receiving nearly 50K downloads. The show has shot up the Australian podcast charts and been listed in Apple podcasts “New and Noteworthy” section. 

History Lab is an innovative collaboration between the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS, community radio producers and collaborating researchers. It produces immersive episodes that bring to life the process of knowledge discovery. As such it goes far beyond the model of disseminating research findings, to instead incorporate the process of knowing itself, foregrounding how questions are asked and how are investigations pursued. In doing so History Lab opens up the process of knowledge making itself to wide public audiences.


16.45 Reception & Poster Session

18.00 Close



Professor Ethan Watrall

An anthropological archaeologist who has worked in North America and North Africa, Ethan Watrall is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Associate Director of MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University. Ethan also serves as Adjunct Curator of Archaeology at the Michigan State University Museum.  In addition, Ethan is Director of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative and the Digital Heritage Fieldschool in the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University.

Currently, Ethan is Co-PI of Enslaved: People of the Historic Slave Trade, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded project whose goal is to build a linked open data platform for study of the transatlantic slave trade. Ethan’s primary scholarly interests lie in how digital methods and computational approaches can be leveraged to preserve and provide access to archaeological and heritage materials, collections, knowledge, and data in order to facilitate research, advance knowledge, fuel interpretation, and democratize our collective understanding and appreciation of the past.

Professor Lesley McAra

Lesley McAra is Director of the Edinburgh Futures Institute. She is a former Dean of the School of Law, the first woman to be appointed to that post. She is currently a member of the Centre for Law and Society and the Global Justice Academy and an Associate Director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research

Lesley’s research interests lie in the general areas of the sociology of punishment and the sociology of law and deviance. In her recent research, The Old Town Story-telling Project, Lesley has been pioneering methods of co-production and exploring the role of the performance arts in promoting community safety and well-being.

Lesley is Editor-in-Chief (with Ursula Kilkelly) of Youth Justice and is Co-editor (with Alison Liebling and Shadd Maruna) of the Oxford Handbook of Criminology.

Dr Tamson Pietsch

Tamson Pietsch is Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS and host of the History Lab podcast. Her research focuses on the history and politics of knowledge and she writes regularly on universities and higher education, past and present.

Tamson is the author of Empire of Scholars: Universities, Networks and the British Academic World, 1850-1939. She is currently leading a project on the history of expertise in Australia and writing a book about the world-wide interwar voyage of the Floating University.


Workshop 1: Digital Humanities and Remote-Sensing: Introduction to LiDAR

This workshop presents an introduction and overview to remote-sensing technology, its applications for creative practice, surveying, and analysis, particularly within Digital Humanities based research and practice. The workshop will mostly revolve around LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), but, will also outline other remote-sensing technologies and their applications. The aim is to create a three-dimensional point-cloud archive which can be used for spatial computation,  visualisation and interpretation, which, is relevant for the managing of spatial and temporal archiving, digital heritage, historical research, and creative practice. In order to do this, the workshop will outline some research currently undertaken by the Edinburgh College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences which emphasise on terrestrial LiDAR applications. Yet, the main emphasis of the workshop is to make the participants accustomed to LiDAR for data collection and cleaning data for data storage or analysis.

Workshop 2: Working in 3D with the uCreate Studio

Join staff from the uCreate Studio Makerspace for an introduction to scanning, printing and visualisation in 3D. Explore a range of technologies in the field with tools to for 3D capture, display and manufacture. Find out how they work, review examples of their use and discover the simple tools and technologies you can harness to make use of them in your work.

Workshop 3: Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI): Introduction and hands-on

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) produces interactive relighting files particularly useful for recording and documentation, analysis, presentation and online dissemination of material culture. RTI fills the gap between 2D and 3D digitization and can be performed using low-cost standard photographic equipment and open access software. This workshop covers the RTI basics, including fundamental concepts, instrumentation, data, acquisition strategies, processing pipelines, viewing software and web publication tools.

Learning objectives: 1. Understand the range of questions that currently available RTI methods can investigate and develop efficient strategies for RTI data capture, using the Highlight-RTI method 2. View interactive relighting files 3. Process Highlight-RTI data 4. Publish online RTIs

Workshop 4: Cleaning Your Data with OpenRefine

OpenRefine (formerly Google Refine) is a powerful tool for working with messy data: cleaning it; organizing it and transforming it from one format into another.  It is extremely useful for anyone who works regularly with any kind of tabular data. At its most simple, OpenRefine helps you explore your data, identify and easily correct errors and globally reformat columns. For the more advanced users it can be used to extend your data and link it with web services and external data. Most importantly OpenRefine edits are reproducible and you can create a record of your data cleaning steps so you can automatically run them again on a new dataset. This introductory course, using the Data Carpentry lessons, is aimed at complete beginners and will get you familiar with basic concepts of OpenRefine: 1) Get an overview of a dataset 2) Resolve inconsistencies in a dataset 3) Help you split data up into more granular parts 4) Save a set of data cleaning steps to replay on multiple files.

Workshop 5: Basic Text Analysis using R

This workshop will introduce participants to the R programming language, and show how it can be used by social scientists and humanities researchers for basic text analysis (sometimes also called quantitative text analysis, automated content analysis, or text mining). It will cover the basic assumptions behind quantitative text analysis, the pre-processing steps needed prior to the analysis, and various analytical techniques. If time allows, it will also cover ‘keyness analysis’, an useful technique to compare two corpora. The workshop is open to all interested participants. You need no prior knowledge of R (while it would be beneficial if participants had some experience with R, those without any prior experience will still be able to participate effectively).

Workshop 6: Can you just Digitise? Digitising the Collections

Working with Special Collections material can present a number of challenges to the University’s digitisation staff. In this session we invite participants to try to work out how they would approach digitising items from the collections.  Teams will be assigned a different type of object and asked to consider the issues and approaches that they might take if they were to digitise them. The session will also include a visit to the Library’s Digital Imaging Unit in the Centre for Research Collections.


The Digital Day of Ideas 2018 took place on 16 May at the University of Edinburgh Business School. In the morning, keynote lectures from Professor Susan Halford (Director of Web Science Institute, University of Southampton), and Dr Tod Van Gunten (Lecturer in Economic Sociology, University of Edinburgh), who explored the use of Big Data in Social Science, and its values and limitations.

After lunch there were opportunities to explore digital methods in eight practical workshops in text and sentiment analysis, interactive data exploration and analysis, relational databases, Wikipedia editing, working with Facebook data and digital manufacture.  The final session of the day was a Round Table discussion on the future of IT in the arts, humanities and social sciences.


9.00   Registration and coffee

9.30   Welcome & Introduction
             Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage, University of Edinburgh

9.50   Symphonic Social Science and the Future of Big Data Analytics
             Susan J Halford, Professor of Sociology & Director of Web Science Institute, University of Southampton

Recent years have seen ongoing battles between proponents of big data analytics, using new forms of digital data to make computational and statistical claims about the social world, and many social scientists who remain sceptical about the value of big data, its associated methods and claims to knowledge. This talk suggest that we must move beyond this, and offers some possible ways forward. The first part of the talk takes inspiration from a mode of argumentation identified as ‘symphonic social science’ which, it is suggested, offers a potential way forward. The second part of talk considers how we might put this into practice, with a particular emphasis on visualisation and the role that this could play in overcoming disciplinary hierarchies and enabling in-depth interdisciplinary collaboration.

10.50 Coffee break

11.10   The Economics Agora Online: Open Surveys and the Politics of Expertise
Tod van Gunten, Lecturer in Economic Sociology, University of Edinburgh

In recent years, research centres in both the United States and United Kingdom have conducted open online surveys of professional economists in order to inform the public about expert opinion.  Media attention to a US-based survey has centred on early research claiming to show a broad policy consensus among professional economists.  However, my own research shows that there is a clear alignment of political ideology in this survey.  My talk will discuss the value and limitations of these online surveys as tools for informing the public about expert opinion.

12.10 Lunch

1.00   Workshops: Parallel workshop sessions – please see descriptors below.

Text Analysis for the Tech Beginner
An Introduction to Digital Manufacture – Mike Boyd (uCreate Studio Manager, UoE)
‘I have the best words’: Twitter, Trump and Text Analysis – Dave Elsmore (EDINA)
An Introduction to Databases, with Maria DB & Navicat – Bridget Moynihan (LLC, UoE)
Introduction to Data Visualisation in Processing – Jules Rawlinson (Music, ECA, UoE)
Jupyter Notebooks and The University of Edinburgh Noteable service – Overview and Introduction – James Reid (EDINA)
Obtaining and working with Facebook Data – Simon Yuill (Goldsmiths)

3.00 Coffee break

3.30 Round Table Discussion

Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage
Kirsty Lingstadt, Head of Digital Library and Depute Director of Library and University Collections
Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence
Tim Squirell, PhD Student, Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

4.15 Reception

5.00 Close


Suzanne Black (LLC, UoE) – Computational methods of text analysis can allow researchers to survey a larger number of texts and spot patterns from a distance but often require a steep learning curve and bespoke software. In this workshop we will look at how to apply some corpus linguistics methods to literary texts using familiar softwares and free softwares that are easy to navigate. Using a digital literary text, each participant will work through counting the frequency of its words, determining which words are statistically significant and creating visualisations of the text. These methods can be used to augment analyses and intuitions gleaned from the close reading of texts. Bring your own laptop to take part in this beginner level workshop.

Mike Boyd (uCreate Studio Manager, UoE) – This session will provide a hands on introduction to various digital manufacture technologies that can be used within the University of Edinburgh’s makerspace: uCreate Studio. Over the session we’ll provide some information, advice and hands on experience with laser scanning, 3D printing, CNC milling, and virtual reality sculpting.

Dave Elsmore (EDINA) – This workshop will introduce some simple Python programming methods to create a dataset of Donald Trump’s tweets and perform some basic text analysis. Participants will learn how to extract the most common terms and word pairs, and perform a sentiment analysis of the tweet text. Using some freely available tools participants will discover how to produce effective visualizations of the results. These techniques will be useable beyond the immediate subject and will be applicable to a wider range of texts and data. Beginner level workshop.

Ewan McAndrew (Wikimedian in Residence, UoE) – Wikipedia is the 5th most visited website in the world and the largest reference work on the internet. Unlike other digital intermediaries, its open editing model is completely, ruthlessly transparent. Yet, while it is the website that anyone can edit not everyone does or knows how to. This practical session will help provide a more informed approach to navigating how to use, contribute to & evaluate the free & open encyclopedia. Wikidata, the database that anyone can edit, serves as the semantic backbone for structured data in Wikipedia and its sister projects. It represents a massive development step for online collaboration and is designed to share “the sum of all human knowledge”, including all domains of scholarly and scientific knowledge. It has already become a hub for cultural heritage and a major focus point for sharing scholarly, as well as technical information. Using Wikidata, information on Wikipedia can be queried & visualised as never before. Beyond this, SPARQL queries can analyse datasets from Wikidata, and through federated queries, analyse data from multiple other sources. This session will include a look at how data can be added to Wikidata and how it can be consumed, queried and visualised; whether it’s Voltaire’s works, the collections of the National Library of Wales, the Atlas of Hillforts project, an analysis of MPs’ occupations or the 3 million linked citations visualised using the new Scholia tool.

Bridget Moynihan (LLC, UoE) – Relational databases are used for managing, and structuring data so as to maximise analytical possibilities. This workshop will demonstrate how to use MariaDB, a free, open-source database server, and Navicat, a graphical user interface through which MariaDB can be administered. (Navicat is not open-source, but participants can make use of its free trial period in order to complete the workshop.)

Jules Rawlinson (Music, ECA, UoE)

James Reid (EDINA) – Jupyter Notebooks provide a language agnostic means to execute live code and intermingle this with rich annotations and multimedia content. They are ideal for interactive data exploration and analysis. This session will provide an overview of Notebooks and introduce attendees to the University’s supported Notebooks service. This is intended as an introductory overview and assumes no prior programming knowledge although some experience in either Python or R languages would be helpful. This workshop is beginner / intermediate level.


The Digital Day of Ideas 2017 was held at the University of Edinburgh on 17 May 2017. As well as keynotes from scholars at the forefront of the digital humanities, participants had the opportunity to try out some digital tools for themselves with hands-on workshops.

Keynote Speakers and Roundtable discussion:

Susan Brown

Prof Susan Brown

Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Digital Scholarship (University of Guelph/University of Alberta)
“This Identity Which is Not One: Intersectionality and Difference in a Linked Data World”Definitions of identity stress sameness, lack of change, essence, or oneness, but online identities are multiple and fractured, with personas, avatars, and online selves shaped by different contexts and platforms. Always already relational, they seem to reflect feminist theories of identity as constructed, performative, multiple, situated, and intersectional.

Yet within digital systems, social identities are susceptible to treatments that are at one end of the spectrum highly reductive in their affordances for self-representation and at the other so sophisticated that they exceed the knowledge and control of the human subject. This paper presents work towards digital representations that reflect the complexities of identities and the politics of their representation but that are also machine readable as semantic web or linked data. Despite the challenges, advancing nuanced representations of identities is both practically and politically crucial to how identities circulate in an increasingly mediated world.

Dr Jen Ross

Dr Jen Ross

Senior Lecturer in Digital Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education (University of Edinburgh)
“Learning with Digital Provocations”One of the most significant tensions in the convergence of technology and education is how the promise/threat of ‘disruption’ comes up against theories, practices and structures of formal and informal education. Disruption in educational technology contexts has come to be aligned with neo-liberal discourses of efficiency, enhancement, personalisation, scale and automation; and we can be forgiven for cynicism about its critical and creative potential in education.

This talk aims to reanimate the debate by reframing disruption in terms of inventiveness, provocation, uncertainty and the concept of ‘not-yetness’. Focusing on the recent AHRC-funded Artcasting project, and with other examples drawn from the work of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, it argues that inventive digital approaches can help us develop critical responses to assumptions about the role of the digital in contexts including higher education, museums and galleries.


Mike Boyd, uCreate Studio – This session will provide a hands on introduction to various digital manufacture technologies that can be used within the University of Edinburgh’s new makerspace: uCreate Studio. Over the session we’ll provide some information, advice and hands on experience with laser scanning, 3D printing, CNC milling, and virtual reality sculpting.

Bridget Moynihan, English Literature – Relational databases are used for managing, and structuring, data so as to maximise analytical possibilities. This workshop will demonstrate how to use MariaDB, a free, open-source database server, and Navicat, a graphical user interface through which MariaDB can be administered. (Navicat is not open-source, but participants can make use of its free trial period in order to complete the workshop.)

Xavier Rubio-Campillo, Archaeology – Coding is a valuable tool for problem solving as well as an excellent medium to explore your creativity. This workshop will take a hands-on approach where participants will learn the basics of programming in Python through a diversity of practical examples. No previous experience of coding is necessary.

Simon Yuill – The workshop will provide an introduction to the different kinds of data available on Facebook and how to access them. Participants will gain an understanding of how to define and approach researching the Facebook platform through a comparison of three approaches: using Facebook’s own developer tools, using an off-the-shelf research tool, and using a developer library to program your own.

Ben Soares, EDINA – Using computers often means interacting with a series of graphical user interfaces or GUIs, which offer familiar layouts (such as desktops, pages, and spreadsheets) and allow us to navigate intuitively through clicking on familiar icons, choosing from menus and so on. However, for some tasks there are advantages to bypassing GUIs and using the command line to interact directly with your files and directories and run programmes: it’s generally faster, you can do more finely tuned tasks, and it enables you to work more efficiently with large numbers of files and big files. This workshop is an introduction to the command line for those with no prior experience. It will introduce you to the bash shell, and teach you how to navigate your directories, create new directories and files, rename and move large files and large numbers of files in one go, view and understand permissions, and run programmes.

Lisa Otty, EDINA – Have you got a data set but want inspiration on how you might use it? Do you have an idea and want advice about where to get suitable data? Do you want advice on using computational methods to answer specific questions? Do you need advice on how to overcome a particular hurdle in your digital scholarship? Have you got a particular digital research conundrum that you’d like to talk through? This session focuses on helping you with your research and ideas, offering personalised consultations with data experts and research technologists who can help you identify the next steps towards your digital project.

Karen Gregory, Sociology, and Stuart Nicol, Information Services – This workshop is aimed at PhD students who want to build or improve their digital scholarly presence. Each attendee will be shown how to build a website using WordPress and given a voucher to redeem with the domain hosting service Domain of One’s Own. Participants will need to bring their own laptops.

Burkhard Shafer, Law – Law and legal texts can be an important source of information across the humanities. Projects such as Old Bailey Online offer a fascinating glimpse into everyday life over three centuries. At the same time, law also puts constraints on what researchers in digital humanities can and must not do with their material – copyright and data protection law may prevent researchers from combining different sources, or analyse them for correlations. There is however a third way in which law and (digital) humanities can interact – by making law more accessible using methods from arts, design or psychological research. In the workshop, we will explore all three aspects together: copyright and IP law as constraints on digital humanities research, as objects of research, and as a way forward for novel collaborative projects, using “smart”, blockchain based copyright licences as an example.

Martin Parker, Music – Sound’s a tricky substance. It’s very difficult to describe in words, hard to objectively describe with analytical tools and it takes time to absorb its full message. Sound might be received on a phone’s loudspeakers, on a television, on headphones or in an audiophile listening room – all of this equipment has a liability to affect our reading of the sound. If you’re a researcher hoping to use sound effectively in your work, this workshop may help, explain and address some of these issues. For sound to be a fully active agent of research and part of creative dialogue, does it make sense to respond to sound with more words? Can we respond to sound with sound? The second part of this workshop will engage us in sound-making, introducing an easy-to-learn sound programming language called Pure Data.

Gil Viry, Sociology, and Mark Wong, STIS – In this workshop, you will be briefly introduced to the fundamental principles and some theoretical underpinnings of the network perspective. We will discuss the different types of network data you can collect, such as questionnaire-based data, archives, digital data and social media. Finally we will present different ways of visualising networks using real-world data.

James Stewart and Eugénia Rodrigues, STIS and Jon Carr and Jasmeen Kanwal, PPLSThe last decade has brought millions of people online, and scholars have explored and developed ways to engage ‘crowds’ to assist in research, from data collection in the wild, to participating in psychological experiments, to coding and analysing large data sets. In this workshop you will have a change to learn about some the practical, methodological and ethical issues and tools available to recruit a ‘crowd’ to support your research, or to use a paid service such Mechanical Turk. The workshop will be led by members of the University Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Evidence network.