Alfalab at the Computational Turn

March 11th, 2010 by Smiljana Antonijevic

The Computational Turn workshop, held at Swansea University on March 9, 2010, featured keynote addresses by Katherine Hayles and Lev Manovich, and presented a set of contemporary projects and ideas in the field of digital humanities. Through stimulating presentations and discussions, the workshop participants have jointly shed light on methodological, epistemological and other questions relevant in the modern-day digital humanities endeavor.

An underlying workshop theme—what patterns may be yielded through computational analyses and how do they relate to meaning sought in the humanities—gave rise to important questions and various stances regarding the ‘computational turn’ in contemporary scholarship. For instance, in an interesting cross-fertilization of expertise, humanities scholars have highlighted the rewards of ‘distant reading’ in literary, legal and other texts, while computer scientists have brought to light the significance of ‘close reading’ related to code and software. Similarly, the well-known motif ‘what can computation do for humanities’ has constructively been rephrased into less commonly asked yet ever increasingly important question ‘what can humanities do for computing’, and in reflexive deliberation on ‘what can computation do to humanities’.

A broad spectrum of contributions from the social sciences, humanities and computer science presented at the workshop confirmed that ‘the computational turn’ largely exceeds insular focusing on computation and, instead, requires a comprehensive understanding of epistemological, methodological and socio-cultural implications arising from such a turn.

At this workshop, the Alfalab members, Joris van Zundert and Smiljana Antonijevic, presented a collaborative piece ‘Cultures of Formalization’ written by Joris van Zundert, Smiljana Antonijevic, Anne Beaulie, Karina van Dalen-Oskam, Douwe Zeldenrust and Tara Andrews.

“Building the Humanities Lab”: Alfalab at DH 2010

February 24th, 2010 by Joris Van Zundert

Alfalab’s submission to the Digital Humanities 2010 conference, which will be held at King’s College London, has been accepted with highest scores.

“Building the Humanities Lab: Scholarly Practices in Virtual Research Environments”, written by Charles van den Heuvel, Smiljana Antonijevic and Joris van Zundert, received 98, 94 and 89 points (out of 100) from three peer-reviewers, based on evaluation of content, significance, originality, relevance and presentation. Such a score made our submission selected in a competition that the organizational committee described very high, given that only one third of all the submissions were accepted.

Considering academic rank and significance of Digital Humanities annual conferences and the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London, the Alfalab team should be very content about this achievement.

Cultural Heritage Online Conference Proceedings Available

February 23rd, 2010 by Smiljana Antonijevic

The official Conference Proceedings of an international conference Cultural Heritage Online – Empowering Users: An Active Role of User Communities are now available online, at

The conference was jointly organized by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage, the US Library of Congress, and the Foundation Rinascimento Digitale, and it brought together renowned scholars in the field of digital humanties, such as Dan Cohen,  Laura Campbell, Daniel Teruggi, John Unsworth, and many others.

At the conference, Alfalab team member, Smiljana Antonijevic, presented her work on trust in online interaction, now also available in the Conference Proceedings.

Towards infrastructure

February 18th, 2010 by Dirk Roorda

Here are two (new) considerations, one from above, one from below.

Above: the Computational Humanities Programme (to be) is interested to expose parts of the existing collections of the KNAW institutes to computations that might reveal higher level patterns. This kind of research tries to aid human interpretation of materials by spotting patterns, starting by very local, low-level patterns, and climbing up to ever more semantical patterns.

Below: the BIGgrid is actively stimulating humanities people to express use cases and whishes for using the GRID. Also DANS is actively pondering how we can get hooked on the power of the GRID.

AlfaLab seems to be in the middle, where both ends may come together.


By including an abstraction layer where the following concepts operate with each other:

* physical data files

* user identities

* workflows

If every AlfaLab application will use this layer, and does not create its own data logic, we make miles in creating a KNAW collection infrastructure with added value.

Rich Internet Applications

February 18th, 2010 by Joris Van Zundert

Today we are listening to Leen Breure who’s presenting his ideas on Rich Internet Applications (RIA). A quick and dirty description might be that RIAs represent the academic multi media and multi modal publication of research data and results. Put in buzz words a RIA is a Web 2.0 ready publication of research, instead of the same old text and picture journals we know. The reason for creating RIAs could be to enhance insight in the research and data by giving the reader? user? viewer? (Interestingly it’s hard to simply denote what a person engaging a RIA should be called.) RIAs offer a richer interface to the research.  At the same time in the process of creating concrete visualizations of the research results, the researcher tends to generate new research questions. A RIA is not the primary research tool, but it’s an interesting way of offering others the possibility of explore the research results. Some examples: The Genographic Project, Theban Mapping Project.

Aspects of the RIA do seem to resemble what is being showcases in publications of the Vectors Journal.

(Leen Breure’s slides are attached here)

The Computational Turn

February 18th, 2010 by Joris Van Zundert

As a combined effort of six authors related to Alfalab (Joris van Zundert, Smiljana Antonijevic, Anne Beaulieu, Karina van Dalen-Oskam, Douwe Zeldenrust and Tara L. Andrews) a paper submission was made to the workshop titled “The Computational Turn”, a one day workshop to be held on March 9, 2010. Today we got message that the paper was accepted for presentation. Smiljana Antonijevic and Joris van Zundert will present the paper at what hopefuly will be an interesting workshop.

HSN/IISH participates in Alfalab

January 11th, 2010 by Joris Van Zundert

The Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences has decided to grant Alfalab additional funds to add another demonstrator to its set of virtual research environments. This additional funding will allow brand new partner IISH to realize a third ‘lab’, the so-called Lifelab, next to currently foreseen Textlab and GISlab. At  the present stage of Alfalab Lifelab will concentrate on building a portal for historical population counts and the exploration of the ways of integrating data by way of ‘proof of concept applications’. The building of a well defined, open and easy access to the data of the Historical Sample of the Netherlands will be the first pilot. This will be realized by way of implementing Intermediate Data Structure which is a common platform and the first integration model for historical data on micro-, meso- and macrolevel.

Lifelab will be financed by the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the International Institute for Social History (IISH) and the Data Archiving and Networking Services (DANS) and amounts to a total of  € 164,300. The project will be realized during 2010-2011.

We seek solutions…

December 10th, 2009 by Joris Van Zundert

Listening to a paper at the IEEE 2009 conference in Oxford by Jeff Dozier on ‘the End of Stationarity’ (although more likely you want to check out his contribution to The Fourth Paradigm), the speaker passed a memorable quote on us. It’s a quote from Energy Secretary Designate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who has been an outspoken advocate of strong action on climate change:

We seek solutions… We don’t seek – dare I say this – just scientific papers any more.

As Alfalab is striving for its own small sort of climate change, I couldn’t fail to notice how aptly Chu’s comment describes some of the things we’re trying to advocate.

Alfalab in Oxford

December 9th, 2009 by Joris Van Zundert

At this week’s fifth IEEE e-Science conference, held in Oxford, UK from Dec 9-11, Alfalab and its members  are presenting a paper in the Art, Humanities and e-Social Science theme. This paper is entitled Alfalab, Construction and Deconstruction of a Digital Humanities Experiment, by Joris van Zundert (Huygens Institute), Douwe Zeldenrust (Meertens Institute) and Anne Beaulieu (VKS).

The paper will  be published in the proceedings, and here is the abstract:

This paper presents project ‘Alfalab’. Alfalab is a collaborative frame work project of the Royal
Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). It explores the success and fail factors for virtual
research collaboration and supporting digital infrastructure in the Humanities. It does so by
delivering a virtual research environment engineered through a virtual R&D collaborative and by drawing in use cases and feedback from Humanities researchers from two research fields: textual
historical text research and historical GIS-application. The motivation for the project is found in a number of commonly stated factors that seem to be inhibiting general application of virtualized research
infrastructure in the Humanities. The paper outlines the project’s motivation, key characteristics and
implementation. One of the pilot applications is described in greater detail.

Digging into Data Challenge Winners

December 4th, 2009 by Smiljana Antonijevic

An international grant competition Digging into Data Challenge, sponsored by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), has announced the 2009 Awardees. The following eight projects have been selected as the new grant winners:

Structural Analysis of Large Amounts of Music Information

Digging into the Enlightenment: Mapping the Republic of Letters

Using Zotero and TAPoR on the Old Bailey Proceedings: Data Mining with Criminal Intent

Towards Dynamic Variorum Editions

Digging into Image Data to Answer Authorship Related Questions

Harvesting Speech Datasets for Linguistic Research on the Web

Railroads and the Making of Modern America—Tools for Spatio-Temporal Correlation, Analysis, and Visualization

Mining a Year of Speech

For more information see