Marciano on Socializing ‘Big Data’

DIL Co-Director Richard Marciano gave a talk at Duke on January 15: “Socializing ‘Big Data’: Collaborative Opportunities in Computer Science, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities.”

Harnessing the “data deluge” is promoting new conversations between disciplines.  Prof. Marciano and his collaborators have been pursuing research in a number of areas including: big cultural data, access to big heterogeneous data, records in the cloud, federated grid/cloud storage, visual interfaces to large collections, policy-based frameworks to automate content management, and distributed cyberinfrastructure to enable data sharing.  But more importantly, innovative technical approaches require the convergence of creative insights across computer science, the social sciences, and the humanities.  This talk touched on these topics and highlighted a new collaboration with partners at Duke.

The talk was co-sponsored by the Franklin Humanities Institute and Social Science Research Institute.

Slave Narrative Name Project Featured at CurateGear 2013

Chien-Yi Hou, the technical lead for the Slave Narrative Name/Place Database Project, presented his work at CurateGear 2013: Enabling the Curation of Digital Collections. Other presenters at the same session included Trevor Owens of the Library of Congress and designer of Viewshare, and Doug Reside a Digital Archivist at the New York Public Library.

Check out his slides here.

Meet the Newest Member of the diPH Team

The Digital Innovation Lab welcomes the newest member of our team: Jade Davis. Jade is a PhD student in the department of Communication Studies, with a Media Studies and Performance focus. Her research interests explore how diasporic people use digital technology, asking the question, “what does it mean to be Black online?” Jade was a HASTAC Scholar and Student Representative to the Steering Committee, has been involved in the Mozilla Labs Design Jam, and helped organize last fall’s THATCamp RTP. She comes from a web design and production background.

Jade will join the diPH technical team, assisting us with documentation and training materials for diPH Beta 1.0. She will also work on theme design this spring.


diPH Beta is Nearly Ready

We have been hard at work getting diPH beta 1.0 ready for release in early 2013. Our tech team has been finishing up the administrative backend to ensure that project creation is as intuitive as possible. Meanwhile, our pilot project, Mapping the Long Women’s Movement, is close to completion. We’ve prepared nearly all of the data, and are beginning to play with it in our development space to improve the visualizations and interactions.

Beta 1.0

In advance of the first beta release, here’s an overview of where we expect the beta version of the plugin will be by the end of January.

–Project Layer

As I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, any material you upload into diPH will be organized and bundled into projects. Essentially, admin users will set up new projects, where they’ll define their project settings: the type of visualizations (primary and secondary), the custom fields they’ll use, the taxonomy for structuring those fields, and the categories which will drive the visualizations. Associating new content with a particular project—whether via bulk data ingest from a csv file or manually adding a single data point—will apply the project settings to the data, resulting in the proper structure and display of the data. Finally, you’ll be able to create and customize a project-level visualization legend—what fields will users be able to search and filter on?

Map Layer

The map layer should be ready by the end of January. This feature allows you to select a base map(s) for your spatial visualization (e.g. Google Satellite imagery, or Bing maps). From there, you can layer other maps over the base map. We’ll have a map library containing some historic maps (made available through the Carolina Digital Library and Archives Map API). Eventually, you’ll be able to add new maps to the Map Library: if the map was processed in a format compatible with OpenLayers, all you’ll need is the map’s URL to render it as a map layer in diPH. Map layers will be interactive, allowing end users to turn maps on/off and change the level of transparency.

Data Points

As I’ve noted in an earlier post, the visualization(s) an admin selects for a project will dictate how the data point will display on the front end. A map visualization, for instance, will result in a marker (or a polygon, a feature that will likely not be included in Beta 1.0 but should be available by the end of the Spring 2013 academic semester). A timeline visualization would produce events. The visualization can be rendered on the fly depending on what a site visitor chooses as the active visualization. We’ve also been developing an Icon Library to support icon customization. And we’re currently working on ways to display large numbers of data points at different zoom levels via on-the-fly customization. We’re not sure if that feature will be ready by the end of January.

Because diPH is built over WordPress, each data point will be a stand-alone post. Once you associate the point (currently called a “marker”) with a project, all of the pre-defined fields you’ve already established will show up on your “Add New Post” page. You’ll have the option to add new fields for any given data point, though you’ll want to be careful that your data is as standardized across the project as possible. Of course, you’ll be able to include the usual post content—free text, images, videos, and other multimedia.

Data Management/Interoperability

We’ll be creating documentation and training materials for managing bulk data in diPH—how to format data, import it, delete it, and bulk update it. For now, we strongly recommend users create their data outside of diPH and then import it in. We intend to provide a few csv templates for diPH users, but this won’t be ready for beta 1.0. Data will be exportable out of diPH via JSON feeds, as well as the normal WordPress export functions.

Another thing that won’t quite be ready, but that we’re keen to build into the tool, is a data formatting tool. To make your data as interoperable as possible, diPH will eventually be able to transform your data into an open standard, such as GeoNames and Well-known Text (WKT). Rather than require admin users to know how to format their data, diPH will be able to read and convert data. This should apply to locations and dates for starters.

Other Visualizations

At the time of the initial beta release, we expect to have at least two types of visualizations: maps and timelines. We probably won’t be able to offer anything but marker point visualizations, but eventually we will incorporate polygon and line data on the map. Using the open source TimeLine JS program, we’ve begun playing around with timeline displays. Eventually, we hope to combine the two visualizations so that we can render space and time together.

We are also currently testing the capability of rendering more than one interactive map in a single project interface. This will facilitate side-by-side comparison of different locations. We hope to be able to support up to four unique maps in a single interface, assuming load time isn’t too adversely impacted.

Audio/Transcript Tool

See this previous post about our A/T tool to learn more about our work on this piece of diPH, which will be part of the 1.0 beta release. Transcript editing and data point creation will not be part of the initial plugin release.

End User Interface

In addition to user interactions with the visualizations, as well as search and browse capability, diPH beta should feature a help mode and hover display of additional information. For admin users who activate these features, they will be able to provide in-line instructions and explanations to their site visitors.

User-Generated Content

While WordPress allows unregistered users to post comments, diPH beta 1.0 will not allow any other user-generated content. We plan to let users tag and create their own data in a future release, but we will need to think through user account management (possibly relying on existing social media account management, thereby allowing people to log onto a project via Facebook or Twitter).

Administrative Interface

diPH beta will feature what we hope will be an intuitive administrative back end/dashboard for easy project and data creation.

Site Structure and Organization

Since WordPress allows a high amount of customization with respect to website structure, we expect diPH will allow that as well. We’re hoping to include some sort of breadcrumbs and wayfinding, including a way to either undo or reset visualizations. Another possible implementation would be to show to the site visitor his/her selection/click history.

OS Capability

diPH is currently compatible with iPads but not smartphones. We’d like to address this next semester if possible. We’ll also start testing diPH in different operating systems. While Internet Explorer is a particularly problematic browser for loading large amounts of data, we need to make sure diPH will work in IE, as we expect a great many of our public users rely on this browser.

Install and User Documentation

Finally, as we finalize diPH beta’s look and feel, we’ll begin creating modular training documentation and videos (expect this material to start coming online in February). This will help admin users create projects, format data, and customize the look of their projects. We’re also hoping to support multi-site instances, so that every time we update the diPH beta code, it will cascade down to all diPH sites (whether we’ll be able to deliver this by 1.0 release is still uncertain).

We don’t expect to release the plugin to the WordPress plugin directory until we’ve gone through several more development cycles. For now, we’ll make the code available on GitHub, and we’ll include a zip file along with install instructions on Depending on demand, the DIL may be able to provide some support for individual installations.

A New Year

Look for our first beta pilot project to come online sometime in January. And, we’ll begin four new beta projects early next year as part of Robert Allen’s AMST 840 graduate seminar. Stay tuned!

UNC Graduate Student Wins Impact Award for Greensboro Digital History Project

The Digital Innovation Lab heartily congratulates Journalism PhD Candidate Lorraine Ahearn. Lorraine is one of this year’s recipients of the Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Award for her work on “Windows to the Past: People, Places & Memory in Downtown Greensboro.”

The award competition, organized by UNC’s Graduate School, recognizes outstanding graduate student research of particular benefit to North Carolina.

Homepage of “Windows to the Past” digital history project.

Lorraine’s project was developed in the Digital Innovation Lab’s AMST 890: “Digital Humanities/Digital History: Recovering and Representing the Past” (Fall 2011) in collaboration with the Public History graduate program at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro under the direction of Benjamin Filene. Lorraine, along with SILS Masters student Kami LaBerge, teamed up with six graduate students at UNC-G to develop a virtual walking tour of downtown Greensboro.

The site was built with our “Main Street, Carolina” software, developed in collaboration with the Carolina Digital Library and Archives (the DIL is currently working on a new WordPress-based tool, inspired by MSC, called diPH: Digital Public Humanities Toolkit).

The digital project includes an interactive historical map, overlaid onto contemporary Google satellite imagery, with informational markers pinned to the map.

The virtual tour was part of a three-tier project to document downtown Greensboro storefronts consisting of 1) a six-month exhibit of storefront displays in sixteen buildings on Elm Street, 2) a self-guided walking tour, and 3) a virtual walking tour. The MSC site maps thirty-six historic buildings, tracing their changing uses over the years to uncover untold stories of the city’s past. Drawing on oral histories, public records, and photographs, the site represents change over time, the power of personal memory, and the links between lived experience and the built environment. As Lorraine explains, “the site enabled users, like Bennie P. Harden, Jr. to contribute to the story of the downtown. Harden, for example, recalled a performance by little-known singer, Elvis Presley, in the mid-1950s at the theater Harden’s father managed downtown.”

Lorraine and Kami worked largely virtually with the UNC-G students, providing technical guidance and consultation while helping conceptualize, organize, and create the site. Lorraine and Kami also developed a mobile version of the site that can be accessed via QR codes included on each storefront display.

Greensboro residents at the December 2011 opening reception. The storefront panels included QR codes linking to a mobile site.

The site premiered on December 2, 2011 at Greensboro’s First Friday event. At its first unveiling, “Windows to the Past,” was shown and demonstrated to hundreds of visitors who came through the opening reception. Outside the Elm Street Center in the crowded streets, closed to traffic, potentially many more pedestrians got their first look at the storefront panels. The main website received nearly 1,000 visitors in its first year, significantly higher than other MSC project sites, but this did not include the traffic to the mobile sites from the QR application.

“Windows to the Past” was made possible in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

As Lorraine reflects, “As exciting as the public unveiling of the website was at Greensboro’s Festival of Lights in December 2011, with storefront “Windows” panels bearing QR tags potentially seen by thousands of downtown visitors, what is still more promising is the idea that the site persists after the physical exhibit has gone.” She added, “It was a stroke of serendipity to be a small part of the interdisciplinary team which launched this website on downtown Greensboro public memory, completed in the span of a semester.”

Craft and Joseph-Nicholas named first DIL/IAH Faculty Fellows

The Digital Innovation Lab and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities are pleased to announce the first recipients of the new DIL/IAH Faculty Fellowship in Digital Humanities: Renee Alexander Craft, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, and Tessa Joseph-Nicholas, Lecturer and Director of Digital Arts and Humanities Projects in the Department of Computer Science.

Part of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, the fellowships allow outstanding faculty at all ranks to explore the possibilities of digital humanities for extending their research, teaching, and engagement with humanities audiences beyond the university. These new fellowships will encourage research at the intersection of traditional and engaged scholarship, the effective use of digital technologies in research and teaching, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Craft and Joseph-Nicholas will work with the DIL to complete and launch a digital humanities project by December 2013. They will be able to access Lab resources, and will each receive a modest digital project fund.


Renee Alexander Craft: Portobelo Digital Oral History Project

“I am ecstatic to work closely with the DIL and IAH as my team and I prepare to launch a beta version of the Portobelo Digital Oral History Project.”

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Curriculum in Global Studies, Renee holds a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. She earned a MA in Communication Studies and a BA in English, both from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Her research analyzes dialectical constructions of “blackness” and performances of black cultural nationalisms in the Americas. Her work is centered on an Afro-Latin community located in the small coastal town of Portobelo, Panama who call themselves and their performance tradition “Congo.” Enacted through embodied storytelling, costumed dancing, singing, and drumming, the tradition honors the history of the cimarrones, runaway enslaved Africans who fought for and won their freedom during the Spanish colonial period. The main drama of the tradition takes place during carnival season, which peaks on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the beginning of Lent. She is currently completing two manuscript projects. The first is an ethnographic monograph entitled When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama. The second, My Father is a Country, is a novel based in part on her field research. Both projects engage the Congo tradition through fluctuating discourses of race, culture, and nationalism in Panama’s first century as a republic. Renee was recently on WUNC’s The State of Things; you can listen to the interview here.

Renee’s team includes Andrew Synowiez (technical lead); Rachel Cotterman (K-12 curriculum design); and Lindsay Foster Thomas of WUNC (design and creation of a Portebelo studio).

Her project, The Portobelo Digital Oral History Project, is a cultural preservation and collaborative research initiative focused on Portobelo’s Congo tradition. It responds to a call from the community for greater cultural preservation, and addresses a need from researchers to have a better platform to share and expand upon existing research. As a collaborative interdisciplinary digital humanities initiative, it seeks to make the process and products of research more available and accessible beyond the academy—especially to the communities represented by and invested in them.

The larger goals of Renee’s project will extend beyond establishing a digital space for researchers to return the stories and interviews they have collected to the population most intimately connected with them. This project will foster a collaborative digital environment in which community members and researchers may share information, correct absences and errors, and create on-going dialogues related to Congo traditions and culture. Ultimately, this project, which will likely be built with diPH, will serve as a mechanism for local community members to archive and share their cultural practices and memories.

“The opportunity to learn about and test appropriate digital tools for this project in a reflexive, interdisciplinary community, especially at this early stage, is a gift,” Renee says. “I look forward to the incubator moment that the fellowship provides to blend my current performance-centered research and pedagogy with tools and methods in the digital humanities to see what possibilities develop. It is empowering to step into this new arena with such solid support.”


Tessa Joseph-Nicholas: IVI (Inquire, Visualize, Interact): Collaborative Course Development for the Humanities

Tessa is a Lecturer and Director of Digital Arts and Humanities Projects in UNC’s Department of Computer Science. Tessa holds a MA and PhD in English and Comparative Literature from UNC, and a MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. She did her undergraduate work in English Literature and Creative Writing at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY.

“It is an honor to be among the first generation of DIL/IAH fellows, and I look forward to a productive year.”

Tessa’s past research has focused on digital literature, e-poetries, and the function of online communities and forums in the development and promotion of movements in avant-garde or experimental poetry and poetics. Currently, she is conducting research into best practices in digital humanities instruction and instructional technologies. She is interested in the development of the digital humanities community and in working through the relationship between many DH scholars’ inquiries into human beings in the digital age and the digital tools and methods they use to conduct and present their research. She is currently developing curricula that use creative, accessible, free digital tools like App Inventor and Unity 3D to teach programming concepts to humanities students.

As Tessa explains, “The DIL/IAH fellowship will allow me to synthesize my investigations into instructional technology, digital literacies and pedagogies, and the way online communities are formed and sustained into an application that I hope will both offer a useful, practical service and help clarify the potential of text mining and visualization in learning and scholarship in the humanities.” Tessa recently presented in the “Caucus: Digital Humanities: Digital Shorts: New Platforms of Knowledge Production and Resistance” at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The IVI (Inquire, Visualize, Interact) project will design and develop a suite of simple digital humanities-inspired tools that utilize text mining, data visualizations, and social tools to enhance the functionality of existing course and content management systems (CMSs). Two linked tools will comprise IVI’s initial design: a graphical, unit-based course creation and scheduling tool that enables student and instructor inputs and a data mining and visualization tool that draws on the Syllabus Finder database, the Internet Archive, and the Common Crawl tool and corpus to produce within-system and broad visualizations of syllabus and course content data and connections between courses and syllabi on the system. IVI will be designed for initial implementation in Sakai, with an eye to wider CMS and standalone adoption.

Tessa’s project seeks to transform static, hierarchical learning management systems into innovative and interactive spaces of exploration. Course development on IVI will emerge flexibly: instructors will design sequenced units—arranged chronologically, thematically, or based on other criteria—while students will be empowered to comment on, contribute to, and investigate their instructors’ suggestions. The application will provide links to syllabi of interest from the corpus; these links can be saved in the users’ profiles and made public. On-demand data visualizations can be used to analyze within-system and general patterns of usage, language, and interest in syllabus and course content; to reveal unexpected connections between courses; and to suggest related topics and readings.

“Digital humanities projects are exciting because, among other things, they invite humanities scholars to take part in the collaborative, synthetic, project-based methodologies that are common to many of the sciences and in software development,” Tessa recently reflected. “Such collaborations have the potential to influence, even transform, the way research in the humanities is conducted, presented, and valued.”


Next Steps

These projects represent two important approaches in the Digital Humanities. Renee’s project is a cultural preservation and access project which seeks to connect researchers and community through digital technologies. With a strong public engagement component, this project provides the community with the training and tools for recording and preserving their own oral history/tradition. Tessa’s project, in contrast, seeks to build a tool for harnessing big data for pedagogic purposes. Hers is a highly computational project aimed at facilitating connection-making and analysis across very large data sets. Together, these two projects encapsulate the DIL’s and CDHI’s broader goals of creating digital humanities as public goods, as well as finding ways of processing and using big humanities data.

Work will begin in the spring semester, as the Fellows coordinate with the DIL to lay the groundwork for their projects, including finalizing the scope and scale; determining a project budget; and acquiring the requisite skills, training, and staff to complete each project. The fellows will be relieved of all teaching duties in the Fall 2013 semester in order to complete their projects. At the same time, they will serve as IAH Fellows, participating in an interdisciplinary intellectual community with the other IAH Faculty Fellows.

Renee and Tessa will blog about their experiences as the inaugural DIL/IAH Faculty Fellows. Stay tuned to learn how you can follow their progress!

Postdoctoral Position in Digital History

The History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill invites applications for a two-year postdoctoral position in digital historical research and teaching, beginning July 1, 2013. Applicants should have received the PhD in History or a related discipline within the last five years, but the position is not limited to a specific chronological era or field of research.  This position is part of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, which is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


We seek a scholar who applies digital technologies to research, graduate and undergraduate teaching, and engaged scholarship.  Such technologies might include the use of large data sources, database creation and management, data visualization, digital mapping, text mining and mark-up, and other related activities.  Duties for the position will include the teaching of one graduate and one undergraduate course per year, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the sharing of scholarship with non-academic audiences.  The person in this position will also contribute to ongoing projects in the Digital Innovation Lab.


To apply, please write to and submit a cover letter, CV, and writing sample from a research project.  Applicants must also provide a 2000 word statement about the project that would be pursued during the term of the postdoctorate, noting the role of this project in future career plans and how the work might be completed over a two year period; and it should include links to an example of the applicant’s previous work with digital technologies.  Please include the names and contact information for four recommenders.


Inquiries may be directed to Professor Richard Talbert, Chair, Digital Humanities Search Committee, at    Review of applications will begin on December 14, 2012 and continue until the position is filled.  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is an EOE.

Job Opportunity with the DIL

Update (12/3/12): We are no longer accepting applications for this position. You may still send a cover letter and resume to Pam Lach to be kept on file should a position open up in the future.


The Digital Innovation Lab (DIL) at UNC-Chapel Hill seeks a graduate student (masters or PhD level) to join our team beginning January 2013. This individual will work 10-15 hours a week in the spring semester, and will be expected to continue in the position over the summer (additional summer hours may be possible). He/she will contribute to digital humanities projects, including the testing, extension, and documentation of a new beta digital humanities toolkit, diPH (pronounced “diff”). This position will likely involve some project management, particularly coordinating the work of our four undergraduate student workers.


The candidate should have experience with, or be able to quickly learn, some or all of the following: PHP, Ajax, JavaScript, JSON, and HTML5. Experience with databases and content management systems, particularly WordPress, preferred (the ability to create WordPress themes is especially welcome). Knowledge of Python a plus. The ideal candidate should be a detail-oriented individual who can work independently and as a member of a diverse team.


Launched in July 2011, the DIL is a project-focused hub for collaborative, interdisciplinary discovery, experimentation, implementation, and assessment in the use of digital technologies to advance the work of the University in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The DIL’s work seeks to lower the barriers of access (time, money, and technological) for humanists and cultural heritage organizations to create digital humanities projects. The DIL contributes heavily to the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative (CDHI), funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Please send cover letter and resume/CV to Dr. Pam Lach, Lab Manager. Inquiries should be directed via email to Dr. Lach.

Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in American Studies to be Hired

UNC’s Department of American Studies will be hiring an Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities for the coming academic year (expected start date: 1 July 2013). The first of three anticipated DH hires at Carolina over the next several years, this individual will be a part of, and contribute to, the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative (CDHI).

Among other things, this individual will contribute to the new Ph.D. program in American Studies, graduate program in Folklore, and to a broader graduate curriculum in digital humanities, training students both for traditional academic jobs as well as a variety of new professions in the public sphere; develop innovative graduate and undergraduate courses exploring the methodological and intellectual diversity of the field;  further the work of the department through effective engagement with cultural organizations and non-academic audiences, particularly around issues affecting the state and region;  and participate in interdisciplinary research collaborations. The position carries a $50,000 start-up fund with the expectation that the candidate arrive on campus prepared to pursue a robust and innovative digital research agenda.

The full job posting, as well as the online application, may be accessed here.


About the CDHI

Catalyzed by a $1.39 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CDHI represents a major university-wide commitment to the digital humanities, underwritten by the Office of the Provost, College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Information Technology Services, and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. Its goal over the next five years is the development and testing of an adaptable and sustainable model of transformative academic practice that embraces faculty research, graduate and post-doctoral training, undergraduate learning, and engaged scholarship in the humanities.  The CDHI will also bring the humanities into the “big data” conversation going on across our own campus as well as among other leading research universities, federal agencies, and foundations.  It is essential that humanities questions and concerns—about knowledge, meaning, value, and representation—be reflected in rapidly unfolding efforts to organize research, graduate training, and general education in relation to the data and information landscape of the 21st century.

This new faculty position is part of a targeted hiring of 3 new tenure-track digital humanities faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to hire the brightest and most promising young scholar-teachers in their fields who are pushing the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and who appreciate the transformative potential of digital technologies for their own research and teaching agendas. These new hires will also appreciate the role digital technologies can play in expanding the audience for humanities scholarship and in engaging a wider public. Each position will carry significant start-up funding.

T-RACES featured in Vectors Journal

DIL Co-Director Richard Marciano’s T-RACES project on Redlining was featured in the recent Vectors Journal (Summer 2012  •  Volume 3, Issue 2) as part of its Memory Issue.

Screenshot from T-RACES

In her editorial introduction, USC’s Tara McPherson writes:“This is an archive with a point of view, moving beyond the ‘neutral’ presentation of data toward an interpretative modality. At a time when many are expressing concern about the need for new directions for the humanities, T-RACES offers up a compelling model for new collaborations between humanities scholars, archivists, and technologists.”

Read the article.

The DIL is working with the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond to build a national digital redlining collection. Read more about our efforts T-RACES.