On Making, Use and Reuse in Digital Humanities

Something very exciting happened last week over at Transcribe Bentham, the crowdsourcing transcription project at UCL that I am part of. Buried within the weekly blog post giving an update on the transcription process was an announcement. It was easy to overlook it – given the stats that are now rolling out from TB:

3,057 manuscripts have now been worked on, up 82 on last week’s total; this is the biggest seven-day increase since the week ending 4 January 2011. The 3,000-transcript mark has now been comfortably broken, and congratulations to volunteer Diane Folan for transcribing her 1,000th manuscript, and volunteer JFoxe for having transcribed her 500th manuscript in little over six months. Volunteer Lea Stern isn’t far off the 500-transcript mark either.

In total, we’re now over 1,500,000 words of transcription done by volunteer labour over the last 18 months or so. Them’s a lot of transcription, and we’re really delighted with the pace that is picking up. But no, that’s not what I mean to talk about just now. The truly exciting thing is this:

We were delighted to see that the Public Record Office of Victoria in Melbourne have utilised and customised the software developed for Transcribe Bentham by the University of London Computer Centre, for their own pilot transcription project. We heartily recommend that you take a look, and if you wish to use the code for the TB transcription interface, you can find it here.

That’s right. The code we made is now in use by another institution, to do their own transcription project. Hurrah!

It was always our aim in Transcribe Bentham to provide the code to others: it was a key part of our project proposal. But you always have to wonder if that is going to happen. Its the kind of thing that everyone writes in project proposals. And whilst lots of people talk about making things in Digital Humanities, and whether or not you have to make things to be a Digital Humanist, we’ve shied away – as a community – from the spectre of reuse: who takes our code and reappropriates it once we are done? How can we demonstrate impact through the things we’ve built being utilised beyond just us and – quite frankly – our mates?

So I’m happy as larry that the code we developed, and the system we have built, is both useful to us, but is now useful to others. I’m not sure how much I want to prod the sleeping monster that is general code reuse in Digital Humanities… dont draw attention to our deficiencies!

But I would be delighted if anyone else could point me to examples where code and systems in Digital Humanities were repurposed beyond their original project, just as we would wish?

4 thoughts on “On Making, Use and Reuse in Digital Humanities

  1. I am quite happy to report that the code we wrote for the Papyrological Editor at http://papyri.info/ will now be reused for opening up editing of the Perseus datasets: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/ (see announcement of March 20th). Coincidentally, these are also collaborative editing/transcription projects like Transcribe Bentham. The code is available at: https://github.com/papyri/sosol. Details and information on the system's design can be found in the following preprint article: http://rfbaumann.com/papers/sosol-bics-draft.pdf


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