[Humanist] 31.185 the Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia project

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jul 19 07:01:27 CEST 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 185.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2017 06:43:22 +0000
        From: Bill Pascoe <bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au>
        Subject: Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872


I would just like to draw the DH community's attention to a project recently launched by the Centre For 21st Century Humanities:

Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872

This was essentially a web mapping project, enabling users to view change over time, to click points for more data about specific locations and to provide evidence and source material about massacres on the Australian colonial frontier.

There were a few things that stood out as a consequence of it being a *digital* humanities project:

- Displaying the data on a web map, with interactive timeline makes the 'story' or 'information' immediately clear to any observer in a way that is not possible in plain text or even static images.

- Huge exposure on an issue of great public interest, important to the 'soul' of the nation. On the 3rd day after the launch, with news items in national and international media, our marketing people said that, according to their metrics, it had an 'audience reach' of around 28 million people. One Facebook post of a news item I looked at had 20,000 responses, and long threads of debate. While this response is due to the subject matter, it also would not have occurred if not for the instant information, visual impact and interactivity afforded by mapping technology applied to humanities.

- Enhanced academic discipline. Researchers noted that the need to collect information for each field across all the sites, although arduous and at times frustrating, added to the academic discipline. So long as it is not to the detriment of complexity and unique cases, the ability to compare and summate across incidents was useful and informative. The process itself brought to light information that may not have otherwise been learned.

- Community engagement. While we were expecting some input and contributions from the public we were not expecting a response of this scale. Information has come to light through public interaction that researchers were unaware of and which needs to be followed up. We suddenly found ourselves urgently needing to handle a crowd sourcing project.

- One of the key contrasts between traditional scholarship and digital scholarship is that we do not necessarily conclude with the publishing of definitive findings. The launch is the beginning. Published data is readily modified as more information comes to light and we approach the truth about this history, affording more transparency in the process. This is particularly important for this project where findings are hotly debated, who gets to determine 'truth' is called into question, and where information has purposefully been obscured over hundreds of years.

For me personally, although my involvement was the 'tech person', rather than research historian, one of the most interesting things about this project was the ethical issues raised through the use of this technology, touched on here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318461484_Web_Mapping_Colonial_Frontier_Massacres
It makes me mindful that although there has been a long tradition in the West of 'not letting our emotions cloud our judgement', we need equally be wary of logos clouding pathos.

The quote on the Humanist discussion lists' home page also seems relevant. In some applications of digital humanities we can witness this played out on screen, not just understand it as a concept. The next phase of this project, to improve handling of crowd sourcing, will involve developing a web interface and database to facilitate this: «[T]ruth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for the truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.... » Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson (University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pp. 110.

Kind regards,

Dr Bill Pascoe
eResearch Consultant
Digital Humanities Lab
hri.newcastle.edu.au http://hri.newcastle.edu.au/
Centre for 21st Century Humanities<http://www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation/centre/centre-for-21st-century-humanities/about-us>

T: 0435 374 677
E: bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au

The University of Newcastle (UON)
University Drive
Callaghan NSW 2308

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