Hello world!

For  Day of DH 2010 I am going to be a bit of an weird one in that I am on holiday that day for my 11th wedding anniversary (technically the day before, St Patrick’s Day). I will be in Stratford and that evening go to the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet.   However, I am going to record by tweet any Digital Humanities related thoughts that occur to me, regardless of what I’m actually up to.

My Day of Digital Humanities.

During the Day which was chosen for Day of DH 2010 I was on holiday for my 11th wedding anniversary (technically the day before, 17 March,  St Patrick’s Day). I was in Stratford and that evening went to the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet.   However, I recorded by tweet what I was doing any Digital Humanities related thoughts that occurred to me.

@DayofDH late breakfast at hotel in stratford, why don’t hotels publish linked data monthly room stats? #DayofDH 10:00 AM Mar 18th via txt

So, I had a late breakfast after a nice lie-in at the hotel in stratford. It is one we stay in a lot because it is large enough to be suitably bland and anonymous, but the rooms are fairly nice, and it is right downtown by the bridge. During breakfast it occurred to me that others might want to book hotel rooms by other criteria than I do, or that there might be some interesting correlations of frequency/number of room bookings in relationship to dateTimes. So I wondered why all hotel chains don’t make their aggregate or daily room data available as linked data. This would allow, for example, managers to see which hotels were more frequently used, what types of rooms were most popular, and interesting comparisons between hotel chains as to their frequency of room turn-over. Of course, the answer is that this is quite interesting data and being able to say “Most people visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon stay in Hotel A so you should as well” would be a significant marketing edge, I assume. I’ve been becoming increasingly interested in Linked Data in relationship to various TEI XML resources I produce, and with my attempts inside the University of Oxford to get departments to open up their data in a reasonably semantic manner. The resistance from academics is strangely even stronger than that from commercial companies.

@DayofDH walking up stratford canal walk, away from tourists. #DayofDH 11:20 AM Mar 18th via txt

As part of this day off in Stratford, before going to see the RSC Romeo and Juliet, we decided to walk up the canal path to Wilmcote to where the Mary Arden’s house attraction is, go to the pub and come back, probably by train. I should say that we go to Stratford quite a lot and so have done almost everything else touristy there that there is to do several times over. It occurred to me that it would be useful to have a smart phone at this point and have it tell me things that were happening that day overlayed onto a Google Map.  Sort of Google Map with RSS/Atom feed of events. They also don’t do well with walking routes, hiking trails, and other such things when they don’t correspond with a road. OpenStreetMap does a lot better with those kinds of things, but isn’t nearly as useable on a smart phone as Google Maps.

@DayofDH why does google maps not give waterway routes and canal paths including locations of locks? #DayofDH 11:37 AM Mar 18th via txt

Following on from my thought about increasing the usefulness of Google Maps to people who are not driving but walking about at that very instant: it occurred to me that in addition to Google Maps not usually giving walking routes that don’t happen to correspond to roads, they also don’t really do well with waterways. You couldn’t use a Google Map to navigate down a river or a canal, as it doesn’t provide you with any of the basic waterway information you might need. The waterways are often depicted, poorly, but locations of locks, ways in and out of the waterways etc. are not currently shown. This partly occurred to me because after the very first bit of the canal, it was blocked off for repair for 50 yards or so, and we had to detour around to find another way onto it. If I had had a smartphone (I don’t yet own one) and google maps, it still wouldn’t have helped me because it wouldn’t know where the entrances to the canalside walk were located.


@DayofDH can DH learn anything from well-crafted input/output gates of locks? #DayofDH 12:08 PM Mar 18th via txt

Walking down the canal path we noticed they were doing lots of maintenance on the locks, making them impassable for boats. However, this meant that more of the structure of the lock was visible than perhaps normal. I noticed that previous well-constructed archways had been at some earlier time blocked off with cement-filled sandbags. The amount of craftmenship of the original arch made me think of some of the early, bespoke electronic editions people have made (I know it is a stretch, but well, I’m slightly demented I’m sure). But what I mean is that people have spent ages working on bespoke editions, partly because no standard easy all-in-one solution exists that is widely adopted, and these are often like the well-crafted archway…carefully and lovingly made, often underneath where no one will see them. As more standardised tools come along they are filling in some work that has previously been done with loving care with rough concrete bags. Efficient but not necessarily works of art.

@DayofDH walked out to Wilmcote to Mary Arden’s house and pub lunch. #DayofDH 1:10 PM Mar 18th via txt

Mary Arden’s house (and the nearby Mary Arden Inn) is just 3 miles or so outside of Stratford, and although extremely tiny. Mary Arden’s House is like many of the similar places (like Anne Hathaway’s Cottage) around Stratford eager to take your tourist money to tell you about what life was like in Shakespeare’s day.

After quite a nice lunch and a couple pints at the Mary Arden Inn we had a bit of a walk around the village. This took us to Wilmcote church, for a little walk round its graveyard. (I know, we’re so romantic.) Then it occurred to me that lots of people have done lots of work on transcribing gravestones over the years, but it is an area I don’t know much about. (We sometimes use Sebastian’s corpus of the gravestones of the Protestant Cemetery of Rome as a teaching example … it is good when you want lots of short little bits of TEI XML data to query.)

@DayofDH Wilmcote churchyard: Are there large geolocated corpora of all these neglected gravestones with full text? #DayofDH 2:48 PM Mar 18th via txt

What I was noticing was that there were lots of gravestones whose text was now only barely visible, and surely would disappear soon. If someone had transcribed it, and I’m assuming there are people who like doing such things, then is there some uber-resource of all the transcribed gravestones for each church for which they’ve been done. Then, thinking about geo-location, I wondered if people had bothered to geo-locate all the gravestones in some cemeteries (I’m pretty sure not in this tiny village cememtery).

@DayofDH seems to be some ash falling from the sky: crematorium or just someone’s wood fire? #DayofDH 2:50 PM Mar 18th via txt

So while I was there thinking about this, we suddenly noticed some ash falling from the sky. It was enough that my coat was lightly dusted in it and streaked visibly when we went to wipe it off. We then noticed that many of the things we had sat on had a thin layer of dust. Ok, it was probably just someone’s wood fire nearby, but since we were thinking about things like graveyards and cremation, it was a bit spooky.

We continued our pootle around the village, quite a cute place, and went back, looked at Mary Arden’s House, and then went to the nearby train station. We had walked out, so hopping on a train for one stop and and quick ride back into town was deserved. At the station I noticed a sign saying

Thieves Beware
Forensic Trap Devices In Use

  • Cable is traceable
  • Thieves can be tracked
  • Spot checks at scrap yards
  • Police and Recyclers equipped to check for SmartWater
  • 100% conviction rate


Man! Even the water is smart! It is the only place, ever, that I have seen this, and seemed quite out of place in such a tranquil rural setting. It turns out that it is a sophisticated security system for tracking stolen bits of metal, cable, and such things.

@DayofDH back at hotel before press night of RSC romeo and juliet; day away from computer is good, but wish I had a smartphone. #DayofDH 5:03 PM Mar 18th via txt

The train ride took almost no time to get back into Stratford (and the conductor never even came to try and collect our tickets). A quick walk through the town centre and we were back at the hotel. We were going to the press night of the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard theatre. We had Row A seats right at the very front, which was lots of fun.

@DayofDH back at hotel. Good performance, lots of DH applicable quotes; we read our own meanings into everything #DayofDH 11:11 PM Mar 18th via txt

The performance was well acted, and the lighting and stage effects were also quite interesting.There are certain Shakespearian plays which seem to have lots of generally applicable quotes in them. Romeo and Juliet is one of those (and sort are most of the comedies). It may be that my head was filled with DH allegories, or that I was looking at them, but I found many, and was struck by how much we read into anything we experience our own prejudices and perceptions.

All in all, I had a great Day of Digital Humanities 2010. But that is because I was on holiday. What I would have done if I had been at work, would have consisted of lots of data-transformation work, answering lots of email, and being bogged down in administrative bureaucracy.