Threshold Concepts

The third day started with a talk from Matthew about ‘Threshold Concepts’, those ‘eureka’ moments in learning where you unlock new knowledge that completely transforms how you think about the world. This idea was new to me, but it was a good description for moments I’ve had that have changed everything. Most significantly was when I learned how to create a website, and the realisation that everything on the web is made up of the same sort of code (very broadly speaking) – it completely changed the way I view and interact with websites. Another, less academic, concept that came up when we were discussing this idea in groups, was the realisation that Father Christmas does not exist.

Group Projects

We then spent the rest of the day organising and planning our group projects, which we will develop over the course of the AHDA programme. First, Francesca presented an example project from a previous year, where the group had visualised the publication of books in Early Modern Europe – it showed the potential of different and interesting visualisation approaches, which as Mia had said the previous day, relied more on the quality of data than on detailed technical knowledge.

Before lunch, we each came up with our own project ideas and briefly presented them to the other participants. Mine was to enhance the data in a digital collection, and use Linked Data to more accurately visualise the relationships between different items both within and outside the collection – it was therefore more of an approach to tackling a research question proposed by one of the other projects, rather than a project in itself. We each voted three times for our favourite projects.

In the afternoon, the four projects with the most votes were announced – one on tracing the relics of Thomas Beckett, one on visualising breastfeeding selfies, one on use of mobile internet in the developing world, and the project I am involved with, which collects users’ ten favourite songs, then finds ways to visualise this data, and in the process answers research questions about the relationship between popular music and identity. There are only three of us in this group (the others have about six or seven people), so I was initially concerned that much of the technical burden would fall on me. However, after further discussion, we realised that actually the more technical components of the project could be done in stages, with more complicated techniques added if time is available. Hopefully this will mean that we can distribute the work fairly equally, and even if I do have a small amount of extra work, it should be relevant to my PhD research. The only potential obstacle is that we will need ethics approval to collect data from members of the public in an online questionnaire, so that will be our next port of call to ensure the timescales for ethics approval will be short enough to give sufficient time for the project.

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And that was it. I really enjoyed my time at the AHDA Winter School. It helped me bring together my foundational knowledge of the Digital Humanities and reassured me that I actually do know quite a lot about my subject area, as well as being an interesting few days. Most of all, it introduced me to a fascinating and friendly group of research students, who I very much look forward to working with more over the next few months.

CHASE AHDA Winter School – Day 3 (13 January)

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