Author: Matts Lindström (Page 1 of 2)

West Norse and East Norse Manuscripts in the Digital Age: Short Report of An On-Going Discussion

Alexandra Petrulevich, Department of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala University

Part of the network of West Norse texts appearing in extant manuscripts, which have been digitally catalogued. Yellow nodes: romances, pink nodes: legendary sagas, green nodes: family sagas, blue nodes: kings’ sagas. Based on data from Kapitan, Rowbotham, and Wills, “Visualising Genre Relationships in Icelandic Manuscripts”. For more information, see Kapitan 2021b in the references.

Is there a common solution for editing of West Norse and East Norse manuscripts in the digital age? How do digital repositories impact public and scholarly engagement with manuscript material online? Do current mainstream approaches to digitalisation and digital cataloguing necessarily aid researchers to attain innovative and, most importantly, valid and well-grounded results?

These were some of the questions that were discussed at the seminar “Northern Europe 1200-1500 CE: West Norse and East Norse Manuscripts in the Digital Age” dedicated to digitisation and digital editing of Norse manuscripts as well as current research into this material. The seminar organised and hosted by the TextWorlds network at Uppsala University has gathered infrastructure professionals working with electronic editing software, digital cataloguing and repositories, namely and Alvin, as well as early career researchers, see the list below, that have used these and other similar infrastructures in their finished and ongoing projects. The initial round of infrastructure and current research talks was followed by a prolonged Q&A slot and a panel discussion of future developments in the field of digital philology in Scandinavia as well as major obstacles on the way there.

One of the principal challenges that was addressed relates to current mainstream practices of digitisation and digital cataloguing. It is often the case that outdated analogue materials including catalogues are turned digital without any considerable revisions which in the long run will significantly hamper the development of digital philology. Reproduction of data errors and uncertainties of other kinds undermines the use of “big data” approaches and digital methods as it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable results. Moreover, the agendas and research questions underlying older analogue catalogues are in many cases different from those shaping current research into West and East Norse manuscript material. For instance, nineteenth-century philologists were preoccupied with studies of “high-status” medieval texts and manuscripts such as Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda or Reykjavík, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum, GKS 2365 4to. Much less attention was paid to “marginalised” works of post-medieval manuscript tradition, which becomes evident in the catalogue practices of the time. This principal premise is challenged today since more and more previously neglected West Norse medieval and post-medieval sagas and other materials gain scholarly attention.

In order to improve the quality of available catalogues and other manuscript datasets as well as to ensure constant growth of born-digital data, it is necessary to build a strong, multisectoral community and implement a collaborative approach to building, improving and sustaining manuscript and cultural heritage infrastructures. Ideally, such a community will be able to inform the funding bodies in charge of investments into digital cultural heritage about the issues outlined above and place adequate cataloguing higher up on their agenda.

List of invited speakers:

  • Robert Kristof Paulsen, Head Engineer, University of Bergen Library, Norway
  • Patrik Granholm, Curator of Medieval and Early Modern manuscripts, National Library of Sweden
  • Kent-Inge Andersson and Anna Fredriksson, Librarians, Uppsala University Library, Sweden
  • Agnieszka Backman, Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University, USA
  • Katarzyna Anna Kapitan, H.M. Queen Margrethe II Distinguished Research Fellow at the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark, Iceland and Denmark
  • Oliver Blomqvist, Postdoctoral Researcher, Södertörn University College, Sweden

References and links to invited speakers’ presentations:

Kapitan, Katarzyna Anna (2021b). “Perspectives on Digital Catalogs and Textual Networks of Old Norse literature.” Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies 6:1 (will appear in Gold Open Access in May 2021).

Video: What is and Where is Virtual Humanities? (Nov 25, 2020)

Virtual Seminar recorded on Zoom, 25th of November 2020.

Speaker: Erik Champion, Honorary Research Fellow at University of Western Australia and Honorary Professor at ANU Centre for Digital Humanities Research.

Abstract: From virtual museums to virtual worlds, the word “virtual” is both a popular and a vague term. Although popularised by computer science and science fiction, the field of virtuality is also of interest to the humanities, and especially to historians and heritage experts. Yet there are few courses in the area, and few accessible examples of successful virtual humanities projects. Why? And what can be done?

Video: Lost in Translation – Video Games Becoming Cultural Heritage? (Nov 18, 2020)

Virtual Seminar recorded on Zoom, 18th of November 2020.

Speaker: Lina Eklund, Department of Informatics and Media

Lina Eklund is a lecturer in Human Computer Interaction at the Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University. Lina’s research focuses on the intersections between technology as a designed structure affording behaviour and the agency of users to reformulate those affordances. Her current work concerns the role of digital games and hybrid technology for visitor experiences in museums. This presentation presents the results of a recently finished four year research project hosted at the National Museum for Technology and Engineering in Stockholm, Sweden. The project “Worlds of Computer Games” focused on the role of digital games in museums. Recent attention to the question of preservation and exhibition of video games in cultural institutions such as museums indicates that this media form is moving from being seen as contentious consumer object to cultural heritage. This empirical study examines two recent museum exhibitions of digital games: GameOn 2.0 at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm (TM), and Women in Game Development at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, Oakland (MADE). The study explores how games are appropriated within such institutions, and thereby how they are configured as cultural heritage and exhibitable culture. The study uses actor-network theory in order to analyse heterogeneous actors working in conjunction in such processes, specifically focusing on translation of games and game culture as they are repositioned within museums. The study explores how games are selectively recruited at both institutions and thereby translated in order to fit exhibition networks, in both cases leading to a glossing over of contentious issues in games and game culture. In turn, this has led to a more palatable but less nuanced transformation of video games into cultural heritage. While translating video games into cultural heritage, the process of making games exhibitable lost track of games as culture by focusing on physical artefacts and interactive, playable fun. It also lost track of them as situated in our culture by skimming over or ignoring the current contentious nature of digital games, and finally, it lost track of games as being produced and experienced in a particular context, or games of culture.

Video: Digital Mapping of Diversity and Division in the Swedish Caribbean (Nov 4, 2020)

Virtual Seminar recorded on Zoom, 4th of November 2020.

Title: Censuses of Gustavia 1835-1872: Digital Mapping of Diversity and Division in the Swedish Caribbean

Speaker: Ale Pålsson, Department of History

In recent years, renewed interest in the Swedish-Caribbean colony of St Barthélemy has sparked new research, as well as digitalization efforts to organize and make accessible the Swedish colonial archives via the SWECARCOL project. As a member of this project, I have reviewed censuses of the main city of the colony Gustavia, and recreated a graphical representation of the censuses via digital mapping. By examining both the changing dimensions of the city, as well as the changing categorizations, we can illustrate how Caribbean cities evolved during this formative period, as the colony moved from being part a slave society, to emancipation of the enslaved and an end of racial categorization.

A Digital Approach to Global Intellectual History: Text Mining UNESCO

Benjamin G. Martin, Department of History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University

Alexander Calder’s sculpture “Spirale” (1958) at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo credit: UNESCO / H. D. Berendt.

Recent years have seen a burst of interest in “global intellectual history.” Practitioners debate the precise meaning of this phrase, but it evidently reflects an ambition to take a more inclusive approach to the history of ideas around the world—beyond the Western European core on which the field has traditionally focused—paying attention in particular to the cross-cultural contacts that are so important to our globalized present. [1] The last decade or so has also witnessed growing interest in what could be called digital intellectual history. This trend is characterized by the application of tools and methods from the digital humanities to approach questions in the history of science and ideas. Intellectual history’s digital turn is less well established than its global one, but it seems likely to continue and to grow in scale. [2]

These two trends in intellectual history -— the global and the digital —- seem to have a lot to offer one another. But so far they have developed as it were on parallel tracks: both moving forward but with little contact between them. There are several reasons for this. But one particular challenge to using digital methods as part of a global approach to intellectual history has to do with sources. Locating historical source materials that give us access to a “global” realm is hard enough by itself. Few scholars can handle more than a few languages, and studies of the transnational movement and reception of ideas have often tended “simply to multiply the frame of national history.” [3] Locating sources that are global and amenable to digital analysis is harder still. Most of the big text repositories that intellectual historians have used -— like Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, used in the historian Peter De Bolla’s recent book The Architecture of Concepts —- are national in character. [4] Newspapers, another source in which to follow language use and, perhaps, concept development over time, are likewise almost always national. Moreover, the historical sources that get digitized have so far tended to be from wealthy countries in the global north, with their large, well-financed libraries and expensive digitalization facilities. So far, then, an intellectual historian’s effort to go digital would appear to be at odds with the aspiration to go global.

There is, however, one major arena in which, for the last half-century or so, representatives of nearly every country on earth have regularly met and interacted, and about which a growing mass of digitized historical source materials is available: the world of international organizations. As the historian Sandrine Kott has observed, bodies like the United Nations, the World Health Organization, or the International Olympic Committee can be studied not only as actors in their own right, but as “open social spaces through which we can observe exchanges and circulation” —- including exchanges and circulation of ideas.[5]

This is the point of departure for the research project International Ideas at UNESCO. In this study, researchers and systems developers at Uppsala University and at Humlab (the digital humanities center at Umeå University) apply cutting-edge tools of digital text analysis to a selection of texts produced by this international organization. Founded in 1945 to promote “peace in the minds of men,” UNESCO has debated and acted on matters of particular interest to intellectual historians: the organization and dissemination of knowledge, the role of cultural expression in human communities, and the power of communication across national, ideological and cultural boundaries. Since the early 1960s, when the organization was joined by many newly independent post-colonial states, it has handled these matters as a truly global forum. In recent years, the organization has undertaken an ambitious digitalization project, rendering large quantities of its publications and archival documentation available to the public. In fact, many of these texts still require a good bit of curating before they can be analyzed with digital methods; that curating is what we are working on now! As we move forward, our hope is that new methods of digital text analysis, sophisticated enough to chart conceptual relations and development, will offer exciting ways to explore the global discourse captured in these sources.

Can intellectual history’s digital and global turns be brought together in a way that benefits both? At its most ambitious, International Ideas at UNESCO is an effort to find out.

[1] See for example Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); and the journal Global Intellectual History.
[2] See the discussion of this trend in: Dan Edelstein, “Intellectual History and Digital Humanities”, Modern Intellectual History 13, 1 (2016): 237-246; Mark J. Hill, “Invisible Interpretations: Reflections on the Digital Humanities and Intellectual History”, Global Intellectual History 1, 2 (2016): 130-150; and Jennifer London, “Re-imagining the Cambridge School in the Age of Digital Humanities”, Annual Review of Political Science 19, 1 (2016): 351-373.
[3] Christopher L. Hill, “Conceptual Universalization in the Transnational Nineteenth Century”, in S. Moyn and A. Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 135.
[4] Peter De Bolla, The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).

On human remains and immersive experiences: A few remarks and concerns

Dr. Agiatis Benardou
Digital Curation Unit, ATHENA Research Center and Department of Informatics, Athens University of Economics and Business

Despite reservations expressed sporadically about the applications of digital methods and immersive technologies (3D modeling, artificial intelligence, augmented and mixed reality) in enhancing, complementing and augmenting human remains for educational or similar purposes in the context of museum exhibitions, historical sites or even television popular culture, it is evident that immersive experiences considerably attract wider audiences, expand potential stakeholder groups and enhance visitor experience (Ynnerman et al. 2016).

The application of digital methods to human remains concerns researchers and specialized practitioners. The ability of 3D modeling to quickly collect high-quality data from anthropological specimens has had wide-reaching implications, from conservation and restoration, to public engagement, to the production of replicas and increased accessibility of digital data (White, Hirst, and Smith 2018).

The latter accelerated the adaptation, adjustment and eventual transformation of these methods in order for digital human remains to be exhibited, often in interactive environments, to the general public.

Some notable examples of immersive technologies for the display of human remains are the interactive visualization and digital anatomy of the Gabelein Man at the British Museum and the immersive experience of the Grauballe Man at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, where visitors can activate animations of votive ceremonies (Asingh and Linnerup 2016).

On a more controversial tone, in 2019 BBC1 aired the ”Jack The Ripper – The case reopened” in which a number of experts tried to shed new light on the modus operandi of the famous serial killer by using new technologies and virtual reality. Through a combination of archival records with autopsy simulations, the end result raised concerns about the privacy of the victims and that of their relatives or descendants (Benardou 2019).

While major cultural organizations such as the British Museum regularly review their policy and regulatory framework (Fletcher, Antoine, and Hill 2014), issues still raised by the application of immersive technologies to the public display of human remains remain unresolved; what are the ethical concerns around these practices and in which cases do these concerns revolve just around the remnants themselves rather than around the sensitive narratives that frequently accompany them? Are digital surrogates the answer in cases of unpublished anthropological material and its exhibition to wider audiences? And what are the restrictions (licensing, curation, reuse) of “human remains as data”? The answers will be provided gradually, as the irreversibly ever-evolving immersive technologies are being applied to an increasing number of human bodies of the distant or recent past.


Asingh, Pauline, and Niels Lynnerup. 2016. “Bog Bodies: The Grauballe Man.” Technè. La Science Au Service de l’histoire de l’art et de La Préservation Des Biens Culturels 44: 84–89.

Benardou, Agiatis. 2019. “Πόσες φορές ακόμα πρέπει να «ζωντανέψουν» για χάρη της ψυχαγωγίας τα θύματα του Τζακ του Αντεροβγάλτη;” LiFO, April 6, 2019.

Fletcher, Alexandra, Daniel Antoine, and JD Hill. 2014. “Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum.” The British Museum. .

White, Suzanna, Cara Hirst, and Sian E. Smith. 2018. “The Suitability of 3D Data: 3D Digitisation of Human Remains.” Archaeologies 14: 250–71.

Ynnerman, Anders, Thomas Rydell, Daniel Antoine, David Hughes, Anders Perrson, and Patric Ljung. 2016. “Interactive Visualization of 3D Scanned Mummies at Public Venues.” Communications of the ACM 59 (12): 72–81.

Video: Enriching metadata – Enriching Research (June 2020)

Recordings from Enriching metadata – Enriching Research are now available online!

The webinar series was organized by The Swedish National Heritage Board in collaboration with DH Uppsala and with support from the Europeana Research Grants Programme.

The event, which was held in June 2020, was aimed at researchers, students and professionals working with museum and archive collections, digitalization and/or research strategies. The aim was to provide examples and advice on using metadata for research and outreach, inform about standards and practices regarding metadata, and highlight the benefits of heritage institutions collaborating with Academia in enriching collection metadata.

Read more here and here.

You can view the whole series through this youtube-playlist – and the introduction is embedded below:

Video: What can AI do for the Humanities and Social Sciences? Methods, Ethics, and Epistemologies Across Disciplines (Virtual Seminar, Sep 9, 2020)

Event recorded on Zoom on the 9th of September 2020.

Invited speakers:

  • Jan von Bonsdorff at the Department of Art History
  • David Sumpter at the Department of Information Technology
  • Anna-Sara Lind at the Department of Law (not in the video)
  • Fredrik Wahlberg at the Department of Linguistics and Philology

Artificial Intelligence has been trending in human culture and society, from philosophy to science fiction and art, for decades. From Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which, in a dystopian universe of biological and synthetic beings, were intended to protect humans from evil robots, to C-3PO and R2-D2 thwarting the Empire in Star Wars. AI is currently more than mere science fiction. Its broader and potentially more significant effects for humanity are yet to be researched and explored. Digital technology already raises new questions around epistemologies, ethics and policy regulations. But with cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), or Image Pattern Recognition (IPR) there are additional concerns. Can mathematics and algorithms, essentially descriptive models, encompass the human condition? Is AI and Machine Learning applicable to facilitate critical research that concerns different socio-cultural contexts? The seminar explores the societal implications of rapidly advancing intelligence systems, combining a humanities perspective with practical applications spanning historical research to contemporary legal inquiry.

Video: Death in a Digital World (Virtual seminar, Sep 4, 2020)

Virtual Seminar recorded on Zoom, 4th September 2020.

Also check out the blog post by Yannick!

Death in a Digital World: the (re)construction of a Bronze Age tomb from Ayios Vasileios, Greece, using Virtual Reality

Speaker: Yannick de Raaff (presenter); project with Sofia Voutsaki, Theo Verlaan, Gary Nobles, with help from the Reality Centre at University of Groningen Speaker affiliation: Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen

Abstract: During this seminar I shall present our work on the reconstruction of a built tomb found in the early Mycenaean (Bronze Age) cemetery of Ayios Vasileios, mainland Greece (approx. 1700-1420 BC). Built (Chamber) Tombs belong to a range of tombs with experimental design that appear in the late Middle Helladic and Early Late Helladic period, in a period characterised by innovations in the mortuary realm and changing social conditions. The collapsed tomb contained a large mass of stones that were arguably originally part of the superstructure, yet the exact form of cover or roof, and the way it was entered are not known. To understand the construction, use and collapse of the tomb, a number of digital techniques have been applied, such as Structure from Motion (also referred to as Photogrammetry) to record the remains of the tomb, and Virtual Reality to build and test various roof constructions. The objective of this study is to reconstruct what the most likely roof design was and how the tomb was re-entered for additional inhumations. We propose that the tomb was covered by a stone cairn, supported by a number of horizontally placed wooden beams, which broke due to natural decay and caused the stones to tumble inwards. The tomb received a large number of burials (25+), all from above, which means the roof was dismantled and rebuilt every time.

Death in a Digital World: the (re)construction of a Bronze Age tomb from Ayios Vasileios, Greece, using Virtual Reality

Yannick de Raaff, Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen

In this blogpost I would like to illustrate how and why we have applied digital techniques (photogrammetry and Virtual Reality) to solve a specific archaeological problem. Our study concerns the architecture of a Bronze Age (early Mycenaean; ca. 1700-1420 BCE) tomb from the North Cemetery of Ayios Vasileios, Lakonia, Greece. This particular tomb (called Tomb 21) is roughly rectangular in shape (inner dimensions ca. 2.26 x 1.33 m), and was filled to the edge with a large mass of some 200 stones, evidently the remains of a roof (figure 1). However, even after the complete removal of all the stones, careful recording and the excavation of inhumations underneath we were unsure about the original shape and construction of the roof. How would this hodgepodge of stones once have formed a cover, and how had it collapsed? Rebuilding the roof in real life was not possible, since the tomb had been backfilled after the excavation was completed. Therefore, we decided to address this issue by using digital techniques.

Fig. 1 The mass of stones found inside the tomb. Presumably these form the remains of the original roof of the tomb prior to its collapse.

With the financial help of several grants we started working together with the Virtual and Augmented Reality experts from the Reality Center of the University of Groningen. A VR-environment was created in Unreal Engine using a surface model of the empty tomb, and 3D models of the collapsed stones were made and added to it. Both the interior of the excavated tomb and the stones were modelled with Structure for Motion (Sfm; also called photogrammetry). The VR-environment offered us three main advantages. Firstly, we could scrutinize the still standing walls of the tomb from any angle, even after completion of the excavation. Secondly, by carefully studying the various photographs and videos of the collapsed stones as they were being excavated, we could approximate their position within the tomb and place them in that position within the VR-environment. That allowed us to better understand the relative position of the various stones within the tomb and vis-à-vis each other, and thus the collapse (figure 2). Lastly, the stones could be restacked interactively in an attempt to recreate/approach the original appearance of the tomb’s roof and explore which types were likely and which were not. 

Fig. 2. Several slabs have been placed back into the tomb. Their position has been approximated through the careful examination of excavation photos. Note how several slabs have a highly similar gradient. 

After the modeling, programming and the gathering of parallels of contemporary tombs, it was finally time to put on the VR-goggles, strap on the controllers, and start with our life-size three-dimensional puzzle. Weeks were spent in the virtual tomb, labouring under a virtual Greek sun, grabbing stones with the controllers, moving them around, putting them in place, pressing the ‘save’ button, and trying again. After many attempts, we were able to confidently refute a number of designs – most likely, the tomb was first covered by a series of beams on top of which were placed first the largest slabs (these were found deepest inside the tomb and must therefore have fallen down first), and then the remainder of the stones were placed on top, creating a cairn (figure 3). Judging by the way the stones had fallen down, it seems likely that the beams broke and caused first the slabs and then the rest to tumble inwards. Instead of merely hypothesizing about the tomb’s cover and its collapse, the digital techniques have made it possible for us to test hypotheses in a structured and argued manner. Virtual Reality was in a way used to perform experimental archaeology in a digital environment.  (For further information, see the embedded video below.)

Fig. 3. We think it is most likely that the tomb was covered with wooden beams laid across the widths, which in turn were covered first by the slabs and then the remainder of the stones. 

The project is included in the DIG IT ALL-exhibition of the University Museum (University of Groningen), and so is the video added below this blogpost. More information on the exhibition can be found on the website: The exhibition is part of the centennial celebrations of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology and includes various other archaeological projects that have included innovative digital techniques. Our project has been presented so far at various conferences (click link for PowerPoint presentation), and a scientific article will appear in the proceedings of the Lakonia conference.

The excavations at the Ayios Vasileios North Cemetery are directed by Sofia Voutsaki, as part of the Ayios Vasileios Project, directed by A. Vasilogamvrou, Director Emerita of Laconia Ephorate, and carried out under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens. Our thanks go out to the Groningen Institute of Archaeology (GIA), the Ammodo Foundation, the Institute of Aegean Prehistory, the Mediterranean Archaeology Trust and the Centre of Digital Humanities. This reconstruction project was a collaboration between archaeologists from the GIA (Yannick de Raaff, Sofia Voutsaki, Theo Verlaan and Gary Nobles) and staff of the Centre for Information Technology, interfaculty V / AR hub (Gert-Jan Verheij, Frans van Hoesel and Pjotr Svetachov. 

“Digital Ayios Vasileios”. Video of the reconstruction.

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