The Northwest Digital Research Methods Festival: Researching the Digital/Researching Digitally

Liverpool Cathedral

I spent a great couple of days up in Liverpool, attending the North West Digital Research Methods Festival at the University of Liverpool. It was great to be back in Liverpool and catch-up with colleagues and friends from my post-doc days there in 2013-16. The city has changed quite a bit, and my old office now overlooks a major building site instead of a green park!

The conference looked at Digital Methods from a broad social science point of view. It was great to spend some time thinking about digital methods from a different perspective. Key to all digital methods are longevity and there were lots of discussions about how data resources are made available to scholars in the long term; including decisions made to simplify a website interface to ensure it will remain working for longer with limited support.

Warren PearceIt also made me think about how we process data. Warren Pearce presented on social media data and was critiquing the fact that we often focus on the text content of messages, and ignore the visual elements. This is missing out on a key element of the conversation (think of any social media content you have recently looked at) and the visual elements should be included in the analysis. My initial thought was that this was a technological hangover, with text being much easier to process than visual. However, I learnt that there is also a cultural element with text based information being seen as much more valuable than pictorial information. Warren also highlighted a fascinating visualization of the front pages of the New York Times, highlighting how it had changed from just text to a mixture of text and black & white images, then to text & colour images. Warren’s recent paper on the topic is at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1486871

There were a whole range of presentations looking the digital research and digital data, from a wide range of different perspectives. These included using physical objects to encourage interaction and engagement in a museum environment, to considering the best ways of increasing accessibility of digital archives such as photo libraries of African Rock Art or historical criminal life courses. Have a look at https://twitter.com/hashtag/nwdrm for Tweets from the conference.

The second day consisted of a series of practical workshops, which included one run by me on GIS. I was pitching GIS as a great digital method and I think I may have converted some people!

I had a 30 minute slot and managed to cover a very brief introduction to GIS, and did a practical using Google Fusion Tables. The materials are available here (http://bit.ly/digital-space) and please do drop me a line at nick@geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk if you are interested in learning more about GIS.

I would really recommend that everyone considers attending conferences outside of your usual ‘academic sphere’ – you never know what you are going to see, what ideas might be sparked off, or what future contacts & employers you could be meeting!

Cross-posted from http://www.geospatialtrainingsolutions.co.uk/the-northwest-digital-research-methods-festival-researching-the-digital-researching-digitally/.

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