Recap: March 2022 DH Virtual Discussion Group

The first meeting of the spring 2022 edition of the DH Virtual Discussion Group for ECRs in Belgium kicked off on Monday 21 March with a presentation from Gianluca Valenti (University of Liège). We had a total of twenty attendees—some new faces and some familiar ones—who all contributed to an engaging conversation about digital humanities. 

This session followed our standard format, which opens with a greeting from the organizers, Julie M. Birkholz (KBR and Ghent University), Margherita Fantoli (KU Leuven), and Leah Budke (KU Leuven). This is followed by our networking session where new and returning attendees can introduce themselves in a small group, tell about their interests and experiences in DH, and get to know others in the community. This networking moment also allows those of us who already know each other to catch up and enjoy a coffee or tea before the main presentation starts and to welcome new members into our community. After the networking moment, the group comes back together to share any upcoming DH events or opportunities. The main event follows, when a member of our community gives us a behind-the-scenes look at a digital project, workflow, or tool. 

Gianluca’s “under-the-hood” presentation was titled “Modern Letters and Text Analysis: The ‘EpistolarITA’ Project” and discussed the importance of epistolary texts in historical research. As Gianluca explained, today there is a wealth of correspondence available to researchers, but we are still lacking adequate tools to engage with these materials to the fullest extent. The EpistolarITA project aims to fill this gap and to contribute to scholarly efforts to exploit historical epistolary texts through the development of the EpistolarITA database. The database brings together fifteenth through seventeenth century Italian letters and allows users to perform statistical analysis on this corpus. As Gianluca explained in his presentation, the database allows readers to compare a target text to the texts in the corpus. The database then has the capability to return similar texts, ranking them in order of their similarity. In order to be able to accomplish this, the algorithm uses a number of different techniques including TF-IDF, Word2Vec, and Named-Entity-Recognition. The advantage of using the database, as Gianluca demonstrated, is that it allows users to draw connections or to see patterns that they might not otherwise see. While the full text of letters is not made available due to copyright restrictions, users are still able to perform text analysis on these materials and to return results that they would otherwise not be able to achieve without many visits to the archives and the additional work that goes into creating the infrastructure which allows this type of text analysis.  

The EpistolarITA database is still in the process of being populated, but the official publication is expected this spring. For now, the project site and database is entirely in Italian, but they hope to make an English translation available in the future. 

If a look behind the scenes of a digital project sounds interesting to you, we would be delighted to have you join us for our next DH Virtual Discussion Group meeting on Monday 25 April from 15h-16h30 CEST! In this session, Montaine Denys from the Flanders Heritage Libraries will take us behind the scenes of the Flanders Heritage Libraries’ digitization projects. Montaine’s talk, titled “Managing the Evaluation of OCR Quality in Flemish Newspaper Collections,” will include a discussion of the project workflow, the creation of a “ground truth” dataset, interpreting results, and the specific challenges they have faced and the lessons they have learned while undertaking this project.  

To join us for this session or any future sessions all you need to do is register for our mailing list. Once registered, you will receive all future emails, including the links to the Zoom meetings. These links are distributed via email the morning of the event. 

The DH Virtual Discussion Group is designed to be a low-threshold way for researchers, particularly early career researchers, to come together and learn about digital humanities. Everyone is welcome to attend and absolutely no DH expertise is required. To see a full overview of this spring’s sessions, click here. If there is a session that seems of interest to you, please do join us! 

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