Revisiting “The Machine is Us/ing Us” and “Information R/evolution” by Michael Wesch

It has been over a decade since Michael Wesch, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University had a viral hit (for those days) with The Machine is Us/ing Us. (Original (31 January 2007) and Final Version (8 March 2007)).

Even though it has been over a decade, it is still a useful video that I sometimes show people. Perhaps it was geared a bit too much to problematise the contributory nature of so-called “Web 2.0” (Wait, what version are we on now? Was that just marketing hype?), but he is a professor of Cultural Anthropology.

One of the the bits I like is the opening where he writes, erases, and rewrites forming quite easily the notions that:

  • Text is linear
  • Text is unilinear
  • Text is said to be unilinear
  • Text is often said to be unilinear
  • Text is unilinear when written on paper

The ease at which he does shows the flexibility of mise-en-page  Then the transformation to digital form where he creates:

  • Digital text is different.
  • Digital text is more flexible.
  • Digital text is moveable.
  • Digital text is above all …. hyper.
  • hypertext is above all….
  • hypertext can link

The process of writing and the nature of text and our relationship to it has changed dramatically with the ever-increasing introduction of the digital to our lives. This clearly has good and bad aspects. As the video continues to show us how structured text is data and this can be used in all sorts of unexpected ways, it perhaps seems a bit naive to our eyes — from a world where we assume that every click is giving a commercial company untold reams of data about us. Wesch ends the video after exploring the nature of structured text and the kinds of things it enables in a “web 2.0” world and how we end up teaching the machine, stating that we’ll need to rethink a few things. He lists copyright, authorship, identity, ethics, aesthetics, rhetorics, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, ourselves.


Another video Wesch published later (12 October 2007) “Information R/evolution” followed a similar form of construction but was much less popular over time. In this video he shows that the assumptions we make about the categorisation of information on paper (and some other media) breaks down as we create enormous amounts of digital information.  The more shaky camera work perhaps being a trivial reason why the public took to this one less. However, I continue to show these to people as examples, and to get the to think about the way we conceive of text and data in a digital world.



Digital Humanities Projects at Newcastle University (snapshot)

As a member of the Turing Institute Research Group for Data Science and Digital Humanities I was asked to compile a brief snapshot list of current/recent digital humanities projects at Newcastle University. Not having much time to do this, I sent out an email to various people across the university I knew were involved in digital projects and they forwarded it to others and people responded by putting the necessary information in a google doc or providing information by email. There are many projects (and specifically the research of many people) that is not reflected here. But this is a snapshot of the data that I got back and submitted to the Turing Institute google doc in case it is useful for future reference. The list will be used to inform discussion at a meeting the Turing Institute is having in Edinburgh in September 2018. (It is less about being a complete record and more about giving a sense of the variety/scope of projects.) There may well be errors in this data (and some entries really cover a significant number of separate projects). Not being on this list simply means that I overlooked the submission or no one submitted that project, no quality selection or removal of submitted projects has been undertaken. The data should be treated ‘as-is’. They are ordered in the order received.

Title ATNU: Animating Text Newcastle University
Summary Animating Text Newcastle University (ATNU) is a digital collaboration between scholarly editors based in humanities disciplines and the Digital Institute that sets out to create new ways in which readers/users can interact with texts, and to explore and test opportunities for immersive reading/writing. What’s unique about ATNU is that our ideas for the immersive texts of the future are based on the texts and books of the past that we are editing (1500-1900), which were already imagined as variable, dynamic, vital, interactive, akin to a 3D experience. ATNU is conducting a variety of pump-priming pilot projects.
Digital Methods ATNU is trying to build on the opportunities afforded by digital technologies in:

  • using data analytics techniques for the automatic analysis of text, including tracing changes through revisions;
  • exploring methods of representing the underlying text that can make it more amenable to computational analysis and multiple forms of presentation;
  • investigating how to support and enhance annotation, including the use of ontologies and controlled vocabularies, and the support for enabling and analysing multiple editorial views over the same text.

Its pilot projects include those presenting combinations of MEI encoded text with images, animation of early modern woodcuts, user-controllable text to speech synthesis, visualization of early modern translation networks across europe, strategies for stand-off markup for many multi-witness editions, and investigations of publication strategies for digital editing.

Paper None yet, but lots of conference presentations.
Contributor James Cummings (on behalf of ATNU project people:


Title Proto-democracy pilot
Summary A prototype visualisation of 18th C Newcastle poll book data showing day by day geo-located voting data points
Digital Methods Visualising historical poll books with linked data vis facets
Paper None yet
Contributor Tom Schofield ( project led by Matthew Grenby with technical work from Tom and mostly Dan Foster Smith)


Title Children’s Magical Realism For New Spatial Interactions: AR and Archives
Summary Modern mobile phones allow new kinds of interaction which mix the real world and virtual worlds together. So called ‘augmented reality’ (AR) usually overlays digital images or 3D models on to video from phone cameras to present audiences with new kinds of mixed reality that they can explore almost as if it were real space. In recent months, some new developments from Google and Apple have pushed the technical boundaries of what mobile phones can do allowing much more complicated interactions with real space allowing us to cause digital objects to appear really rooted in the real world.

Although the technical possibilities of this work are exciting there is a real danger that the experiences designers create may be led by the technology and not inspired by other kinds of creativity. If we would like to explore spaces and places in new ways we should look to other forms such as film, theatre, dance and in our case books to expand our vocabulary of space.

Our project, with our partners Seven Stories, uses the work of a prominent author of children and young adults’ books, David Almond to suggest new imaginative spatial interactions for AR. Almond has been describe as a magical realist author and much of his work is about confusing or ambiguous cross overs between worlds, real and imaginary, past and present, everyday or mythical. During our project we will work with specialists from our project partner, Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books as target audiences and AR specialists to co-design new kinds of spatial interaction for AR and VR applications.

Digital Methods Creative design prototyping AR for mobile
Paper None yet
Contributor Tom Schofield, (CI Kim Reynolds, RA Diego Trujillo Pisanty)


Title Crossing Borders in the Insular Middle Ages (prototype work in progress)
Summary Visualising manuscript translation and transmission in the medieval insular world
Digital Methods Mapping and timelining manuscript metadata
Paper None
Contributor Tom Schofield, technical work Tom but mainly Dan Foster Smith. Project led by PI Victorial Flood (Birmingham university)


Title CoHERE – Critical Heritage Performing and Representing Identities in Europe (funded through Horizon 2020 under grant agreement No 693289)   
Summary Work Package 4 (WP4) of the CoHERE project explores the role of dialogic digital technologies and design methods to support deeper understandings of European heritage alongside reflexive identities and inclusive senses of belonging.
Digital Methods Variety of methods embedded in a research-through-design methodology and critical studies approach. This includes experimentation with audiovisual interfaces in public spaces, AI and visualisation of user data.  
Website CoHERE:  

WP4 Living Lab:

WP4 Future/Erasure:  

Paper Report: Online Visual Dialogues about Place: Using the Geostream Tools to Identify Heritage Practices on Photo-sharing Social Media (available from:

Chapter: Arrigoni G., Galani A. (2018. In Press) ‘From place-memories to active citizenship: the potential of geotagged user-generated visual content for memory scholarship. In: Drozdzewski, D.; Birdsall, C. (eds.) Doing Memory Research: New Methods and Approaches. Palgrave Macmillan.

Contributor Areti Galani (Co-I), Gabi Arrigoni (RA), Annelie Berner and Monika Halina Seyfried (Copenhagen Institute of Interactive Design (CIID))


Title Creative Fuse North East
Summary Creative Fuse North East is a multi-disciplinary, multi stakeholder action research project focused on the strength, diversity and nuanced nature of the North East’s creative, digital and IT sector (CDIT).

The project builds upon two previous AHRC funded research projects – Brighton Fuse and London Fusion and will further explore the social, economic and innovation value of the CDIT sector in the region.

Digital Methods In the early phases of the research, we scrutinised business databases to get a sense of the scale and diversity of the sector. From our enquiries, we were able to confirm, for example, that the North East CDIT sector is dominated by micro-businesses – firms that have ten employees or less.

We then ran a detailed survey, inviting businesses and freelancers to respond. The survey results are providing a more nuanced understanding of markets, business models, networks, skills, key opportunities and barriers to growth in the region.

To complement the survey, we interviewed a range of people across the sector. These qualitative interviews will provide further insight into CDIT challenges and opportunities, and the salience of these within the business community.

We also have a dedicated Creative Fuse ethnography team. The ethnographers will use a range of qualitative methods, including interviews and observations, throughout the project. Through this, they hope to better understand processes of interdisciplinarity within the project.

Paper N/A
Contributor Richard Clay (PI: Eric Cross)


Title Digital Institute Newcastle University: DH Projects
Summary Our work is largely multi-disciplinary, ranging widely over areas including healthcare, smart cities, assistive technology for an ageing population and transport. We have been responsible for some of the UK’s largest research projects, including the RCUK £12m Digital Economy Hub in Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE)  whose work is currently being further developed through the new £40m National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation.

A number of Digital Humanities projects:

  • SiDE: £15M Social Inclusion through Digital
  • Economy Romtels: Roma and Traveller communities in education
  • GCRF Urban Futures: Global Challenges Research Fund
  • Tweet My Street: Twitter analysis
  • Other facilities
    • Cloud Innovation Centre
    • National Innovation Centre for Data (NIC.D)
Digital Methods In recent years, the ability to combine expertise in scalable computing, statistics and visualisation has proved valuable in tackling many research problems. One current focus is the Internet of Things and­ much of this work is focused on Newcastle’s new £70m Science Central Smart Campus development, and on healthcare analytics from wearable devices. The DI has expertise across a wide range of digital methods especially in the areas of data science, linked data, visualization, and GIS.
Paper (Many across individual projects so not submitted)
Contributor James Cummings (On behalf of Nick Holliman and Paul Watson)


Title Rock Art CARE
Summary The CARE Portal supports the management of open-air rock art, also known as cups and rings, in the UK, Ireland and beyond. It provides people with responsibility for looking after rock art with reports and guidance. These are based on a Condition Assessment and Risk Evaluation (CARE) approach.
Digital Methods Mobile application to collect data on heritage monuments. Incoming reports automatically assessed and sent to local government contact responsible for preservation in each UK county or national park.
Paper Rock art CARE: A cross-platform mobile application for crowdsourcing heritage conservation data for the safeguarding of open-air rock art (2018)
Contributor Mark Turner


Title Our Wallington: Victorian Scrapbook
Summary he first one, done as part of the Co-curate project back in 2014-15, involved children from Cambo First School visiting the archives, completing various Victorian entertainments during a Victorian day in school, orienteering around the grounds at Wallington to re-create the original Trevelyan photos and much more.
Digital Methods Their work was firstly compiled into a physical album which was then also presented online, with audio commentary added, using the same software as is used to digitally present the original Trevelyan family albums online (Turning the Pages).
Paper N/A
Contributor Gillian Johnston


Title Amazing Archives
Summary Created when we took part in Culture 24s’ Let’s Great Real – Young Audiences programme, involved us working with children from a local middle school to repackage some of our existing digital content in a way that would appeal to younger audiences.  
Digital Methods Children selected items from our Collections and a children’s illustrator created the web landing page using the children’s ideas. The children also had a say in how the information was presented – e.g. the ‘Did you know?’ feature.
Paper N/A
Contributor Gillian Johnston






Problems and Possibilities: Working for Success in TEI Digital Humanities Projects

I recently gave a keynote lecture at the University of Tokyo entitled “Problems and Possibilities: Working for Success in TEI Digital Humanities Projects”.  This was as part of a larger symposium the events page of which at the time read:


――仏教学のための次世代知識基盤の構築―― (同時通訳付き)

開催案内 (PDF)




~7日(日) 9:30(開場 9:00)-15:30 [終了しました]




  • ジェイムズ・カミングス/James Cummings (ニューカッスル大学)
    A photo of Dr. Cummings
    課題と可能性― TEIを活用したデジタル・ヒューマニティーズプロジェクトを成功させるために
    “Problems and Possibilities: Working for Success in TEI Digital Humanities Projects”
    TEI (Text Encoding Initiative)ガイドラインに準拠するデジタル・ヒューマニティーズ(DH)プロジェクトを創り出す場合には、成功を確実にするのに役立ついくつかの良い事例がある。ジェイムズ・カミングス博士はそういった事例の一部、特に、そこでのTEIの活用に関する側面に着目する。それは、オープンで持続可能な手法でDHプロジェクトを構築することを奨励するためである。しかし、よく知られたプロジェクトを喧伝する代わりに、ここでは問題を抱えたプロジェクトや予想外の事態に直面したプロジェクトを採り上げる。そうすることで、どのようにして特定の問題群に対して適切なツールを活用するか、どのようにしてそのようなプロジェクトを災難から救い出すことを支援するコミュニティの一部としてオープンに活動するか、ということを提示する。そして、成功に必要な要素は、最悪のケースの想定、長期保存、そして資料の持続可能性について計画しておくことであると提示するだろう。
    In creating digital humanities projects based on the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) there are some good practices that can help ensure success. Dr James Cummings (Newcastle University) will look at some of these practices, especially where they relate to their use of the TEI, to encourage those building digital humanities projects to work in an open and sustainable manner. However, instead of just trumpeting the success of well-known projects Cummings will look at some projects which have had problems or had to cope with unexpected events. In doing so he will suggest how using appropriate tools for particular problems and working openly as part of a community helped save these projects from total disaster. He will suggest the key to success is planning for the worst-case scenarios, long-term preservation, and sustainability of resources.

Google Translate has the title of the symposium literally as “Towards the Construction of Humanities in the Age of Digital Archiving – Construction of the Next Generation Knowledge Base for Buddhist Studies”.  While I am certainly not, nor ever will be, an expert in Buddhist Studies, I have been involved in lots of TEI Digital Humanities projects. Instead of reporting on the successes of these projects, I chose a handful where there had been some problem — almost never to do with the adoption of TEI, but more usually on the resourcing or management of it. I reported on the problems of these projects to hope that the DH projects in Japan might circumvent similar ones as they increase their digital humanities projects.

The abstract of the talk is above as part of the page, but an outline of the talk (for a 90 minute slot) was as follows:

  • Short refresher on the TEI
  • Case studies of projects with some degree of problem:
    • CatCor: Correspondence of Catherine the Great
    • William Godwin’s Diary
    • CURSUS: An Online Resource of Medieval Liturgical Texts
    • Poetic Forms Online: Renaissance to Modern
    • LEAP: Livingstone Online Enhancement and Access Project
    • SRO: Stationers Register Online
  • ATNU: Animating Text Newcastle University (a new project
    hoping to learn from these problems)
  • Possibilities: some thoughts on potential solutions

The visit was brief (3 nights) but rewarding in the conversations I had with many Japanese DH researchers.


ATNU is Alive!

ATNU: Animating Text Newcastle University

The initial project website for ATNU has been created by Tiago Sousa Garcia, the project’s postdoc. It is available at for those interested in the project and/or scholarly digital editing.

ATNU is a Newcastle University research project that crosses multiple departments within the University and engages in partnerships beyond that. ATNU is looking at scholarly digital editing, and exploring how digital technology can complement print editions, and how the digital enables different ways of understanding, explaining, and experience text. It will be testing a variety of software through a series of pilot projects.




After working at the University of Oxford for the last 14 years, I’ve now moved here to take up a post as “Senior Lecturer in English Literature (c. 1350-1510) and Digital Humanities”. As such, I’ve set up this new site to host posts and pages.  I’ll intend to post things very regularly but will likely actually do so very irregularly!  However, I might as well get it set up in advance.  An additional blog with my Oxford (and other) posts was moved to before I left.  It is mostly concentrating on XML and XSLT matters

Share vs

Interesting. NCL seems to have two wordpress multi-site places I can have for a web presence in addition to the staff profile in my school.  (And various project sites of course…) There is this place and I’d already set up a blog at  I wonder what the difference in hosting (one seems to have 7 themes installed, the other 9?) or perception is? I’ll probably end up using since well that has a more official looking URL for things which are _not_ just blog posts.  Time will tell.