Paul Spence speaks on “Connection Audiences? The Digital Humanities and Research Culture” — 21 March, 2013

The IDI in Digital Humanities Speakers Series concludes for this year with a presentation on Thursday by Paul Spence (King’s College London)!

Paul Spence Poster

“Connecting audiences? The Digital Humanities and research culture in the Arts & Humanities”
Thursday March 21st, 2013
3:30-5:00 pm
Lawson Hall 2270C

While digital tools and methodologies are undoubtedly having a transformative effect on many areas of academia, their impact on research culture in the Arts and Humanities has been less assured. Ambitious visions of interconnected scholarly communities are yet to materialise, and in spite of substantial progress on the tools and standards needed to facilitate dialogue and interoperability, it is not clear that humanities scholarship has become significantly more ‘connected’ as a result of the digital ‘turn’.

The recently completed ‘Out of the Wings’ research project (, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK, sought to create a collaborative research environment which would bring together theatre practitioners, translators and academics interested in the reception of Spanish language theatre in an English-speaking context. Using the project as a case study, this presentation explores the challenges for the Digital Humanities in connecting audiences, research cultures and data.

With thanks (as usual!) to Élika Ortega and Kim Martin!


Anatoliy Gruzd (Dalhousie) on “Wired Academia: Why Social Science Scholars Are Using Social Media.”

This term’s Digital Humanities Speaker Series continues on Friday, 1st March, with Professor Anatoliy Gruzd from Dalhousie University!

Anatoliy Gruzd
Director, Social Media Lab, Dalhousie University
“Wired Academia: Why Social Science Scholars Are Using Social Media.”
Friday, March 1st
3:30 PM
Room LH 2270C


Anatoliy Gruzd on Scholarship and Social Media

Wondering how and why social media has become an important part of scholarship? This is your chance to find out!

At 4:00 pm 0n Thursday, February 28th, University College 114, Prof. Gruzd will also be holding a tutorial on mining and analysis of social media for research.

As social creatures, our online lives just like our offline lives are intertwined with others within a wide variety of social networks. Each retweet on Twitter, comment on a blog or link to a Youtube video explicitly or implicitly connects one online participant to another and contributes to the formation of various information and social networks. Once discovered, these networks can provide researchers with an effective mechanism for identifying and studying collaborative processes within any online community. However, collecting information about online networks using traditional methods such as surveys can be very time consuming and expensive. This tutorial will explore automated ways to discover and analyze various social networks from social media data.

This workshop, designed for graduate students and faculty, has limited space available. Please respond to if you plan on attending.

Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd ( is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information Management and Director of the Social Media Lab ( at Dalhousie University, Canada. His research initiatives explore how social media and other web 2.0 technologies are changing the ways in which people disseminate knowledge and information and how these changes are impacting social, economic and political norms and structures of our modern society. Dr. Gruzd is also actively developing and testing new web tools and apps for discovering and visualizing information and online social networks. The broad aim of his various research initiatives is to provide decision makers with additional knowledge and insights into the behaviors and relationships of online network members, and to understand how these interpersonal connections influence our personal choices and actions.

(And with thanks to Elika Ortega and Kim Martin for organization and the poster!)

Design Tips for Creating an Arts and Humanities Poster

While poster presentations have long been a standard means of disseminating research in STEM disciplines and the social sciences, they represent relatively new territory for many in the Arts and Humanities. With this in mind, I offer a few suggestions regarding design for the consideration of those who may be new to poster presentations. (I’d offer the example of a few of my own past posters, but they are so generally poorly-designed that I’m saving them for a separate post on “How Not to Design an Arts and Humanities Poster.”)

Use both Image and Word. Posters offer the opportunity to employ images to highlight one’s research work, but they generally work best when they use text and image together in a complementary fashion. Text and image should, ideally, relate to and supplement each other in meaningful ways. Pretty pictures are, well, pretty, but save those vacation pics of yourself on the beach in Aruba for Facebook.

Don’t Overuse Text. Most disciplines in the Arts and Humanities are heavily text-oriented, and it follows that much of our research is as well. Resist the temptation, however, to cram too much text into your poster. Reading a poster, especially when the text is small and overabundant, can be tiring and trying. Be concise and succinct; in general, your overall word count should be under 1000 words (and a good deal under that is best).

Divide Text into Bite-sized Chunks. This follows on the point above: most readers will either not finish, or skip entirely, long text blocks. Keep it short and easy to digest, somewhere half-way between a tweet and a Facebook rant.

Use White Space. Where possible, use white space (i.e., blank parts of your poster) to ensure that your reader doesn’t feel that she or he is facing information overload. This should include reasonably luxurious margins around the edges of the poster, as well as space between text and image components, and space within text blocks (for instance, space between lines of text). Really well-designed white space can be a means of directing your reader to particular parts of poster: a component that is surrounded by lots of white space, for instance, stands out, and is often the first thing read or viewed.

Use Colours, but (Mostly) Keep Them Light. Dark posters can be striking, but on the whole, a use of lighter colours is more inviting. Lighter colours also tend to print better. Keep these varied, but not garish (unless your research is on the subject of kitsch). In general, light text on a dark background is not a good idea. If you are wondering why, consider the web page you are reading now. Annoying, isn’t it?

Ulysses on a Dark Background

Although in some ways eye-catching, light text on a dark background can cause considerable eye strain.

Use Spatial Arrangement to Highlight Meaning. This seems obvious: in general, we read from left to right and top to bottom, and so (generally), the material that one wants people to read first should appear at the top left. Posters, however, don’t always work that way (see my comment on white space above, for instance), so don’t simply assume that readers will follow a simple left-to-right and top-to-bottom flow of components. Often it is the centre of the poster that attracts immediate attention. The least-regarded portion of your poster’s real estate is usually along the bottom.

Use Space to Break Linearity. Most of our text-based research tends (because of the very nature of text) to be linear: it follows a straight-forward path from beginning (introduction) to middle (analysis and information) to end (conclusion).  A poster, however, exists fully in two dimensions, so that it need not (and indeed is not particularly well suited for) a linear layout of information. One of the exciting things about using posters to disseminate your research is that you can employ a nonlinear mode of presentation, and use two-dimensional space and layout to present different ways of relating aspects of your research to each other. Our arguments and analyses tend to be linear because our textual mode of presentation is, but you will know from experience that it is not necessarily “naturally” so. So use the poster to experiment with new ways of relating components of your work to each other!

Keep Your Components Regular. By this, I mean that it is usually best to keep text boxes, margins, and images of more or less uniform width. It’s good practice to use different sizing (and different amounts of white space) to draw attention to particular components, but this works best if the other components are standardized somewhat. In addition,  a poster with elements that are all of different sizes, and that are not aligned well together, can look a bit haphazard and miscellaneous, and can be hard to follow. Think Piet Mondrian, rather than Jackson Pollock.

Poor Poster Design

A scatter-shot design that fails to focus attention or direct the reader.

Choose Fonts Carefully. In general, it is often best to use a non-serif font (e.g., Arial) for titles and headlines, and serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman or Helvetica) for smaller text. Do not, whatever you do, use Comic Sans: poster presenters have been stoned to death by angry mobs for doing this.

Keep Text Columns Narrow. Long text lines are difficult to read: keep text in relatively narrow columns that are no longer than about 50 characters (about a dozen words). Of course, don’t make them so narrow that people aren’t reading top-to-bottom more than they are reading left-to-right.

Use Graphs, Charts, Timelines, and Other Visualizations. Maybe. Posters produced for the STEM fields and Social Sciences tend to use a lot of these for two reasons: much of the information that they are presenting is quantitative data that is easily reducible to chart and graph, and such visualizations are a very effective way of presenting some kinds of information so that it can be assimilated quickly and easily. Obviously, we tend in the Arts and Humanities to use quantitative data much less frequently, but if you do employ this (for instance, in a chronology), you would do well to consider a visualization of this sort.

Framed text panels

Label Images. Images are seldom self-explanatory. Explain them. And tell us, if it seems relevant, where they come from, especially if you have used someone else’s.

Add Borders to Images. These need not be (and indeed, should not be) thick or obtrusive, but they do a good job of helping the image stand out, and “framing” it in a way that draws attention. The same principle applies to text panels; the application of a different coloured background can also help these stand out.

Use Reasonable Font Sizes. There is no hard and fast rule for this, but you do want your audience to be able to read the poster without scraping it with their noses. In general, you should scale up your fonts by at least 50%. This means that a body text that you’d normally display as 12-point should be at least 18-point for your poster.


Selected Resources

Centre for Learning Technology. “Poster Design Tips.” Centre for Learning Technology, The London School of Economics and Political Science. n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

Eggart, Mary Lee. “Effective Poster Design for Academic Conferences.” n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. [PDF]

Galvez, Alex. “Effective Poster Design.” Teaching Support Services. University of Guelph. n.d. Web.  21 Feb. 2013.

Purrington, Colin. “Designing Conference Posters.Colin Purrington. n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

Roundtree, Aimee. “Posters for Humanities and Social Sciences Student Research Conference.” University of Houston Downtown. 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. [PDF]

Andrew Piper (McGill) on “Adventures in Topological Reading” at Western

Andrew Piper on "Adventures in Topological Reading”

We are delighted to announce an upcoming paper by Dr. Andrew Piper from McGill.

Andrew Piper
“Adventures in Topological Reading”
Friday, 8 February
Lawson Hall 2270C

In this talk I will present some of my current collaborative work to create topological models for visualizing literary history. While the term topology covers a variety of fields that extend from graph theory to the mathematics of continuous spaces to thinking about topoi or linguistic “commonplaces,” we are using it as a means of modeling linguistic patterns to understand the spatial connections of literary texts. In bringing to light the distributed recurrences of language that otherwise escape our critical readings, how can topology tell us new things about our literary past? Projects to be discussed include the impact of the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, the meaning of social networks in detective fiction, and the rhetoric of conversion in autobiography and the novel.

Andrew Piper is associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and associate member in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. His new book, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago, 2012), is an attempt to map out the possible futures of reading through an understanding of the historical entanglements of books, bodies, and screens. As part of his work on the lineaments between print and digital culture, he is co-founder of the FQRSC-funded research group, Interacting with Print: Cultural Practices of Intermediality, 1700-1900, as well as CiteLab, a new digital humanities initiative at McGill University. In addition to a number of articles that explore the intersections of literature and the book in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he is the author of Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (Chicago, 2009), which was awarded the MLA Prize for a first book.

This presentation is co-hosted by the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, The IDI in Digital Humanities, and the Research Group for Electronic and Textuality and Theory.

Dr. Piper will also be another giving a talk at Western on this same Friday at 3:30pm, on the subject of “Reactive Life: The Instrumentality of Modern Autobiography,” Somerville House 2348.

 Many thanks to Tilottama Rajan and Juan Luis Suarez for co-sponsoring this event!

“Developing a ‘Live’ Distance Studies Course”

This from the Faculty of Social Science at Western University:

Come and learn about how Tony and Livia designed a distance studies version of an introductory statistics course which simulated a live lecture as closely as possible.

Tony Vernon and Livia Veselka
Date: January 31st 
Time: Noon (Bring A Lunch!) 
Place: SSC 9420


Developing a "Live" Distance Learning Course

Tony Vernon has been a member of the Department of Psychology at Western since 1982 and has taught an introductory statistics course at least once a year since then. Livia Veselka is a PhD student in the Personality and Measurement area of the Department of Psychology who has been a teaching assistant for a number of different statistics courses. Tony and Livia have both received multiple teaching awards.


Online Citation Software: A Workshop on Mendeley and Zotero

On 5 February, the Research Group for Electronic Textuality and Theory will be holding a special workshop for faculty and graduate students, to be led by Kim Martin from FIMS:

“Online Citation Software: A Workshop on Mendeley and Zotero
5 February, 2013
4:30-6:30 p.m.
Somerville House Room 2317

Mendeley and Zotero are free online and desktop applications that facilitate citation, reference management, archiving, and online sharing of research materials and citation lists.  Zotero is open source software designed in particular for the Humanities at George Mason University.

Workshop on Mendeley and Zotero

Kim will begin with a brief discussion of the merits and advantages of both these applications, and then lead participants through the steps in setting up and managing their own online reference library. Participants should plan to bring a laptop computer with them to the session, and should (if possible) have registered for and installed both programmes on it. No registration is required for this workshop.

Zotero can be downloaded here:
Mendeley can be downloaded here: