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Digital Humanities - Introduction: Research Dissemination in COVID-19 times

Introducing Digital Humanities methods, practices and support at Exeter

Introduction

Working from home and away from the university’s facilities can present challenges in communicating research findings and developments. Using this Digital Humanities (DH) Lab guide you can create short films or produce research interviews with equipment you have at home. We recommend some low-cost purchases that can also enhance your production and enable you to share research messages more widely and efficiently with impact.

One of the primary aims of the DH Lab is to support researchers across the university to produce impressive content, relating to their research. There are a number of ways in which the Lab and our team deliver this aim:

  • Providing Video Production, Podcast recording and audio digitisation services and training
  • Producing interactive data visualisation platforms, such as the Famine and Dearth map
  • Digitising, developing and curating digital text, audio and historic collections, such as the Poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine project and the Poly-Olbion project
  • Delivering ‘getting started’ support for photographic and Audio-Visual equipment to staff and students
  • Designing and publishing exciting and unique digital content for public engagement, such as the Powderham family cartulary

Before deciding on a method of communication consider the purpose of the dissemination, would your viewers or readers benefit from the ability to pause the recording? Who is your target audience and where do they regularly visit online? Would you like to invite live discussion in the form of a livestream that you can manage through comments? Is it important to see the participants or hear them? A podcast made up of a panel with relevant experience might be of benefit here. Infographics provide a visual summary of data and key points and are likely to be remembered and shared more widely. You may wish to use two mediums of communications and provide resources in alternative formats for accessibility.

Examples of popular dissemination methods for researchers in isolation are the following:

  • YouTube video or livestream
  • Blog posts and pages
  • Podcasts and audio digitisation
  • Infographics

Video production, editing & platforms

Communicating research messages by video during this period of social distancing is achievable and, in many ways, offers a wider reach and impact on audiences. We are visual beings, and as such, our video productions should be tailored to be:

  • Delivered in a professional manner, with clear speech and where applicable with subtitles or translation
  • The subject well-framed, positioned in either the centre of the shot, or using the golden ratio for an interview or discussion with two or more persons
  • The background neutral, or appropriate to the subject of the discussion
  • The focus of the lens should remain on the subject in the foreground, excluding wide shots or cut-away shots to relevant details within the scene, discussed example, or of the relevant surroundings

Download a copy of our detailed Video Production for research and documentary guide here, for an overview of the shots that you can use, how to plan a production, position a subject and the common video camera settings.

For smartphone filming you can plan your shots and film them in iPhone HD, use the settings menu to adjust the frame rate to 30 fps (in the iPhone Settings menu amend the Video frame rate) to use this option.

When filming, remember to try to film more than you need, or revisit a topic, if you need to. It’s best to shoot a video when the conditions are the same (lighting, background audio, your appearance) for consistency when you remove video in the edit.

Try to film with good natural light, but away from a window if at all possible, to prevent sudden changes in the lighting conditions. You can control the light more professionally by purchasing daylight balanced lighting (see the equipment section for suggestions).

Be prepared for your filming, ensure batteries are fully charged and that you have a supply of SD cards with available space before you begin. Ask for help from a member of your household if you are the subject of the production.

Whilst editing be sure to keep it simple, and easy to watch. Adding flashy or dramatic motion graphics will cheapen the production and it will date more rapidly. You can use the provided templates for titles and credits, and sound effects for trailers and montages from your stock footage.

Before you finalise an edit be sure to send the video to at least two critical friends for comment. Sometimes when we edit for sustained periods, we miss mistakes, or we are overcritical of our content. Another perspective can help to improve your final production quality, even if the edit takes longer. 

Equipment

To get started in Video Production from home you might like to make some small purchases to improve the production quality and make your life easier, here are our suggestions:

  • A Joby Gorilla Pod or another mini-tripod, or full-size tripod with a mount for a smartphone
  • A compact tripod for your camera or video camera. Want to purchase a video camera for filming in HD? Try the Canon Legria, or another vlogging camera with a built-in microphone
  • Smartphone holder with ring light for talking heads filming and still photography
  • A Lavelier microphone for recording podcasts
  • External hard drive for saving large files 

Software

Using software tailored to beginners or occasional users that is either free or low cost, and easy to operate will benefit your dissemination output. Introductory level software typically comes with templates for titles and credits, a small bank of audio effects and some basic visual effects. You can also crop your videos, and easily paste in cut away shots from other footage in the timeline if you make a mistake. You can import files into the software from your iPhone, Cloud Storage or device, directly into your timeline.

There are many basic editing software packages available, in both free and pay monthly and one-off payment options. We suggest using the following:

Apple

Please visit our Video Production LibGuide for details of how to use software as a beginner.

  • iMovie (FREE)
  • Final Cut Pro X (Subscription)

 

Windows

  • Da Vinci Resolve (FREE) (with some professional features)
  • Adobe Premiere – the production industry favourite (Monthly subscription to Adobe Suite - educational discount for institutions and students)
  • Wondershare Filmora (Subscription)

Paid software usually comes with a free trial period of up to 30 days, and you can start a subscription and pause at any time.

Instructional guides with technical experts for editing tasks within your software are all available in YouTube. Simply search for the guide you need. Free software is all you need to get started and practice making a film.  

3D modelling for beginners using apps

The DH Lab produce 3D models of Cultural Heritage artefacts to enhance College of Humanities research outputs. For best results, a DSLR camera is used to produce a series of rings of still images around the object at specified intervals which are combined using Agisoft Metashape software to produce a digital surrogate model. You can view our models to date on the Exeter Digital Humanities SketchFab site.

For beginners at home, the best alternative is to explore scanning an object of interest using your smartphone and an app. Current apps available (depending on your project requirements) are listed below and vary from producing and sculpting your own 3D model and 3D print. Take a look at the app description and test their functionality. YouTube videos of the apps in action can save time here.

  • Putty3D
  • UMake
  • 3DC
  • Morphi
  • Microsoft 3D Builder
  • Thingiverse
  • Qlone
  • Qubism

The apps will require some experimentation to take effective photographs or scan a replica of an object accurately, check the help and support pages for guidance.

When you have produced a 3D model, you can upload it to an account such as SketchFab for 3D viewing or to Thingiverse for 3D printing. Charges vary according to the app and viewer platforms, do your research before you commit to a fee. Your College may already have an account you can use on an educational licence. You will be able to share an embedded link to the model from your blog, social media account or website.

The Lab recently worked with a 3D Print Your Thesis prize winner Laura Burnett, to produce her first 3D model of a mythical Capricorn creature held in the South West Heritage Trust archives - discover the 3D model here.

Audio digitisation & Podcasts

The DH Lab’s Audio-Visual studio and recording suite provides facilities for recording audio, whilst the Lab is not currently open for visitors we can advise on the equipment and software that would be useful to staff and students working from home.

A Lavelier microphone or directional microphone for vlogging or podcasting will produce an improved audio quality than your smartphone. However, in some cases you might find that the built in microphone audio is sufficient for the project, e.g. a research interview to be transcribed or a short audio recording for a group mini-project.

Use podcast recording apps and external microphones to record collaborative audio, examples for iOS and Android include: RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Podbean, Stitcher, Laughable, Tune-In Radio and Spotify.

When you turn to editing we recommend Audacity - a free, open-source audio editing software which enables you to upload MP3 and MP4 files and undertake basic audio level changes and editing to the audio timeline. Please visit our Audacity LibGuide for more information on getting started with the platform.

Podcasts and digitisation of analogue formats for research purposes can be uploaded to a blog or website via Soundcloud. You can obtain an account and use a widget in WordPress to include content you have recorded.

When planning podcast content you will need to prepare for the following:

  • Podcasts work best when there is new, interesting discussion between a diverse panel, e.g. a student, an academic, an archivist and a technician – choose your panel wisely and do your research
  • Theme your content, and ask thought provoking questions
  • Send key questions in advance to your contributors, this ensures they have a basic structure – much of the more interesting content will develop through ad-hoc discussion
  • Decide how you will organise the title, chronology and labelling of your podcast on your blog or website – number the episodes and organise your raw and edited files according to a set file naming convention
  • Be ready with additional prompts, in case the conversation dries up
  • Record as much content as you can, but don’t drag out the recording – the listener will find it unnatural
  • Allow a day for your edits per hour recorded, including sharing with at least two critical friends for final edits before rendering the file and publishing – technical problems can occur with the software or file transfers, so best to allow plenty of time for this
  • Promote your content in a professional and organised manner to keep your listeners enthused

Research Dissemination support

Have a question about your Research Dissemination or filming project? The DH Lab is supported by Technical Services, Library and IT experts, you can contact us via digitalhumanities@exeter.ac.uk for assistance.

You can take a virtual tour of the Digital Humanities Lab with our team here

Presenting research data

Infographics in a visual or audio format for the visually impaired, are an interesting way to present your research data. The benefit of using this format to disseminate quantitative data, either around your activity or the data generated from your original research where appropriate, is to summarise the trends or results that are pertinent to the project with impact. The reader is more likely to recall a visual summary, of the key points of a paper for example. Sharing a high-resolution version online with interesting illustrations and images, will increase the number of social media circulations of the post and accompanied by social media hashtags can generate an increased number of engagements with your work.  

There are two basic approaches, firstly creating the graphics by hand, approximating the quantitative elements within your design, or secondly using programming tools to accurately create the graphics. The latter approach can deal with significantly larger and more complex data, and has a steep learning curve, but the former can be faster and have more immediate impact.

Examples of published Infographics from the Digital Humanities field include:

PowerPoint and Excel are both available at most educational sites, enabling you to insert images, text and alter the formatting from a standard slide size to a rectangular poster format.

Canva.com is a paid for service, but comes with a 30-day free trial, providing templates for producing visually exciting Infographics without extensive formatting.  

The Guardian Data Journalism Blog has excellent examples from current affairs, social sciences and media – great for ideas on what works in infographics.

Visit YouTube for instructional guides on using software to produce professional infographics for the greatest impact.

For more complex programmatic infographics, you’ll need to learn a programming language (Python seems to be the most popular), and analysis and graphics toolkits – there are several for Python depending on what you want to achieve. The Programming Historian has several tutorials, for example on Bokeh and Pandas, or Leaflet.

An example of this type of visualisation was produced for Exeter’s Famine and Dearth project. The Mundy map illustrates sentiment in diary entries by a Cornish merchant travelling in India in the 17th Century, and has details of its construction.

Please see the Podcasts and Audio digitisation of the guide below for a guide to getting started with recording your audio.

 

Blogging & social media

Blogging enables you to report in a more detailed and sustained way, producing content away from the social media sites, and dedicated to your project or research. There are a number of free platforms that can be customised when you set up an account and you can purchase a custom domain URL reasonably inexpensively.

WordPress is the most commonly used platform for DH Lab research outputs, please see our projects page for links. Blogger is another popular platform which you can use simply as a new vlogger, like WordPress blog layout templates are provided and your posts can be edited using standard word processing tools using the visual editor.

Sites created in both platforms are customisable with widgets, including links to social media accounts, catalogue of posts and most popular published material. Still photography and video content can be uploaded to your posts or gallery,

For short content and brief updates try Instagram stories, and upload video to Twitter or Facebook. Don’t underestimate the impact of sharing short recordings or images regularly, audiences are more likely to engage with your work if the updates are visually exciting, brief and memorable.

You can also use social media scheduling software (apps are downloadable from your app store) to post your updates and link to your content simultaneously using Hootsuite or Buffer. There are free trials available, individual subscriptions tend to be at a reasonable rate if you will be posting very regularly.

Remember also that you will need to work on expanding your audiences for any of these platforms, through other social media channels, societies or groups. The best way to attract new followers is always to have interesting, fresh and regular updates.

Take care in how much of your research you share, in order to retain ownership of your original material, but do share enough detail to engage your audience – often comments and discussions triggered on blogs and social media can bring new insights or aspects of research that can be incorporated into your project (with appropriate acknowledgement and credit of course).

Research videos resources

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Exeter readers: Visit Focus On: Making Research Videos our collaboration with the Doctoral College for further advice, resources and links including an expert panel discussion. 

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