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Unlocking the ivory tower: Free and open source software in collaborative humanities research

Time:14:30 - 15:15
Day:Wednesday 20 January 2010
Location:Renouf 1 (MFC)
Project: Founders and Survivors

Freedom to learn; freedom to share; freedom to connect. Humans have a basic need to remember and interpret our own stories and share them with others. Although professional and academic conventions can place barriers between technology and the humanities, technology has always been important for helping us share our understandings of our world. As IT reaches a greater level of mainstream accessibility, it is being used more widely in the study, teaching and dissemination of the humanities. Databases and data analysis tools are being used to analyse written and visual sources using quantitative methods, while a wide range of communication tools enable scholars and the wider community to collaborate and share their work. FOSS and free content principles are crucial in this movement as they can break barriers between academic disciplines and between academics and wider society. The use of FOSS and greater accessibility in the humanities also poses new challenges: challenges of culture and information literacy, and challenges of ownership.

This presentation will explore the opportunities and challenges of the digital humanities primarily through two historical projects based at the University of Melbourne. Founders and Survivors is an ambitious project to record and document every convict transported to Van Diemen's Land under British law, trace their descendants through to the First World War period, and analyse the impact of hardship and resilience on these families. It is a collaboration between academic historians, archivists, programmers, demographers, epidemiologists and local and family historians around Australia.

WikiShepp (currently in alpha) is a collaborative local history wiki that will document the history of the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria. It is being developed by University of Melbourne staff but will eventually be managed by the Goulburn Valley public library service, local history societies and the wider community.

Claudine Chionh

Claudine Chionh is a theology student, history graduate and self-taught geek. She works as a data manager and web developer in the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne, primarily on the Founders and Survivors and WikiShepp projects. She has been a member of LinuxChix and Linux Users of Victoria since the early 2000s.