Suggested DH dissertation topics

The following is a list of some areas in which you might like to do some research and a member of staff to contact about it. For contact details of staff members listed below, see the UCLDH People page

The Benefits of the Arts and Humanities to Society (Melissa Terras)

Every single Arts and Humanities faculty across the UK prepared a raft of "impact statements" for the Research Assessment Exercise which details how their work benefits society. For example, see the ones from UCL: http://search2.ucl.ac.uk/s/search.html?query=&collection=impact&f.Faculty|Z=ah&sort=date .

Can we analyse these statements, across different institutions, to provide a quantitative overview of how the arts and humanities benefit society? This will involve a range of methods, including text analysis of a corpus of statements, close reading, content analysis, network analysis, etc, and is a good opportunity to build up evidence to support the worth of the arts and humanities within wider society.

The use and uptake of Jpeg 2000 in digitisation initiatives (Melissa Terras)


The Jpeg 2000 format was heralded as the perfect long term digitisation preservation format. However, uptake across the sector has been slow, and there are various reported, actual, and perceived problems with the format. This dissertation will look at the uptake of JPeg 2000 across the Gallery, Library, Archive, and Museum sector, and summarise where we are with this innovative image file format.

Who uses amateur digitisation sites? (Melissa Terras)

In previous research I demonstrated that sites made by amateurs, documenting ephemera, are used by thousands of users (see Terras, M (2009) "Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation". Literary and Linguistic Computing, 25 (4) 425 - 438., available at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/171071/1/Terras_Amateur_Digitisation.pdf ). It would be interesting to return to this study and to understand how and why these sites are used. The sites in question are ones such as http://www.jonwilliamson.com/ and http://todaysinspiration.blogspot.com/, and this dissertation would look at the use and users of amateur digitised content. The previous research on this has been very well cited, so this follow up project could be very interesting. There has been no previous research on this (that I am aware of ) so there is the chance to make a real contribution to the field.

Any topic about digitisation in general! (Melissa Terras)

I am interested in supervising any dissertation topics which deal with digitisation as a process, or output, or product, in the cultural and heritage sectors, but also beyond.

Linking Historical XML Data: the Great Parchment Book and the 1641 Depositions in Ireland (Melissa Terras and/or Julianne Nyhan)

A research project between UCL and London Metropolitan Archives has resulted in the reading of the Great Parchment Book - a survey of land owners in LondonDerry in 1639. It is now available as a TEI compliant XML transcript, and you can view it at http://www.greatparchmentbook.org/.

Two years after that, in 1641, The 1641 Depositions were collected (Trinity College Dublin, MSS 809-841). These are witness testimonies mainly by Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds, concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion. These are also transcribed and available as TEI compliant XML. http://1641.tcd.ie/about.php

This dissertation will explore linking the two sets of documents, and what can be done by cross referencing them, given they contain details about the same people and places, 2 years apart. This is an exciting project for someone who has enjoyed XML and is keen to try out their skills on a novel project linking two different sets of historical documents in order to see what new insights into history this leads to. It will be done in collaboration with London Metropolitan Archives and Trinity.

Any topic about the history of computing in the Humanities (Julianne Nyhan)

I've been conducting research on the history of computing in the Digital Humanities over the past few years (see my publication's page for details https://www.ucl.ac.uk/dis/people/juliannenyhan/publications)) and I'm interested in supervising any topic related to this or the history of computing in the Humanities more generally. 

Humanist and its shifting sands (Julianne Nyhan)

Below is an abstract for a chapter that I've been asked to write for a forthcoming book on the history of social media in the Humanities.  In the proposed chapter I will be able to cover, at most, a year's worth of conversations. There is much material to be explored and I'd be interested in supervising a dissertation that might focus on another relevant aspect: 

Humanist: tracing the social-scientific dimensions of a proto-social media platform in the Digital Humanities

Humanist is an online, international seminar on digital humanities that was set up in 1987 by Willard McCarty. Since its inception it has taken the form of an electronic mailing list and, within the context of the history of Computing in the Humanities, can be viewed as proto-social media platform. Newer and slicker social media and crowd-driven platforms may have come (and, in some cases, gone) but Humanist has endured. Indeed, it arguably remains digital humanities’ most vital locus of questioning, imagining and reflecting both on and about itself and its many interdisciplinary intersections. But how have its intellectual concerns and motivations changed since 1987? How do the themes that dominate so much of today’s conversations around Digital Humanities on social (such as Twitter, Blogs, Face book etc) relate to the questions that gripped Digital Humanities practitioners in the early years of Humanist? In order to answer this question, and so to identify and explore the shifting socio-scientific concerns of the Digital Humanities as they are expressed and mediated through social media, this paper will combine archival research of the Humanist archive and oral history research of key figures in Humanists’ history. In doing so this paper will illuminate a hitherto neglected facet of the history of Digital Humanities and the role that proto-social media platforms have played in its identification and articulation of its intellectual agenda. 

Gender and Collaborative publication patterns in the Digital Humanities (Julianne Nyhan and Oliver Duke- Williams)

Oliver Duke-Williams and I have been conducting research into gender and collaborative publication patterns in the Digital Humanities (article under peer review; an initial indications of our findings here: http://archelogos.hypotheses.org/author/archelogos). Our initial findings are that we may not be as collaborative as we think in the digital humanities. This study can be expanded further to include other types of publication that we could not include (e.g. conference abstracts) and to investigate some of the many questions our initial study has raised but not been able to answer.

Note: you will need to have a reasonable understanding of statistics in order to undertake this topic.

Metadata and image collections in the Birmingham Museums' trust (Julianne Nyhan)

I've been contact by the Birmingham Museums Trust. They will make their collections (and, where relevant and necessary, things like log analysis data)  available to students who want to investigate topics relevant to the following issues:

  • How efficient are the keywords on our picture library website: bmagimages.org.uk
  • Using a thesaurus when cataloguing a photo archive of a museum collection - when/how do you automate and how efficient can this be?
  • How can you optimise the plans offered by omeka.net to organise and present your photo collection? How can they work for smaller collections and what are the issues that administrators and users face when using this resource? How does it compare to any other similar options that may be available (although I don’t know of any)
  • Also, if someone is interested to work in accessibility and usability issues and online presentation of data, I think it is worth investigating what kind of image descriptions work in the alt attribute in html for blind and visually impaired users.


We will need to refine these topics further so that they are suitable for an master's level dissertation but the topics above give you an idea of what can be investigated.

Oral History and Digital Humanities (Julianne Nyhan)

Some work has been written about the possibilities for Oral History in a digital age. But what can the techniques, methodologies and tools of Digital Humanities (as opposed to ITC in general) offer to Oral History that is new and worthwhile? Case studies from my 'Hidden Histories' project (see my publications page for details https://www.ucl.ac.uk/dis/people/juliannenyhan/publications) can be used in the project. Topics investigated can run the gamut from presentation (e.g. innovative publication strategies and forms), interrogation (e.g. text analysis techniques) and assistive computing (e.g. investigations of automated transcription approaches of English spoken as a second or third language).

The impact of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 on digital lexicography (Julianne Nyhan)

In 2003, in an article entitled 'Lexicographers' Dreams in the Electronic‐Dictionary Age', (International Journal of Lexicography 16.2) De Schryver wrote that 'The arrival of the modern computer set in motion a series of lexicographers' dreams without equal in the history of dictionary making'. However, he concluded that few of those dreams had at that time been realised. Has this situation changed today? How have lexicographers dreams been transformed by Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 developments? What inroads, if any, have social media and the semantic web had on how electronic dictionaries are used and designed?

Change and transformation in in Digital Humanities (Julianne Nyhan)

Digital Humanities often talks about its achievements and revolutionary advancements. What about its many initiatives, project and centre's that didn't do so well? What do they have in common? What is different about them? What commonalities and situation-specific observations can we draw?
Much could be gained from investigating this question further and compiling a set of relevant case studies (e.g. not this dissertation would address institutions, research groups and collaborative teams and not individuals) 


The shape Digital Humanities and the role of the centre (Julianne Nyhan)

Since the inception of Digital Humanities it seems that the Centre has been one of its most fundamental organizational units. Why is this? Can we identify some of the   impacts this has had on how knowledge is created, exchanged, interrogated and transformed in Digital Humanities? What other models are possible and how might they work?

Digital Humanities, Nanotechnology and beyond (Julianne Nyhan)

Can we have Digital Humanities without the Digital? How might new and emerging technologies change the face and scope of Digital Humanities as we know it today?
What new possibilities might e.g. Nanotechnology, Quantum Computing etc bring to "Digital" Humanities?


Defining Digital Humanities: beyond the English-speaking realm (Julianne Nyhan)

Digital Humanities has active communities in many countries across the world.   I've recently learned of the wealth of articles in Spanish that have been written on the topic 'what is Digital Humanities'?, among others (see here: http://infolet.it/2014/02/01/humanidades-digitales-y-diversidad-cultural/). Much work has to be done to analyse this literature and bring it to the attention of those who don't speak the relevant languages. This thesis would perhaps analyse a core set of articles published in a language other than English in order to bring them to the attention of a wider audience. It would also analyse these articles and then compare them with relevant, highly cited articles in other languages in order to identify key themes and divergences.    

Using interactive online media as a pedagogical tool (Simon Mahony)

 Web 2.0 applications are now ubiquitous and are no longer the preserve of the young. The groups and communities that spring up in online social spaces are ones where the members have some sort of connection or shared interest. Some initiatives exist (particularly in distance education) to create learning communities and this is sometimes seen as equally necessary in traditional learning institutions where students follow modular programmes. How might the existing web mechanisms, particularly in the area of social networking, be used to build learning communities and advance pedagogy?

Online, distance and mobile education (Simon Mahony)

Distance education has been around for a considerable time but in what way has new technology changed the way in which it is delivered? What are the pedagogical implications of these new delivery systems and how do they impact on the 'student experience'. You might wish to consider new initiatives for the delivery of education outside North America and Western Europe.

Physical verses virtual museum space (Simon Mahony)

Many museums are using new technologies in a variety of innovative ways to enhance the visitor experience. These range from simple hand-held devices and touch screen information monitors to full online virtual tours. How does this impact on the relationship between institution, the visiting public and the academic community? Are these simply gimmicks that the institutions feel they ought to be providing because they are able to, or does the virtual museum provide a useful function? How might the museum negotiate the tensions between the differing needs of the physical and virtual space?

The impact of new technologies on research in traditional disciplines. (Simon Mahony)

The study of the Ancient World is one of the most traditional and longest established disciplines and yet Classicists were amongst the earliest adopters of digital technologies. Digital methods and electronic publication have opened up many possibilities in a field that is often perceived as being resistant to change. Case studies from within the Digital Classicist community (there is a wide range to chose from) would be a good starting point to research the development of collaborative working and the impact of digital methodologies and techniques on traditional academic disciplines.

Experience and User Response to Digitised Content (Simon Mahony)

Very little consideration has been given to the difference between accessing, viewing, and using digitised content, as opposed to 'live' media. Audience reaction to live music or sport differs from screen based reactions. How can any of the findings about live verses recorded performance be applied to our understanding of digitised material? How can we understand and articulate the difference between experiencing objects and artefacts through our screens, versus being beside them, live, in the room?

Social Media, public engagement and cultural institutions (Simon Mahony)

How might cultural heritage institutions leverage social media to increase public engagement and to interact with their audience (both primary and secondary)? Is this always beneficial and are there lessons to be learned from the larger established institutions?

Social Media use as a communications and political tool (Simon Mahony)

Does social media open up new channels and new possibilities for politics and  journalism as well as social change? 

Online identity and identity construction (Simon Mahony)

How is it that our digital identity is constructed and maintained online? Are there cultural differences and variations in the use of social media for self promotion and identity construction?

Open Education, OpenCourseWare, Open Educational Resources (Simon Mahony)

Has education for all has taken on a new meaning in the digital age? Any study in any of these areas that suited a student's own interst would be very welcome. 

Languages of tweets (Oliver Duke-Williams)

Various researchers have demonstrated the ability to map geo-coded tweets, disaggregated by the languages used in those tweets. To what extent do these reflect the actual geography of languages used? Results from the 2011 UK Census (to be released in 2013) will show the ranges of languages used in the home.  How do these compare?

Harvesting data from Google trends (Oliver Duke-Williams)

Searching Google Trends for terms related to the housing market reveals fluctuations in the level of search interest.  How do these relate (if at all) to fluctuations in internal migration as observed through administrative data sources? Is there sufficient data to investigate regional variations in the housing market? Can we adapt the search differentiate between different forms of housing tenure?

Google Ngrams and historic place significance (Oliver Duke-Williams)

The Google Ngrams allows a large set of digitised texts to be searched for various strings. How easily can we search for references to places? Does the level of place 'mentions' over time reflect relative importance (measured in population size or other metrics)?

Crowd-sourcing location data (Oliver Duke-Williams)

Given a set of address data, how good are people at locating a set of locations on a map? Do different people give different pinpoint locations - and if so, by how much do the vary? A dissertation topic would be to help construct a prototype interface to offer address sets to people, storing the results, and then comparing spatial variability.