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Suggested dissertation topics
(note that these are from the academic year 2011-12 and are currently being updated)
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
Using Social Interpretation in Museum Spaces to guide Curatorial Decisions (Melissa Terras)
UCLDH have developed the award wining QRator system, currently in use in the Grant Museum of Zoology. Thousands of visitors respond to questions posed by the curators, and we have much data that can now be analysed about visitor's reaction to the museum space. This dissertation would be looking at how usable the answers are that are coming out of the QRator model, and whether curators can actually use their responses to make decisions? This will be working closely with the QRator team and the Grant Museum of Zoology.
Use of the Online Resources of the British Museum (Melissa Terras)
There is the potential for a student to work alongside the web team at the British Museum to understand more about user behaviour, and how their website is used by the general public. Details are still to be arranged, but if you would be interested in undertaking such a project (which would link into a workplacement there, so this would follow a workplacement with the web team at the British Museum) then do notify both Melissa and Julianne Nyhan to register your interest.
How can colours best be used in word clouds? (Melissa Terras)
Word clouds have been used in various places - such as in wordle, and as the front end of visualisations of tags in social media - for the past few years. At UCLDH we are in the process of developing an iPhone app, called Textal, which takes any text and turns it into a clickable word cloud, allowing people to explore the underlying statistics of the text. However, in developing Textal, we discovered that there had been no research done into the best colours to use in word clouds, and the relationships of different colours to show word frequency, or classification, etc. How can colours be best used in word clouds? What is the best method to test and prove this? This dissertation will be a hands on exploration into digital media, usability, and colour science.
Evaluation of digital-interaction in a UCL Museums Exhibition (Melissa Terras)
UCLDH are currently putting together the next (and only the second) exhibition in the Octagon gallery space at UCL - see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/exhibitions/octagon for more details. This will showcase the work done across college in communications and technology and culture and heritage. We aim to make full use of the digital capacity of the cabinets. This dissertation will be an evaluation of the digital interaction of the cabinet spaces, and the evaluation of the exhibition as a whole, requiring on-cite and digital evaluation. This is a chance to get involved with UCL Museums for a timely research topic.
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.
What makes a meme a meme? (Melissa Terras)
How do meme's become memes? What are the routes to a topic becoming viral? This will be a survey and analysis of the routes a large number of internet memes took to becoming cultural tropes. Allied to this will be - how popular are memes? Do online memes resonate into popular culture beyond the web?
Tumblr - why is image based microblogging so popular?(Melissa Terras)
One of the success stories online of 2011 was Tumblr https://www.tumblr.com/ which saw an incredible growth rate. Why is this so popular? In particular, how is it being used in cultural heritage? Sites like http://todaysinspiration.tumblr.com/and http://prettypictures.paleofuture.com/ are an incredibly popular way to share images and image based content. There is scope here for a very early paper on Tumblr - there has not been much studied on this before, so there is room to scope out some research on the use and usefulness of this platform
World's Fairs Digitisation Scoping Study(Melissa Terras/Claire Warwick)
World's Fairs, or world expo (expo short for exposition) is a large public exhibition that has been held yearly since the 1850s. We have been approached by a researcher wishing to scope out how a unified digital resource could be put together which would gather together all the historical information that was available about these world fairs, as there has been no project yet to gather this information into one central space. This dissertation would take the form of a scoping study, seeing what was already online regarding world fairs, and scoping out how a unified resource could be put together, and next steps to do so. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_world_expositions to see the breadth and scope of these exhibitions.
Digitising the Slade Archival Reader - How best to proceed? (Melissa Terras)
The Slade Archive Project is based at the Slade School of Fine Art - one of the best fine art schools in the world, based at UCL's main campus. The Slade have an archive, in their loft, containing a hundred years of photographs, records, films, sketches, etc including many students who are now world-famous artists. The Slade Archive Project is scoping out how best to delve into this archive, so that its contents can be made available to a wider audience.
A decade or so ago, an "archival reader" was produced: three books of lists of what is in the archive, with cross references to various materials in the archive, and materials in UCL special collections and UCL art museum. What can we do with this document? Can it be put online? How best would we do this? Can it be digitised? This dissertation would be a scoping study, looking at what the potential is for digitising an archival reader, and demonstrating the best way to go about presenting this complex document online.
Peer review and evaluation of digital publications (Julianne Nyhan)
To what extent have digital Journals incorporated new and of emerging forms of peer review (e.g. Open, Group, Continued and Dynamic) into their peer review processes? What is the 'state of the art' of such developments and can best practices be identified?
From TEI P5 to Linked data (Julianne Nyhan)
“Linked Data is about using the Web to connect related data that wasn't previously linked, or using the Web to lower the barriers to linking data currently linked using other methods” (see http://linkeddata.org/). How (both technically and intellectually) might one go about extending TEI encoded editions of historical sources with linked data? What are the key challenges and opportunities of extending historical texts with linked data? What impact does this have on the questions that one can ask of such resources?
Using interactive online media as a pedagogical tool (Simon Mahony)
The popularity of Web 2.0 applications is spreading fast and this is no longer being seen as the preserve of the young. The groups and communities that spring up 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'. Alternatively, you might 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?
How are different Languages used on Twitter? (Claire Warwick)
The microblogging service Twitter has really taken off in the last few years. There are few statistics around about how it is used by different communities. This dissertation would survey how different languague communities are using twitter. There would be a quantitative element (what percentage of tweets are in french? english? german?) and a qualitative elements (what affect does this have on people's identities?).
Electronic books and reading practices (Claire Warwick)
This work would form part of the INKE project (Implementing New Knowledge Environments. We would like help in research on how general readers and humanities academics use physical and digital resources in their research and when they are reading for pleasure. We'd like to know what the effect of this might be on the future of reading practices.
Key texts in the formation of Digital Humanities (Julianne Nyhan)
How has the application of computing to the Humanities been shaped by the contributions of thinkers such as Vannevar Bush? Can the legacy of their ideas still be recognised today? Which seminal thinkers and texts should be included in any discussion of the origins of digial humanities?
The effect of web 2.0 on users in the arts and humanities (Claire Warwick)
Web 2.0 is flavour of the month right now, and promises to allow users far more freedom to interact with online content than before. But very little work has actually been done to test its effects on users, and evaluate whether it lives up to its promise, or indeed whether people actually like or use it as compared to more static sites. I'd be especially interested in looking at these issues in relation to some practical user testing, and with particular reference to the arts and humanities.
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?
Use of Digital scholarly editions (Claire Warwick)
It has long been argued that digital editions are superior to printed books, because of their more complex functionality: they can incorporate an unlimited number of variants, they make editorial emendations easier to see etc. However, there is beginning to be some doubt as to whether such editions are actually being used. Could it be that books still have their place, or are users being stubborn and luddite? This dissertation would investigate such questions.
Digital Public Engagement(Claire Warwick)
UCL takes public engagment very seriously. Academics are encouraged to undertake various activities during which they involve people outside academia in their work. How can this work in digital spaces? Is there such a thing as digital public engagement? I'd like to explore the way that social media such as crowd sourcing can be used in digital spaces to help us engage with those outside UCL. I'd also like to know how the user experience of digital resurces changes one social media is used to allow people to take part in a two way conversation, or to contribute objects or interpretations to collections, as opposed simply to viewing digital objects online.
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.