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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday July 25, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Wendy Byrne

Wendy Byrne

Former Editorial Officer a.i. , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Alba Irollo

Alba Irollo

Research Coordinator , Europeana Foundation

The role of (audio)visual media as a storyteller

This year, funding from the Europeana Research Grants Programme has provided support for three early-career scholars to develop their projects related to the theme of The First World War. At the end of their projects, the 2018 Europeana Grant recipients took time out to answer some questions.

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Dr. Berber Hagedoorn at the Centre for Digital Humanities, University of Groningen

In this interview series, we get a glimpse into the researchers’ academic lives, their goals, and the influence of digital cultural heritage on their work. The third grant winner in this series is Dr Berber Hagedoorn, Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Her project supported by Europeana resulted in a detailed analysis and research model of user engagement and interaction with the Europeana 1914-1918 Collection, entitled 'Creative Reuse and Storytelling with Europeana 1914-1918'.

What is your current academic position and what is your research focus?

I'm an Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and my research interests revolve around audiovisual culture, its creative reuse and storytelling. My research starts from my personal fascination with the role of (audio)visual media as a storyteller, and how this role has amplified across platforms and screens in the digital age. Right now, more data, people and digital tools than ever before are involved in creative processes of storytelling, reflecting national and global identities and cultures. Such meaning-making is in large part scattered across platforms.

I am keen for my research to help in making these interpretations of reality – which importantly contribute to cultural memory formation in modern societies – more transparent. In this context, Digital Humanities can offer new opportunities for Humanities research, as well as help to question the value or limitations of data science methods. 

Photograph by Sebastiaan ter Burg

In the research project 'Creative Reuse and Storytelling with Europeana 1914-1918', we studied how data science methodologies can provide new contextualisation for textual and (audio)visual content, by: (1) selecting and collecting data (scraping the site of the collection); (2) translating descriptions from the different languages in the 1914-1918 Collection into English (both automatically and manually); (3) conducting sentiment analysis of the items’ descriptions; (4) topic modelling (both automatic and manual); and finally, (5) annotating via both manual labelling and unsupervised machine learning for clustering data (automated labelling), to offer new labels as contextualisation for storytelling and creative reuse with the collection. Such steps also included some statistical text analysis and visualisation of the results. The project underscores and provides tangible examples of how machine-learning techniques alone are not always enough to provide accurate results context-wise. The domain knowledge of the annotator is essential to the process of carrying out a complete and concrete task (for example in topic modelling), as the project demonstrates by means of specific case studies. 

Furthermore, it is necessary to incorporate qualitative methods for user studies, which help to understand specific user perspectives. Therefore, co-creative focus groups with specific search tasks allowed for specific insights into how researchers evaluate the role of creative reuse and storytelling, when doing research into historical events and personal perspectives of World War I with the Europeana 1914-1918 Collection. As a result, my project provides insights into how this collection 'affords' creative reuse and storytelling by researchers – both scholars and media professionals – as platform users. It especially offers deeper understandings of Europeana Collections as a creative storytelling platform: how the 1914-1918 Collection as linked (open) data can reveal 'hidden' archival stories, brought forth by cross-collection. Ultimately, it provides models suitable for exploring and contextualising Europeana Collections further.

Audiovisual culture on the Europeana 1914-1918 platform: An unidentified news report about various aspects of the First World War
Actualités britanniques 1914-1915
Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique
Audiovisual culture on the Europeana 1914-1918 platform: An unidentified news report about various aspects of the First World War

How has Europeana helped you to achieve your research goal?

My main starting point is that the selection of historical sources in a database adds another – more or less visible – layer of interpretation. Furthermore, documentalists or users describing an item may be more removed in terms of space and time from the personal story or perspective present in the historical source, which often leads to descriptions using more 'neutral' language, especially for audiovisual content. This is why the following questions were deemed relevant in this project: can data science offer opportunities to bring emotion 'back' into these sources?; and, can user analysis help here to better understand the value of such personal narratives in digital(ised) cultural heritage for creative reuse, storytelling and research?

By means of the research project 'Creative Reuse and Storytelling with Europeana 1914-1918' I performed a pilot study combining data science methods with qualitative analysis and user studies around linked (open) data, enabling me to observe platform engagement and interaction. As a result, this project has mapped out requirements for creative reuse and storytelling with the 1914-1918 Collection. It provides a research model to study engagement when using the platform, and thus studying in practice and in interaction how users and technologies co-construct meaning.

30 most frequent labels in the Women in WWI collection, a dataset of Europeana 1914-1918

How did you discover the Europeana Grants Programme and why did you decide to apply for it?

I was already very familiar with Europeana through my earlier research, especially for EUscreen, a project that has made Europe's television heritage available on Europeana. I have extensive experience in Media and Culture Studies and Digital Humanities through other large-scale Dutch and European best-practice projects on digital heritage and cultural memory, including VideoActive and CLARIAH. I decided to apply for the Europeana Research Grants Programme because in my previous work I have extensively studied the multimedia storytelling and reuse of audiovisual archival materials of World War II, especially in historical and archive-based television and cross-media content. I was therefore very keen and enthusiastic to be able to expand this work in the context of the 1914-1918 Collection, and to carry out a pilot study combining data science and qualitative analysis to do so.

How does access to digital cultural heritage influence your research?

I argue that creative reuse with digital cultural heritage not only offers new possibilities for Humanities research, but is also important from a meta-perspective in two key ways. Firstly,  it can provide self-reflexive perspectives regarding search and doing research, such as individual skills and practices of search or research (‘search cultures’), as well as personal interests and ‘information bubbles’ in digital contexts. I believe that awareness of these aspects can positively influence the way in which we use digital tools, and write up and share our findings in research. Secondly, creative reuse is practical as a main research perspective, because it underscores that the selection of historical sources as digital cultural heritage in a database adds other – more or less visible – layers of representation and interpretation. 

To find out more about Dr Hagedoorn's project, download her final report below, and read the other interviews in this series with grant winners Saverio Vita and Elizabeth Benjamin.