11 October 2021

Putting the Human back in Humanities

There are multiple stories of Australian history waiting to be told.

A vast amount of written and oral records sit in archives and repositories across our nation, waiting for an opportunity to be discovered and transformed.

This historical information can shed light on an array of stories, and everyone should have access to digital tools to bring these narratives to broad audiences.

This belief spurred the University of Newcastle to partner with The Growth Drivers (TGD) to refocus its Time Layered Cultural Map (TLCMap) project for a better user experience.

In addition to bringing together a set of research tools to enable humanities researchers to digitise, map, analyse and report on different histories of Australia, the project netted the partnership an Australian Good Design Award.

The Time Layered Cultural Map is a website developed by University of Newcastle and funded by a LIEF (Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities) grant from the Australian Research Council and a platforms grant from the Australian Research Data Commons.

The project team included lead researchers and eminent experts from multiple organisations including Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, University of Melbourne, University of South Australia, University of Technology Sydney, University of Alberta, Australian National Placenames Survey, AURIN and Studio Zed.

Dr Laura Kostanski is the Chief Design Officer at TGD and served as lead designer on the user experience project for TLCMap. She says the initial design of the TLCMap restricted its potential user-base to those who already had the expert skills in digital humanities research tools.

“At the start, the website gave people access to the tools and was geared towards descriptions, which suited a specialist audience who know how to use and seek out digital tools, rather than a general one,” Dr Kostanski explained.

This affected all humanities researchers with an interest in Australian histories - from professors and undergraduates to local historians and government research agencies.

“Digital tools should be designed for accessibility and practicality with generalist users in mind, not just experts,” Dr Kostanski added.

“There is a treasure trove of information, resources, historical archives and oral histories available, which can bring life to a multiplicity of Australian histories. These tools enable those stories to be identified by researchers and told to broader audiences.”

Prof. Hugh Craig is Emeritus Professor at University of Newcastle and responsible for the design and overall implementation of TLCMap.

“We had developed a website at the beginning of the project,” Prof. Craig says.

“It just developed and grew with no particular direction. The challenge for the next stage was to imagine what users would want or need. We needed help to adapt it so that it was fit for purpose for users who are humanities researchers, that was our big gap.”

The input from The Growth Drivers allowed Dr Bill Pascoe, the System Architect of TLCMap, to make a new website that was user focused rather than tech-centred.

The partnership between TLCMap and The Growth Drivers transformed TLCMap into a powerful digital research tool that can be used by a wide range of researchers, enhancing the possibilities for uncovering Australia’s rich, untold histories and building a wealth of knowledge about our past.

Access the Time Layered Cultural Map (TLCMap) at tlcmap.org/

See the Good Design Australia Gold Award at https://good-design.org/projec...

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