DocuSky and Digital Humanities Research

Written by Chijui Hu.

Image credit: Neurons by Svklimkin/Flickr, license CC0 1.0

Making masses of recourses accessible through digitisation is one of the core tasks for those wanting to promote digital humanities research. After twenty years of digitising archival efforts, Taiwan has amassed a sizeable digitised collection of primary materials and resources. Digital presentation of an indexing dataset in databases has facilitated far-reaching research work. However, the fact that each database has its own format and functions with its own tools makes it challenging to integrate material from multiple databases. That is, many materials have been digitised, but they cannot be used together. To resolve this problem, the Research Center for Digital Humanities (RCDH) of National Taiwan University (NTU) has developed the DocuSky Collaboration Platform, which aims to make cross-database integration possible. 

DocuSky is a digital collaboration platform for humanities research managed by Distinguished Professor of RCDH of NTU, Jieh Hsiang, and created by Dr Hsieh-Chang Tu of the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering of NTU. One of the goals of DocuSky was to provide humanities researchers with the ability to integrate recourses without the help of software engineers. The benefit of this is that it can save researchers a lot of time and effort, along with making resources much more accessible. Once the resources have been integrated to create a DocuSky database, a user can access the database with an easily accessible retrieval tool. DocuSky also offers visualisation tools to help one realise the patterns and trends hidden in data.

Many things can and have been done with DocuSky. For example, you could use the tool to find out which monsters appear most commonly in the famous Journey to the West (西遊記). By using MARKUS or ContentTagging tool, researchers can use DocuSky to quickly scan the entire text and get answers delivered in an easily digestible format. 

DocuSky then allows us to take these initial results and input them into other systems. For example, we could take findings about Journey to the West and plug them into other visualisation systems of other databases to carry out comparisons with large datasets. We could compare which Daoist deities appear most frequently in Journey to the West and Apotheosis Tales (封神演義). The image below shows us what the results for this would look like. The deities common to both appear in the middle, whereas those particular to a single work appear on either side. This creates not just attractive graphics but can lead to new research insights. The deities in the middle reflect those that appear in both texts. Since the publishing date of Apotheosis Tales is currently unclear, charting the similarities and differences between mythological terminology across these two texts can help us get a sense of when it might have been published. 

Figure 1. Using Palladio to show terms relationship between documents.

DocuSky also provides tools to integrate several different geographic databases. These databases often use different tagging systems, which makes it difficult to bring systems together. Prof. Michael Stanley-Baker of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has used our platform to build a map of information in the classical Chinese medicine text Compendium of Materia Medica (本草經集注). His map visualises the locations where different herbs grow. This visualisation can help us better understand the world of medical knowledge in medieval China and better understand how this knowledge developed. 

Figure 2. Using DocuSky to connect other authority databases with tags. Research Center for Digital Humanities of National Taiwan University, 2017. 本草經集注。Michael Stanley-Baker (徐源). 

DocuSky also allows researchers to combine temporal and geographic data to tracks voyages and routes. This type of integration has previously required advanced technical capacities, hampering research in this vein. DocuSky is trying to lower the technical threshold for this type of work. We can easily use the DocuGIS system within DocuSky to map the route of a late Qing official named Yu Yonghe (郁永河) sent to Northern Taiwan to dig for sulfur. He recorded his journey in the Small Sea Diaries (裨海紀遊), including whom he met, where he went, what he saw, and crucially, the dates of these events. These records can be turned into an excel file and then into a map through DocuGIS at DocuSky. This is useful not just to help visualise history. Indeed, by being able to locate indigenous tribes accurately, his text can also be used as an important historical text for understanding Late Qing Taiwanese indigenous history. 

Figure 3. Using DocuGIS to draw the path on the map.

DocuSky aims to offers researchers a platform to easily upload, convert and analyse texts. DocuSky also allows each researcher to bring their own research data to the platform, organise their documents and unlock new findings through our services. In this way, DocuSky tries to emulate a well-equipped kitchen for researchers. Thus, you can bring the finest ingredients along with great technical know-how. On DocuSky, digital tools are no longer tied in with the dataset of a specific database. As a result, DocuSky brings more possibilities and flexibility to digital humanities scholars. Hence, it is helping to place Taiwan at the forefront of the field internationally. 

Chijui Hu (胡其瑞) is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Research Center for Digital Humanities of National Taiwan University. Dr. Hu is one of the lecturers of the DocuSky Collaboration Platform workshop. He hopes that DocuSky will become a great helper of every humanities researcher and a good partner in our daily research life. This piece was published as part of a special issue on digital humanities in Taiwan.

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