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Welcome to the wiki of the course Foundation of Digital Humanities (DH-405).


Professor: Frédéric Kaplan

Assistants: Paul Guhennec, Didier Dupertuis, Beatrice Vaienti

Rooms: Wednesday (CM1110) and Thursday (BC03)



This course gives an introduction to the fundamental concepts and methods of the Digital Humanities, both from a theoretical and applied point of view. The course introduces the Digital Humanities circle of processing and interpretation, from data acquisition to new understandings and services. The first part of the course presents the technical pipelines for digitising, analysing and modelling written documents (printed and handwritten), maps, photographs and 3d objects and environments. The second part of the course details the principles of the most important algorithms in particular deep learning approaches (for document analysis and image generation) and knowledge modelling (semantic web, ontologies, graph databases). The third part of the course focuses on platform management from the points of view of data, users and bots. Students will practise the skills they learn by engaging in a class-wide collective project.


Part I : Concepts

Week 1 : What are Digital Humanities?

22.09 (2h) Welcome and Introduction to the course

  • FDH-0 (1h) Introduction to the course and Digital Humanities, structure of the course. Introduction to Framapad with a simple exercise. Principle of collective note talking and use in the course. State of the Digital Humanities at EPFL, in Switzerland and in Europe. Video recording link (2020). Video recording link (2021).

23.09 (4h) What are Digital Humanities? What is their object of study?

Week 2 : Patrimonial Capitalism and Commons

29.09 :

  • FDH 1-4 Patrimonial Capitalism (1h) Introduction to the DH circle linking the digitisation of sources, their processing, their analysis, visualisation and the creation of societal value (insight, culture) leading ultimately to the digitisation of new sources. Presentation of some sustainable DH circles (genealogy, image banks). Patrimonial capitalism and the risk of monopolistic companies. Parallelism with the race for sequencing the Human Genome. Video recording link. Video recording link (2021)
  • FDH 1-5 The Commons (1h) What are the commons ? What is the public domains ? History and evolution. Copyright overreaching. Frontal collision. Governing with the commons Video recording link. Video recording link (2021)


Part II : Pipelines

Week 3: Digitisation


  • FDH 2-1 Introduction to the Digitization Process. The Story of Google books. Document digitization as a problem of conversion of dimensions. Digitization is logistic optimization. Alienation. Digitization on demand. Video recording link Video recording link (2021).


  • (2h) FDH 2-2 Document Structure. General presentation of the pipeline. Content and Structure. Circulation. Standards. Open Annotation Data Model. Shared Canvas.IIIF. Synchronic patterns and diachronic homology. Video recording link Video recording link (2021)

Week 4: Writing Systems and Text Encoding

13.10 (2h) FDH 2-3 : Writing Systems Video recording link Video recording link (2021)

14.10 - (2h) FDH 2-4 : Text Encoding Video recording link Video recording link (2021) - (2h) Work and support on projects

Week 5: Text Processing and Understanding

20.10 (2h) FDH 2-5 Text Processing : Diachronic and synchronic analysis. n-grams, TF-IDF, Topic Modeling, Word Space Models and Word embeddings (2h) Video recording link. Video recording link (2021)

21.10 (2h) FDH 2-6 Text Understanding : Close, surface, distant and machine reading, Information extraction, Named Entities, Resources, Large-Scale Projects (2h) Video recording link.. Work on Project (2h).

Week 6: Images

27.10 (2h) FDH 2-7 : Image systems. Video recording link

28.10 (2h) FDH 2-8 : Image processing Video recording link Time machine search engine (2h) Work on project. Tutorial (Grasshopper / Rhino)

(FDH 2-9 : Image understanding not done this year)

Week 7: Maps

03.11 (2h) FDH-2-10 Map systems Video recording link

04.11 (2h) FDH-2-11 Map processing (2h) Video recording linkWork on project

Week 8: Architecture and Objects

10.11 (2h) FDH-2-12: Architecture and Object Systems. Video recording link

11.11 (2h) FDH-2-13: Architecture and Object Processing: Modelling vs Sampling : Model-based Procedural methods. Architectural grammars. Class I and Class II elements. The question of realism. Video recording link. (2h)Work on project

Part III : Knowledge modelling and processing

Week 9 : Semantic modelling


- (1h) FDH-3-0 Summary of the concept viewed so far and introduction to part 3 Video recording link

- (1h) FDH-3-1 Semantic modelling. RDF, Metaknowledge Video recording link

18.11 (2h) FDH 3-2 Universal Ontologies Video recording link

- Work on project (2h)

Week 10 :Constraints and Rule systems

24.11 (2h) FDH 3-3 Rule systems, simulations and parallel worlds Video recording link

25.11 Midterm presentation (10%)

-- Project plan and milestones deliverable on the Wikipage of each project (10%)

Week 11 : Non conceptual knowledge systems and topological data science

01.12 (2h) FDH 3-4 Non conceptual knowledge systems Video recording link (Part 1) Video recording link (Part 2)

02.12 (2h) FDH 3-5 Topological data science Video recording link

Part IV : Platforms

Week 12 : Data, User and Bot Management

08.12 (2h) Data Management  : FAIR principle, Creative Commons, Data Management models, Sustainability, Right to Forgotten. Management of uncertainty, incoherence and errors. Iconographic principle of precaution Video recording link

09.12 (2h) User Management : Part I: Persona. Part II: Motivation and onboarding dynamics. Three case studies: Twitter. Quora. Wikipedia. Part III: "Wisdom" of the crowds. Collectivism vs Liberalism. Open source as a form of liberalism for engineering. The ambiguous of fork. Part IV: The "power" of the crowds. Mechanical Turk. Crowdflower. Crowdfunding. Video recording link

(2h) Bot Management : Three case studies on bot management : Twitter, Wikipedia, Google. Video recording link

Week 13 : Work on projects

15.12 (2h) Work on project

16.12 (4h) Work on project

Week 14 : Exam

22.12 (5pm)

-- Deadline for GitHub repository (10%)

-- Deadline for Report writing (40%)

23.12 (2h) Final project presentation (20%)

Time Project name
10:20-10:45 Venetian Well-Heads
10:45-11:10 Jerusalem: Road Extraction and Alignment
11:10-11:35 Colonial Heritage in Switzerland
11:35-12:00 Switzerland: Road Extraction from Historical Maps
Time Project name
13:20-13:45 Automatic Alignment of 19th Century Cadastres
13:45-14:10 Venice 1808: Families and Real Estate
14:10-14:35 Venice 2020: Height detection from drone videos
14:35-15:00 Venetian Bridges


Assessment and Notation grid

  • 2 oral presentations (30%)
    • 1 midterm presentation of the project (10%)
    • 1 final discussing the project result (20%)
  • Written deliverables (Wiki writing) (40%)
  • Quality of the project (30%)

2 collective oral presentations (30%)

Midterm presenting the project planning (10%)

10' max presentation + 5' questions

Notation grid :

  • The presentation contains a planning (4)
  • + 0.5 The slides are clear and well presented
  • + 0.5 The oral presentation is dynamic and fluid
  • + 0.5 The planning is realistic.
  • + 0.5 The students answer well to the questions

Final discussing the project result (20%)

10-15' for presentation and 5-10' for questions

Notation grid :

  • The presentation presents the results of the project (4)
  • + 0.5 The slides are clear and well presented
  • + 0.5 The oral presentation is dynamic and fluid
  • + 0.5 The results are well discussed
  • + 0.5 The students answer well to the questions

Written deliverables (Wiki writing) (40%)

  • Projet plan and milestones (10%) (>300 words)
  • Motivation and description of the deliverables (10%) (>300 words)
  • Detailed description of the methods (10%) (>500 words)
  • Quality assessment and discussion of limitations (10%) (>300 words)

The indicated number of words is a minimal bound. Detailed description can in particular be extended if needed.

Production (30%)

  • Quality of the realisation 20%
  • Code deliverable on github 10%