May 20, 2024

Connecting Heritage with Technology: Ember and the STEMMA Project 

The STEMMA project, led by Professor Erin A. McCarthy and supported by us at Ember, is all about using technology to preserve old manuscripts by turning their details into digital data. We helped by creating digital tools to make sure the information is accurate and easy to access. The project's not just about itself—it's sharing what it learns to help save historical data all over the world. The relationship between people and tech shows how we can keep our past alive for the future.

Blue data nodes
Preserving our history is now greatly aided by technology.  

The STEMMA project, led by Professor Erin A. McCarthy and supported by us at Ember, shows how digital transformation can happen through strong partnerships. This project spans across continents and centuries, highlighting the global impact of digital humanities. 

Innovation from a Distance 

It all began with a predicament in the pandemic — Professor McCarthy was miles away from the physical manuscripts of her research and found herself stranded in Australia.  

Amid this isolation, a eureka moment struck; What if she could access and work with historical manuscript details remotely by transforming them into a digital format? 

This realisation sparked the beginning of STEMMA, the project that aims to digitise metadata from early modern English verse, overcoming the limitations imposed by geography and physical accessibility. 

Teaming Up Together 

At Ember, we specialise in digital transformation solutions, so this is where we joined together with the University of Galway to design and build a digital infrastructure to cater to the project’s intricate needs.  

Our team became pivotal in different phases of the project — from designing interactive user interfaces to engineering robust data cleansing and storage solutions. 

Precision and Accessibility 

One significant challenge we faced was the digitisation of historical date formats — a task that required both precision and technical complexity.  

Our goal was to ensure that the metadata was historically accurate and easily accessible for complex searches to navigate. Achieving this required a deep understanding of historical context and modern computing, which was a collaborative effort between the research team and ourselves. 

Accessibility was another foundational aspect of STEMMA. Our team at Ember understood that the knowledge locked within centuries-old manuscripts should be within reach of anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

Our developers worked to create an online portal that would serve as a gateway for researchers, students, and history enthusiasts, offering them insight into history that was once confined to the walls of libraries and archives. 

The Future of STEMMA with AI 

As STEMMA evolves, so does the technology landscape. Artificial Intelligence and tools like ChatGPT have become more sophisticated, creating further growth for digital humanities projects.  

We have been proactive in our research of how AI can benefit STEMMA’s everyday workflows, particularly in complex data cleaning.  

Through AI we know that it can enhance the current dataset by filling in missing details and it can create a more complete picture of our literary heritage by analysing the relationships between these texts. 

Cultivating Interest 

A strong sense of curiosity is our most powerful tool and it fuels our drive to innovate, enabling us to explore new methods and technologies. This curiosity is especially valuable in digital humanities, where each new discovery has the potential to reshape history or shed light on important academic debates. 

Mapping Out the Preservation of Cultural Heritage 

The impact of our work with STEMMA goes well beyond this project alone. Libraries, record offices, and cultural heritage institutions can benefit from the methods we've developed and the experiences we've gained. 

A New Era in Digital Humanities 

Looking forward, STEMMA's legacy and Ember's technological contributions will inspire a series of articles that we are eager to share. Each article will explore different aspects of the project - with this one being the first! 

We aim for our series of articles to pave the way for similar projects, ensuring that the global custodians of history — be they librarians, archivists, or scholars — are equipped with the most up-to-date knowledge to bring the past into the digital present. 

The work by Ember and the STEMMA project is not just about technological success; it's also strong collaboration, overcoming challenges, and protecting our cultural heritage together. 

It shows great potential of what can be achieved from cooperation through different teams of experts, using technology to uncover our past stories for future generations. 

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