The BaroqueArt Database: A Relaunch

We wish everyone a happy and wonderfully productive new year!

Here at the CulturePlex, we are beginning the new year with some very good news. We will shortly be relaunching the BaroqueArt Database which will be openly available for researchers everywhere. The BaroqueArtDB is an extensive collection of art works spanning many centuries and geographies, complete with their metadata. Its creation was made possible with SSHRC funding as part of the Hispanic Baroque Project.

This endeavour is part of our efforts to facilitate the advancement of humanities research by encouraging other researchers to share and use our data. To quote SSHRC’s policy on archiving research data, “Sharing data strengthens our collective capacity to meet scholarly standards of openness by providing opportunities to further analyze, replicate, verify and refine research findings.”

With the data from the BaroqueArtDB, we have successfully undertaken many projects and publications, some of them being –

The Casta-Paintings Project [view project blog]

“Sustaining a Global Community: Art and Religion in the Network of Baroque Hispanic-American Paintings”

“The art-space of a global community: the network of Baroque paintings in Hispanic-America”

“Towards a digital geography of Hispanic Baroque art”

This openly available database will provide reusable, downloadable data. We hope it will bring new opportunities of research and collaboration for other researchers, as it has done for us so far.


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Cultural Networks Open House Pt.2

A follow up on our participation in International Week at WesternU with the open house about our involvement with Cultural Networks –


Mapping our collaborative work across the globe

We saw a great turnout at the Lab from very different departments. Representatives from History, Engineering, Law and International Learning were present and there was a lot of interest in the projects and tools from the Lab, with a special look at their collaborative nature.


Natalia showcasing digitized images of the Castro images

We talked of our collaborative projects, specifically, the digitization efforts that are underway with Western Libraries, SylvaDB and it’s use in many of the Lab projects, the images gallery developed in collaboration with Prof. Ricardo Castro from McGill U., Festos, and last but not the least, Kurubee and its application on a global scale.


Antonio talking about Festos with a demonstration of the scanner (nicknamed – The Beast.)

It was a brilliant experience welcoming academics of such varied backgrounds and having them share their work and experiences while exploring possibilities of further collaboration. We thank everyone for taking the time to visit us!

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Cultural Networks – The CulturePlex Lab at International Week

It’s that time of year again; Western University is celebrating International week, and so are we! The CulturePlex Lab is hosting an Open House on Nov. 12th where we will talk of our global cultural networks and international collaborations.

We will have various stations within the Lab exhibiting some of our collaborative projects and tools. We will essentially be showing a sample of how we’ve built our own networks using these collaborative tools that everyone can use anywhere in the world.

A few of the projects being showcased are:

SylvaDB: A user-friendly graph database management tool that has been used to build and study international networks of collaboration and publishing.

– Festos: The demonstration of the tool will also include an understanding of the application of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in different languages.

Yutzu: A multimedia tool for content collection and collaboration without borders.

Zap Learning (Dr. Glearning): A user-friendly game-learning mobile app (also accessible on browsers) that aids distance education as well as makes the content available at a global scale. The demonstration will include how students view the apps and also, how instructors can create their own content.

Most of these tools have been successfully used in classroom settings as teaching tools: for in-class teaching, evaluations and collaborative projects by students.

We look forward to a great turnout. You are all most welcome to UC 113 and 114!



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A month for conferences

October has been action-packed so far, and promises to be even more so in the next few days. Last week, Dr. Juan Luis Suárez, the Director of the CulturePlex Lab, was part of a roundtable panel on Interdisciplinarity at the conference, “Contesting Identities: A Symposium of the Hispanic Baroque Project” held in Vanderbilt University. Also present at the panel were Dr. Jesús Pérez-Magallón of McGill University and Dr. Karen Stolley of Emory University.

Coming up this week is David Brown‘s presentation on “Networks of Culture: A Graph-Driven Approach to Understanding Publishing in the Spanish Golden Age” as part of “Sixteenth Century Society Conference” to be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The end of the month will be marked by another presentation by Dr. Suárez titled, “La simulación de movimientos sociales y culturales: el Barroco” (the simulation of social and cultural movements: the Baroque.) The conference, “Clío Digital: Métodos Contemporáneos para la Historia” organized by the MAPFRE Foundation will be held in Madrid on October 30th and will be centered on digital history –

“La tecnología digital afecta al acceso a las fuentes, la configuración
de los objetos de estudio y la forma de trabajar con ellos. Más que una revolución
global, la historia digital es en estos momentos una suma de pequeñas revoluciones
que se extienden a multitud de campos.”

[Digital technology affects access to sources, configuration of objects of study and way of working with these objects. More than being a global revolution, digital history is, at this moment, a sum of small revolutions which are spreading to a multitude of fields.]susanbrown



In addition to this, a follow up to our DH Speaker Series is a talk by Dr. Susan Brown titled, “Net-­Works: Meaningful Links and Literary History on the Web”.  Here’s to a happy and productive week!

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Good news all around!

The last few days have been all about good news for us, here at CulturePlex. We were featured on Western University’s homepage! We’d like to thank Jo Jennings and Jeff Renaud for their initiative and support for our research.


An excerpt from the article

“A landmark study by The Cultureplex Lab at Western University has explored Hispanic Baroque like no previous research project of its kind. By combining traditional research tools of the humanities with complex data analysis from the sciences, Cultureplex Lab principal investigator Juan-Luis Suárez and his team have developed new methodologies which have ignited research capabilities of this ever-influential cultural phenomena (and all other digital humanities research for that matter), figuratively – not literally – transporting the game-changing study through space and time.”

There has been more fantastic news: last weekend proved successful for our resident Super Programmer, Javier de la Rosa, who participated in the Neo4j Driver Hackathon at GraphConnect San Francisco. He won the Graphies second year in a row, this time for the Most Innovative Community Contribution. We present to you the proud award winner!


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New Term, New Goals.

Welcome back to the new academic year! These are exciting times at the CulturePlex Lab. The last six months have been incredibly active and have flown past before we knew it. We might even say that we’ve practically been to all corners of the world and back. As of now, we have touched the (literal and figurative) coasts of Mexico, Iceland, Nebraska USA, Victoria BC, Toronto ON and, most recently, Brazil and Japan.

The team has had an active presence at HASTAC ‘13, DH2013 and DHSI2013, and we’re gearing up with our applications for DH2014. Among other exciting news is the addition of a distinguished Doctor in our midst – our own Elika Ortega successfully defended her thesis early September, and is now a Postdoctoral Fellow at CulturePlex. She has talked of her academic adventures here and is now headed to breezy NYC for yet another conference. In addition to this, Javier (or as he really should be known – Lord of the Matrix) will be jet-setting to sunny California for GraphConnect where he will use his powers in a  two day long hackathon, coding for his Python Driver Neo4j-REST-Client.

After all this, it seems there’s hardly time to take a breath as we dive into another series of talks, conferences, projects and visits. First up, the Digital Humanities Speaker Series welcomes the Director of the Stratford Festival Archives, Dr. Francesca Marini. F_Marini_PosterHer talk titled, “Devising a Digital Strategy for the Stratford Festival Archives” will be about the challenges of organizing the Stratford Festival’s archives while also addressing the digital needs of the users of this extensive performing arts archive. We look forward to active participation and turnout for the series this year!

More updates on projects to follow.

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What Will Take to DH 2013!

As you may have heard from our Facebook and Twitter posts, the CulturePlex Team will be presenting two papers and a poster at the DH 2013 Conference at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in July.  Below is a brief introduction of each of the three projects we will be presenting.

1. Collaborative technologies for Knowledge Socialization: the case of elBulli            (Antonio Jiménez-Mavillard and Juan Luis Suárez)

Today, organizations face the crucial challenge of creating and managing knowledge in order to succeed. As part of the Knowledge Management process, Knowledge Socialization is a critical step during which the community experiences a decisive interchange of ideas. This work, will present a new model for Knowledge Management based on the classic Nonaka and Takeuchi’s one but adapted to the Web 2.0 by using wiki technologies to support Knowledge Socialization, and will propose to apply this model to the case of elBulli.  elBulli, voted by industry authority Restaurant magazine as the best restaurant in the world in 2002 and from 2006 to 2009, has now become a foundation for creativity and innovation in high cuisine. It incorporates disciplines such as technology, science, philosophy, and the arts in its research. Aware of the value of knowledge, the organization publishes its results in international conferences, books or journal articles, in a similar way to the academic process of peer review. Therefore, elBulli is an appropriate case to apply a Knowledge Management model that makes maximum use of its knowledge.

2. Preliminaries: The Social Networks of Literary Production in the Spanish Empire During the Administration of the Duke of Lerma(1598-1618)

(David Brown and Juan Luis Suarez)

The “preliminaries” section of a 17th-century book encompasses the pages appearing in the printed text before the beginning of the work itself. This information is divided into seven different types of documents: details of publication, documentation of censorship (both civil and ecclesiastical), licensing, selling price, dedications, letters, and errors. The importance of the preliminaries for this project lies in the information present in these sections: the names of the officials signing the documents, their governmental/institutional affiliation, dates, place of issue, and literary circles that appear in the form of dedications and poetry written by various authors and published in their friend’s or associate’s books. In a few pages, the preliminaries give a complete image of the formal process required for the publication of each work of literature. By compiling all this information into a graph database and performing queries specific to various research questions, we have at hand a valuable source of information about the historical networks that influenced the publication of Early Modern Spanish literature.

3. Not Exactly Prima Facie: Understanding the Representation of the Human Through the Analysis of Faces in World Painting

(Juan Luis Suarez, Javier de la Rosa and Roberto Ulloa)

In his 1872 book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin called our attention to the link between human expressions, movements and emotional states, and tried to frame his conclusions in his theory of evolution by highlighting the relations between humans and animals. The light he shed on cultural differences with respect to the aspect of the face and variations in expressions perceived across different groups to express the same emotions is also important.

This fascination with the human face seems to be always present in the history of art, as artists have always sought to relate to the human body and, especially, to the different ways in which the human condition is reflected in the face. It has also been proved that the brain has a specialized amygdala to discriminate scenes in favor of facial expressions. Finally, the recent discovery of “mirror neurons” and their connection with the imitative ability of several primates, offer a glimpse about the social construction of emotions.

In this study we will first show how the analysis of the representation of human faces can offer important data to determine periods and borders in the history of art beyond the generalizations supported by the notions of “style”, “genre” and “national history”. Secondly, we studied the correlations between the European expansion overseas from the 16th Century onwards, and the introduction of new human “types” in world paintings, focusing on concepts of identity and gender (with special emphasis on the size and form of the forehead), and relating the results to notions of Baroque, hybridization and globalization. Finally, we moved to the 20th Century and observed the disappearance of the human face from art in relation to Ortega y Gasset’s concept of the “dehumanization of art” and the artistic and political movements of the first half of the century.

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2012 ended with an Award for CulturePlex!

Happy New Year to all of you that are taking the time to read this blog!  Hopefully your 2013 has been off to an great start.

For us, there are many exciting projects ahead, but for now, we would like to reminisce back to 2012 for one last time; specifically, the end of 2012, when we received the news of a great recognition for one of our colleagues at CulturePlex.   Javier de la Rosa won the award for Most Innovative Educational Graph Application by the inaugural GraphConnect Awards (“Graphies”).


Best mail ever received by Javier!


As described by the organizers themselves, The Graphies “are the only awards that recognize and showcase individuals and teams who are developing awesome, innovative graph database applications”. Entries for the competition came from all over the world and from many different industries: projects based in the United States, Europe and India all showcased ways in which graph database technology can solve challenges related to connected data. The inaugural winning entries included projects from organizations ranging from Fortune 2000 companies, such as Adobe Systems and Cisco Systems, to startups such as Squidoo and Viadeo.  The CulturePlex winning project was Sylva, a platform created by Javier de la Rosa and the CulturePlex team of developers, using Neo4j at the core.  Sylva features an interface that is easy to use and requires no programming knowledge.  

Congratulations again to its developer, Javier de la Rosa!  Even though we got side tracked for a bit, as this amazing news came at the end of a busy term, we are all very proud of you, Javi!  Well done!

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The VL3 at the Second Language Research Forum (SLRF)

The 31st edition of the international Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) conference will be taking place this coming up weekend (October 18th -21st, 2012) on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg.  The overall theme – Building Bridges Between Disciplines: SLA in Many Contexts – of SLRF 2012 is particularly interesting for us as it sets the perfect environment to show the VL3, a CulturePlex project that brings together a variety of different fields of study: from theoretical Linguistics, to Second Language Acquisition and Language Teaching, to Computer Science.

What is the VL3?

The VL3 is essentialy a virtual environment designe to give foreign language learners the opportunity to improve their communicative skills in the target language by participating in a set of predefined conversation scenarios that closely mimic real life situations.  The VL3 platform (and app), provides an artificially intelligent avatar that will take the role of a native speaker in order for language learners to be able to practice conversation in the language they are learning.  The VL3 is a research project heavily based on linguistic and second language acquisition research that stands at its core.

At SLRF, we will show how combining this research with advancements in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and the power of technology, amazing and useful results can come out of the mix.

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What we are doing?

In the last post we told you all about the different activities we did during the last academic year and we will use this space to put you up to speed with what we are doing this year and this term in particular.

As usual we have started in full swing, with many things on the go.  We welcomed two new graduate students, Nandita Dutta who will be doing her Phd. and Natalia Caldas who is working on a Master’s Degree.  Take the time to read their blogs and learn all about their adaptation process here at the Lab: seems like they are having a good time.  Welcome, Natalia and Nandita!

We have also started a new and exciting project called Preliminaries and our colleague David Brown tells us all about it in his blog post.

One of the most exciting news however is the start of the new Minor in Digital Humanities at Western University.  Dr. Juan Luis Suarez, director of the CulturePlex Lab has played an important role in the realization of this new academic program and will be teaching his first DH course, Digital Creativity in the Winter term.

The CulturePlex schedule is very active throughout the term: we will be hosting guest speakers from many different places, holding workshops for the entire university community (see poster attached), writing, going to conferences and finally, towards the end of the term (November) hold an Open House event where we will share some of our most exciting projects with everyone on and off campus.

Remember to follow us on twitter (@cultureplex) and Facebook and stay up to date with all the exciting activity!

May you all have a great start to the week!



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