By Sean Lin
The 27th Pacific Neighborhood Consortium Annual Conference and Joint Meetings (PNC 2021) was hosted by Academia Sinica on September 28 – 30, 2021. Bringing together institutions around the Pacific Rim to exchange interdisciplinary approaches to information technology, this year's PNC conference was the first ever to be conducted entirely online through Webex software. Over 150 attendees from over 10 countries congregated virtually over the course of 20 sessions to share the latest research in digital humanities, database management, and more.
Each day began with a video showcasing conference highlights.
The virtual conference commenced with an introduction by Chin-shing Huang (Chairman, PNC; Vice President, Academia Sinica), who expressed gratitude that this year's conference could be held, and detailed a short history of PNC. PNC was founded by Curtis Hardyck and Lewis Lancaster of the University of California, Berkeley in 1993 to foster academic and cultural exchange among member institutions. It has been deeply tied to Academia Sinica, particularly since its administrative operations transferred here in 1997.
James C. Liao, President of Academia Sinica, gave opening remarks.
James C. Liao (President, Academia Sinica) then gave the conference's opening speech, describing the goals of sustainable preservation and international cooperation envisioned by this year's conference. Briefly introducing PNC 2021's keynote speakers and sessions, President Liao reiterated a commitment to collaboration and striving towards "a more humanistic horizon for the future."
World-Class Keynote Speakers
This theme of this year's conference was "Sustainable Digital Heritage." Three world-class keynote speakers were invited to address this topic from various perspectives. The conference's very first session featured the keynote speech "Preserving the Narrative" by Lewis Lancaster (Professor Emeritus, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley; Founding Director, Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative), an eminent international scholar of Buddhist studies and co-founder of PNC. Prof. Lancaster spoke on the importance of narratives underlying the rise of science and technology in the modern era. As the goals of PNC and other institutions have shifted over time, it is not simply information on hardware advancement that we must preserve. Our digital systems were brought about by human activity, and the stories behind such activity must be preserved to understand how technology has transformed the human experience.
The second keynote speaker was Halina Gottlieb (CEO, Digital Heritage Center Sweden; Founding Director, Nordic Digital Excellence in Museums), a digital heritage expert working with academia, governmental agencies, visitor centers, and research programs. Her keynote, "Designing for a Sustainable Future in Digital Heritage," described how interactive technology for visitors was introduced to museums, the result of a collaboration with media developers, researchers, and creative industries. Such experiments characterize Nordic initiatives that seek to modernize education with projects that sustainably transfer knowledge throughout society. Dr. Gottlieb identifies the biggest challenge for digital heritage and other interdisciplinary fields to be the development of better models for interaction between the "knowledge triangle" of education, innovation and research sectors.
Keynote speaker Audrey Tang discussed governmental open sharing of digital assets.
Audrey Tang (Digital Minister, Executive Yuan) closed out the third day of the conference with the keynote speech, "Digital Social Innovation." Known for revitalizing the computer languages Perl and Haskell, Minister Tang works to improve open data and open source initiatives in civil society. The keynote described Taiwan's public digital infrastructure, such as the PTT forum, g0v projects, as well as the government's own responsivity to public opinion on social media, illustrating how nimble navigation of crowdsourced knowledge has helped Taiwan manage the pandemic and strengthen democracy. Minister Tang showed how social media can be utilized to highlight consensus and overcome disinformation with "humor over rumor." When digital records are openly accessible, they encourage trust in the community's shared data, which is vital for a modern pluralistic society.
The First PNC Roundtable
This year's conference featured PNC's first roundtable session, publicly livestreamed on the PNC Facebook page . The roundtable was organized and moderated by Jieh Hsiang (Department of Computer Science and Engineering, National Taiwan University), and addressed issues of sustainability in digital cultural heritage and digital governance, from the three perspectives of academia, government, and industry.
Roundtable panelist Peter X. Zhou illustrated the digital lifecycle program.
Academia was represented by Peter X. Zhou (Director, C. V. Starr East Asian Library, UC Berkeley), who compared the modern digital lifecycle to the centuries-old print lifecycle and noted that stable standards were essential for print content to be preserved over time. He suggested adoption of universal standards for trusted digital repositories, but raised questions of certification standards and local variation.
Government was represented by Chic-chi Wu (Department of Applied Mathematics, National Yang Ming Chiao University) standing in for Yuh-jye Lee (Board of Science & Technology, Executive Yuan), who illustrated how data is constantly generated and used by private and public actors in modern society. She pointed out the risks when data value is determined by markets and can be stolen. The Taiwanese government's treatment of biodata demonstrates how data governance is complicated by privacy and cybersecurity concerns.
Industry was represented by Hao Song (CEO, Blue Planet Inc.), who observed that modern data infrastructure has matured from concerns of simple storage toward issues of data governance. He compared a top-down approach, where decision-makers define data goals, to a more ideal bottom-up approach, where open data is made accessible across different sectors and organizations.
Unlike other sessions where registered attendees spoke on Webex, the roundtable invited questions from any Facebook viewer. The ensuing discussion touched on security standards, media obsolescence, and how curation and distribution also complement sustainable preservation.
Answering the Digital Call for Papers
Although the size of this year's conference was scaled down, this year's papers continued to showcase the international and innovative approaches to information technology and digital humanities that PNC is known for. The nine papers submitted this year were presented in three paper sessions throughout the conference.
Donald Sturgeon described date disambiguation and formatting for knowledge base use.
The first paper session, "Extracting Historical Data from Ancient China," discussed digital approaches to annotation and analysis of historical Chinese texts. Wen-yi Huang (Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica) presented her paper, "Tracing the Itinerant Path: Buddhist Nuns in Early Medieval China (300-600 CE)," which applied automatic markup and event extraction techniques to Buddhist biographical texts in order to generate spatiotemporal data to track differences between the historical journeys of monks and nuns. Jung-Yi Tsai (Center for GIS, Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica) also described how digital tools annotate and extract spatiotemporal data to create maps from ancient texts in the "Design and Construction of the Spatiotemporal Information Platform for the Interpretation of ShiJi." Donald Sturgeon (Department of Computer Science, Durham University) described "Constructing a crowdsourced linked open knowledge base of Chinese history" that facilitates the wisdom of scholarly crowds in order to tackle the ambiguity of annotating dates and other entities in Chinese full-text knowledge bases.
The second paper session, "Organizing Culture with Semantic Models," examined how cultural datasets reveal new research insights when reorganized, whether through distant reading techniques, semantic ontologies, or socio-cognitive grammar models. Taizo Yamada (Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo) presented his paper on construction of a "Personal Name Authority Data Repository for Advancement Data-driven Research in Japanese History," extracting all personal names and associated metadata from 31 Japanese history databases. Robert B. Allen (Department of Library and Information Science, Yonsei University) presented "Semantic Models of Pottery Making," describing how Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus terms and the Suggested Upper Merged Ontology (SUMO) were combined to construct a prototype knowledge organization system for pottery making. Oliver Streiter (Department of Western Languages and Literature, National University of Kaohsiung) presented "Penghu Settlements as Materialization of a Socio-Cognitive Grammar: Integrating environmental conditions with cultural practices," examining social beliefs about the interaction between local settlements and environment, and comparing them against actual statistical distributions.
Jared Yee discussed how software restrictions render digital games unusable.
The third paper session, "Modern Data Extraction and Preservation," showcased innovative techniques and subjects whose principles could drive new innovation in their fields. Shoichiro Hara (Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University) presented the paper, "Development of Methods to Extract Place Names and Estimate Their Places from Web Newspaper Articles," utilizing a novel technique to disambiguate place names in news articles by calculating the geographical center of all candidate place names in a text and assuming the candidates closest to the center are the most accurate choice. Tatsuki Sekino (International Research Center for Japanese Studies) presented "Refinement of uncertain temporal data based on relations between time intervals," introducing formulas to narrow down temporal intervals based on other related intervals, such as circumscribing a child's lifespan relative to the mother's lifespan. Jared Yee (Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature, National Taiwan Normal University) presented "Incompatible – The Challenges in Preserving Taiwanese Video Games," illustrating the many technological and even political barriers preventing the access and use of digital games, and the implications for digital media preservation.
Online Posters Viewable On Demand
From the Institute of Ethnology's "Anthropologists' Money Bag" digital exhibit poster.
Thanks to the online nature of this year's conference, all poster content was accessible at any time by registered attendees on the PNC 2021 website. Fifteen posters were submitted to the conference this year as fully digital PDFs and video presentations that were also played each day in the main Webex meeting. This year's posters were mostly submitted from Taiwan, showcasing its cutting-edge work being carried out in digital humanities. The posters' digital nature allowed them to become more expansive in both size and formats, such as "Excavating and Archiving Orwellian Memory Holes" by Alan Potkin (Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University), which incorporated QR codes to an ebook and further media. Several posters this year introduced interactive educational museum exhibits that incorporated new technology, such as "On Applying Augmented Reality Technology for Museum Touring Guided by Diegetic Characters" and "Innovative Multi-Route Audio-Visual Guidance for VR360 Museum," both produced by combined teams from Tainan National University of the Arts and National Taiwan University, as well as posters about online exhibits utilizing Academia Sinica's Open Museum website platform. Most other posters featured digital humanities databases dedicated to the analysis of historical projects, such as the Institute of Modern History's "Increasing Agricultural Production: Modern Chinese Agricultural Promotion and Added-Value Project," examining rural demobilization in post-war China.
Special Sessions on Libraries, Education, Biodiversity, and Religion
Four special sessions were held this year in cooperation with distinguished organizations and scholars, discussing their newest research developments in digital libraries, digital education, biodiversity conservation, and local religious systems, respectively. Taiwan's National Central Library organized the first session, "Digital Library: Memory of National and City Heritage in the Knowledge Age," featuring speakers from the National Museum of Taiwan History, Singapore's National Library, and the U.S. Library of Congress. The session discussed how libraries and museums serve as a collective memory for cultural heritage. As archiving shifts to digital methods, libraries are adopting not only digital databases such as the Taiwan Cultural Memory Bank, but also engaging in crowdsourced collaboration, such as the Singapore National Library’s project to document community experiences of COVID-19.
Janice Loo of Singapore's National Library illustrated how crowdsourcing and social media were used to collect digital records of the pandemic.
The second session, "Bringing E-Learning Research to Practice," was organized by Taiwan's Ministry of Education to introduce Taiwanese researchers' work on the development of e-learning resources for the classroom. Featuring speakers from universities across Taiwan, it described online platforms and digital learning resources that can be employed for teaching, such as laboratory simulations or social media discussions. In addition, it demonstrated how different models of self-regulated learning can be measured through learning analytics. Social network analysis and other machine-learning algorithms can be further used to measure or predict academic performance.
The third session, "Symposium on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services," was organized by Academician Chang-hung Chou of Academia Sinica to discuss developments in biodiversity conservation with speakers from institutes of research and higher education across Taiwan. Endangered species conservation strategies were discussed, including DNA fingerprinting to track the natural or unnatural movement of organisms. Policy tradeoffs were also examined for Taiwan's mangrove forests, which are vital for carbon sequestration and flood mitigation, and face anthropogenic deterioration of their environmental conditions.
Jiang Wu visualized Buddhist temple distributions over time in Hangzhou.
The fourth session, "GIS Approaches to Regional Religious Systems in Hangzhou, China," was organized by Jiang Wu (Department of East Asian Studies, University of Arizona) and introduced the Hangzhou Regional Religious Systems mapping project at the University of Arizona, the first systematic survey of religious culture in this influential region. The session showcased the project's concepts and methods, such as Regional Religious Systems (RRS), data visualization techniques for GIS mapping, and geoparsing techniques for local gazetteers and official records, which revealed patterns in social, economic, and political structures, such as the proximity of water god folk religion temples to nearby commercial marketplaces.
Practical Workshops with the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative
PNC has collaborated with the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI) for several years, a global digital humanities consortium dedicated to creating a library of networked digital atlases. This year, ECAI organized six workshop sessions for researchers to share demonstrations of their practical knowledge and experience, focusing on topics such as heritage conservation infrastructure, cultural imaging, spatio-temporal cultural atlases, and the input, analysis, and preservation of cultural heritage data.
The first two workshops were moderated by Lewis Lancaster, the founder of ECAI. The first workshop, "Infrastructure for Heritage Conservation," examined the theoretical concerns of heritage preservation, and introduced the two digital platforms of the World Historical Gazetteer and Asian Legacy Library. The second workshop, "Cultural Imaging," examined image documentation of Buddhist sites, from analysis of early cave architecture in India, to the 3D models and panoramas of the Buddhist Maritime Silk Road museum exhibit. The third workshop, "Heritage and Data Preservation: Collaborations, Research Repositories and Custom Systems," was moderated by Jeanette Zerneke (ECAI Technical Director, UC Berkeley) and highlighted digital heritage preservation efforts, from a cultural atlas of Early California, to Taiwanese tombstones, to the repositories of Depositar and ECAI Data Portal, to the cross-institutional approach of the Research small Data Alliance in East and Southeast Asia (RsDA).
Steven Hackel of University of California, Riverside described the historical data visualized by the Early California Cultural Atlas.
The fourth workshop, "Spatio Temporal Community Heritage Mapping and Formosa Awareness" was moderated by David Blundell (Founder, Asia-Pacific SpatioTemporal Institute, National Chengchi University) and also illustrated heritage preservation efforts across regions, such as GIS mapping technology for Taiwanese temples and Austronesian navigation networks, as well as big data analysis of Taiwan's appearance in Dutch newspapers. The fifth workshop, "Cultural Heritage Data: Input, Analysis and Preservation," was moderated again by Lewis Lancaster and examined the navigation of different versions and commentaries on Buddhist texts with the aid of digital tools via the NTI Reader and the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project. Finally, the sixth workshop, "Cultural Heritage Data and Preservation," was moderated by independent scholar Alex Amies and introduced the development of digital humanities tools such as the Qisha Canon Encoding Project for Buddhist text transcription and the NTI Visualizer program to locate Buddhist text and publication resources.
PNC Imparts "Inspiration for Further Exploration"
Chin-shing Huang, Vice President of Academia Sinica, closed the conference.
The conference concluded with a dynamic video prepared by the Academia Sinica team, showcasing highlights of the past three days. PNC Chairman Chin-shing Huang then returned to give his final remarks, reflecting on the lessons and inspiration gained from the presentations across various topics and disciplines. In closing, he resolved that PNC would continue its ongoing role as a platform for research communities to share their knowledge resources: "The goal of PNC remains the same as ever – to bring our member nations together in closer exchange and cooperation."