PITHON – Hera Research Proposal

Today – together with a number of European colleagues (notably Eggo Müller and Andreas Fickers) – we have finalised our Hera project proposal (which previously made it to the second round). PITHON is the acronym – Pirated Television Heritage: Online Video, Counter-narratives and European Identity. The summary reads as follows:

PITHON is steered by the following research question: How do online video remix cultures engage with Europe’s past, and how do these practices contribute to the popular history and memory of Europe?” In the past decennium, a massive body of audiovisual heritage has become accessible online on websites of archives and video sharing sites as YouTube and Vimeo. PITHON is the first project to investigate the re-use of television heritage in an European perspective. So far, research has focused on institutionally legitimized forms of re-use as in historical television documentaries, museum exhibitions or on websites of European initiatives. However, re-use today includes new popular forms as playlists, memes, spoofs, remixes and mashups creating parodies and counter-narratives to established forms European history. PITHON investigates the cultural dynamics and political power of pirated and re-circulated television heritage combining novel computational methods as video fingerprinting and digital historiography with discourse analysis and the (virtual) ethnography of remix practices. Whereas the content industry seeks to control piracy, PITHON will use digital methods to analyse the contribution of remix cultures to European history and memory. PITHONS Research Team is formed by researchers affiliated with the Centre for Television in Transition (Utrecht University), the Institute for Contemporary History (Prague), the DigHumLab (Umeå University) and the Digital History Laboratory (University of Luxembourg). The project cooperates with major European initiatives in the archival and educational sector: the portal for European audiovisual heritage EUscreen.eu, the European Digital Library Europeana.eu and the European Association of History Educators EUROCLIO.eu. The outcomes of the project will contribute to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of participatory engagement in European history, memory and identity, and to new methods in Digital Humanities. It will also provide customized tools for online video recognition and for digital source critique professionals in the archival and educational field.

Umeå university and HUMlab will be in charge of work package 1 – Tracking & Tracing Pirated TV Heritage. According to the description, we are going to do the following:

The aim of WP1 is to accomplish the PITHON objectives by delivering a technical solution through software set-up and a designated video comparison platform. By tracking and tracing the flow of video content online and the circulation of reused audiovisual heritage, researchers in humanities gain a better understanding of the socio-cultural ’life of data’ in general, and the different ways that footage from the past is reused on video sharing sites in particular. WP1 is geared towards studying the cultural significance of code, using ideas from the emerging field of digital artifact and critical code studies (Chun 2011; Montfort et.al. 2012; Manovich 2013; Casemajor 2014). The underlying rationale of WP1 is to provide the technical solution that allows various research issues to be explored and executed in the subsequent WPs. Methodologically, WP1 strives to follow the medium’s evolving digital methods (Rogers 2014), by repurposing technical solutions and building upon already existing applications and software. The digital humanities centre HUMlab (UMU) is responsible for platform design; whereas tools for video tracking, tracing and matching will be supplied by open-source (project Squid by Kennisland) and third party software (INA Signature). Technically, the work will consist of several steps: firstly, identifying a set of video files, footage and collections of interest in relation to the PITHON objectives, in collaboration with the online collections of EUscreen partners. Since video processing is data-intensive and requires adequate hardware, supplied by HUMlab, the identification process of the content is decisive. Scholarly input and knowledge around participatory video cultures is essential. Thus, within WP1 there are a number of fundamental overlaps between the work of WP1, WP2 (UU) and WP3 (UL). Secondly, the video files selected will be downloaded from a video repository (as EUscreen) for local fingerprinting. Thirdly, these files are processed using an (a) open source tool set Squid, and (b) third party commercial software Signature that creates a fingerprint for each file. These, highly compressed, are then stored locally at HUMlab. Fourthly, a specific but major collection of videos is identified online at the YouTube channels of EUscreen partners, which contain previously fingerprinted footage. WP1 is responsible too for capturing, processing and fingerprinting these videos and/or collections. The final phase in the work of WP1 consists of a comparison using open source software such as Squid, or a licensed access to an INA cloud service, which does the actual matching between video fingerprints. A positive match indicates that the online content contains the sequences of reused old footage which we are seeking. These will then be further analysed and researched in consecutive WPs.