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Innovative Research Methodologies for a Digital Society (IRMDS)

Workshop: A Practical Guide to Using Data Ontologies in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Presenter: Michael Pidd, Digital Humanities Institute, University of Sheffield

When:              March 19th, 12:00 p.m.

Duration:        1 hour

Location:         Online (Zoom)

Registration:  register for attending IRMDS workshop 3

About this workshop:

The aim of this workshop is to explore how data ontologies can be used to structure, organise and analyse primary and secondary sources — including mixed data types — in order to better represent the subject domain in question and leverage new forms of inquiry.

In information science, an ontology is a type of data model which is used to formally describe a knowledge domain, such as film, nineteenth-century crime and justice, or the lineages and social networks of monastic religious orders. Ontologies enable researchers to overcome three practical challenges when working with data that has been acquired from primary and secondary sources: the data‘s meaning, format, and absence. An ontology can be used to organise and represent a large body of evidence in a way that is more meaningful to the computer (and researcher!) for the purposes of querying and analysis. It can do this consistently across mixed data types (e.g. qualitative and quantitative sources). And it can be used to infer meaning where there is no data present.

The AHRC-funded project, Beyond the Multiplex (, which is sponsoring this workshop uses a data ontology to describe the world of film and film audiences, and applies the ontology to hundreds of interview transcripts, focus group recordings and longitudinal surveys. The ontology then underpins a range of data search and visualisation tools that enable the project to explore the experience of film across all its data sources in a way that is more relational, and insightful than traditional approaches such as keyword searches and coded concepts.

This will be a practical workshop, beginning with a general introduction to data ontologies and followed by group activities that are designed to show participants how ontologies are designed, applied to data, and then used within an information system such as an online research resource. The workshop will conclude with a guide to tools and methods for viewing and analysing ontologically structured data. No technical or programming skills will be necessary, but expert knowledge of how to write post-it notes (real or virtual) will be an advantage! The workshop will draw on examples from Beyond the Multiplex, the Old Bailey Online ( and Digital Panopticon (

About the Speaker:

Michael is Director of The Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield. He has over 25 years of experience in developing, managing and delivering collaborative research projects and technology R&D in the arts, humanities and cultural heritage domains. He has been the Principal Investigator, Co-Investigator and technical lead on UKRI projects, as well as supporting the technical delivery of over 120 collaborative projects and 70 online research resources and information systems. Michael is currently a Co-Investigator on the AHRC funded Beyond the Multiplex project which makes use of a data ontology to help in understanding film audiences.

Audiences beyond the multiplex: understanding the value of a diverse film culture

02-03 March 2021

A two-day virtual conference on the diversity of film audience experience in the UK



With increasing digital distribution, changing audience behaviour and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on independent film exhibition there are many ongoing challenges to increasing the diversity of film available to all audiences regardless of their background or where they live. The conference takes place at a key moment for film exhibition, raising questions about how we might think differently about audiences and their relationship with film, and how these insights can support audience development. By bringing academic research and industry expertise the conference will provide a platform to discuss insights on changing patterns of film consumption and offer opportunities to share new thinking.

‘Audiences beyond the multiplex: understanding the value of a diverse film culture’ marks the final event for the AHRC-funded project ‘Beyond the Multiplex: Audience for Specialised film in English Regions’. Drawing on industry definitions, ‘specialised films’ are understood as films outside the mainstream, including small-scale UK films, foreign language, documentary, archive and films with unconventional narratives, themes or cinematic techniques. Through the research the project has shown the dynamic and changing relationship people have with film over their life course, the final conference will provide an opportunity to discuss these findings and the future diversity of independent film exhibition in English regions with academics and industry professionals.

While provision of mainstream film is good across England, provision of specialised / non-mainstream film is low across regions outside London, limiting the opportunity for people to experience a diverse film culture in many places. Between 2017 and 2020, the ‘Beyond the Multiplex’ research project has investigated how audiences engage with film in four English regions (North East, North West, South West, and Yorkshire and the Humber) to understand how to enable a wider range of audiences to participate in a more diverse film culture that embraces the wealth of films beyond the mainstream.

The ‘Beyond the Multiplex’ research project has conducted extensive research with audiences using innovative methods to understand how audiences form and the personal film journeys we take as our film watching habits and experiences change over the course of our lives. The project has developed new insights into the use of film venues, platforms, and media to participate in film culture. It has focussed on articulating the different experiences and meanings of film watching for different audiences in a variety of contexts. The project has also placed a strong emphasis on engaging with those involved in developing audiences for film to ensure the research findings benefit those working to grow audiences for specialised film.

The conference will present the project’s findings and policy recommendations for film audience development and bring together a range of academics and film industry experts to discuss the future of film audiences and the value of a diverse film culture.

Conference Keynotes:

• Professor Bridgette Wessels, University of Glasgow and Beyond the Multiplex Principal Investigator.
• Mark Cosgrove, Cinema Curator, Watershed, Bristol.
• Professor Daniela Treveri Gennari, Oxford Brookes University.
• Professor Martin Barker, Emeritus Professor, Aberystwyth University.

Full programme details coming soon.

Making Sense of the World Through film

10-14 November 2020

The team will be presenting Beyond the Multiplex research at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science as a free, publicly open webinar. After showing four short film clips, we will talk through some of the interview and film-elicitation group findings about them to explain how social science research can be used to examine how people make sense of identity, sexuality, and ethnicity through film. We will also explore how film feeds into people’s relationships with technology, as well as with other people, places, and cultures.

To book a ticket, visit:

Film Audience Movements and Migrations: Across Borders and Screens – Sept 2020

07-09 September 2020 – Oxford Brookes University

We’ll be presenting at this international conference in September – “The aim of this international conference is to identify the dynamics of audiences, not purely in terms of their preferred film texts, but also with regard to the context of their movie-viewing habits and experiences.”

Full details here.

EASST/4S, Prague – Aug 2020

Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds –

A talk on Beyond the Multiplex and our use of Emerald’s Open Access publishing platform. Video coming soon. 

This Way Up 2019

Once again we were very excited to present at This Way Up, this year at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham.

In our session we be looked in-detail at audience journeys into non-mainstream film.

You can download our presentation here.

Europa Cinema Network Conference 2019

We were in Lisbon in November 2019 to present Beyond the Multiplex research findings at the Europa Cinema Network Conference. We presented an audience perspective on the panel – How Can Cinemas and Streaming Platforms Co-Exist?
For more information on the conference there is a really good summary of the sessions on the Europa blog.
You can also download our presentation here.

Data Modelling in the Humanities


The AHRC-funded project, Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions, and The Digital Humanities Institute invite papers for a methodology workshop on the topic Data Modelling in the Humanities to be held at the University of Sheffield on Friday 29th November 2019.

The aim of this workshop is to explore new approaches to structuring, organising and analysing Humanities data in order to better represent the subject domain in question, and leverage new forms of inquiry.

A data model is an abstract representation of a knowledge domain, such as film, nineteenth-century crime and justice, or the lineages and networks of monastic orders. Data models can use a variety of approaches to describing, structuring and storing data such as ontologies, UML, relational databases, graph databases, RDF/triplestores, XML schemas etc. Data models also determine what types of data analysis are possible, in terms of querying, visualisation, and natural language understanding.  They might be used in research concerned with, for example, historical inquiry, scholarly editing, prosopography, discourse analysis, manuscript studies, or virtual reconstruction.

This is a fact-finding workshop, to discover what work is currently being undertaken in the Digital Humanities, and share insights and best practice. Practitioners working on projects or in research areas that use approaches more complex or experimental than conventional relational databases or TEI XML are particularly encouraged (although the former are not to be discouraged!)

UK and EU travel costs will be reimbursed.

Interested speakers are invited to submit an abstract (maximum 800 words) for a presentation lasting 20 minutes by 20th October 2019 to

Speakers will be expected to contribute their paper to an online edited volume called Data Modelling in the Humanities, to be published by The Digital Humanities Institute (see

IAMCR Madrid 2019: Audiences: rethinking audience research

7-11 July 2019

We will be presenting BtM in the Audiences section at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) annual conference 2019 in Madrid. The paper is titled: “Using a computational ontology and mixed-methods in conceptualising film audiences”. The full conference programme is here.

Diagonale 2019 Film Meeting

20 March 2019
Graz, Austria

We were kindly invited to Graz to present the Beyond the Multiplex research at the 2019 Diagonale Film Meeting.

You can download the presentation here.

This Way Up 2018

5-6 December 2018
FACT, Liverpool

We presented two sessions at This Way Up 2018,

Film elicitation – This interactive session involved a condensed version of a focus group, before a discussion of some of the key findings of and reflections on the groups that have already taken place.

Beyond the multiplex: a new approach to audience research –  This session provided an introduction to the project and new research approach, presenting initial findings, followed by Q&A and discussion about the approach and findings to date. Download the session presentation here – This Way Up Presentation 2018

Digital Humanities Congress

06-08 September 2018
University of Sheffield

We presented the paper “Using a data ontology to understand the relational dynamics of film audiences” at the 2018 Digital Humanities Congress at the University of Sheffield. The Digital Humanities Congress is a conference held in Sheffield every two years. Its purpose is to promote the sharing of knowledge, ideas and techniques within the digital humanities. See the full programme here.

BECTU Freelancers’ Fair 2018

27 April 2018

Seminar 7: Choice and Diversity in Film
Working with film producer James Barrat we organised a panel at the 2018 BECTU Freelancers’ Fair to discuss the opportunities to create more choice and diversity in film exhibition. Our speakers included Jemma Buckley, Independent Cinema Office, Jaq Chell, Cinema for All, and Toki Allison, Film Hub Wales.

October 2017 – Press Release

Press Release: Major national film audience research project launched
Images: Beyond the Multiplex launch at Showroom Cinema, Sheffield – Photographs Mark Harvey

Audience Research Symposium: Innovative methods of researching audiences

14 September 2017

University of Leeds, School of Performance and Cultural Industries
We presented our first paper at the Audience Research Symposium at University of Leeds on 14th September 2017.
The paper discussed the development of the innovative methodology of Beyond the Multiplex to address the research question of how audiences engage with and form in different ways around specialised film in the English regions.
Further details here.

Launch: Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions

27 September 2017
Showroom Cinema, Sheffield

This event introduced the project and included a discussion about the opportunities and challenges in developing audiences within a rich and diverse film culture. It outlined how the specialised film sector can get involved in the project and how stakeholders can access research and events during the lifetime of the project.

Launch Programme (pdf)

Project Presentation (pdf)

Launch Report (pdf) A short report which captures the insights from the day.

All photographs: Mark Harvey


October 2018 Newsletter

October 2017 Newsletter