Voices from the Field: Practices, Challenges & Directions in Digital Humanities Scholarship


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Presented at the Click-on-Knowledge Conference May 11-13, 2011 in Copenhagen.
Smiljana Antonijevic & Monica Bulger

This paper presents findings of a fieldwork study that explored research practices, challenges, and directions in contemporary digital humanities scholarship. The study was conducted in the period April-October, 2010, as part of two research projects of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Oxford Internet Institute— Alflalab (http://alfalablog.huygensinstituut.nl/) and Humanities Information Practices (http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/?id=58). The study included observations and in-depth interviews with digital humanities scholars, policymakers, and funders, with a focus on developers and users of digital resources for humanities research. The study involved 86 participants from over 25 institutions in 5 countries. Participating institutions included: Huygens Institute; National Endowment for Humanities Office of Digital Humanities; Stanford University; University of Alberta; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Indiana; University of Maryland; University of Oxford; University of Virginia.

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  • Presentation at seminars, conferences, blog posts, pre-print archives (Philpapers); beforehand, exchanged by e-mail, mail; exchanges that pre-date the internet
  • Methods: case studies, site visits, in-depth interviews, focus groups, log file analyses. Participants: 86 informants (researchers, developers, funders, policy makers, students)
  • People do not want to change research practices, they want things to be done.
  • People do not want to change research practices, they want things to be done.
  • Presentation at seminars, conferences, blog posts, pre-print archives (Philpapers); beforehand, exchanged by e-mail, mail; exchanges that pre-date the internet
  • Voices from the Field: Practices, Challenges & Directions in Digital Humanities Scholarship

    1. 1. TITLE Voices from the Field Practices, Challenges, & Directions in Digital Humanities Scholarship Smiljana Antonijevi ć & Monica Bulger
    2. 2. I went to sleep one day a cultural critic and woke the next metamorphosed into a data processor. -Alan Liu, 2004 “
    3. 3. Research <ul><li>Two projects: Alfalab and Humanities Information Practices </li></ul><ul><li>Timeframe: April-October, 2010 </li></ul>
    4. 4. Site visits (32 participants)
    5. 5. Case studies (54 participants)
    6. 6. Transformations Epistemological and methodological challenges
    7. 7. “ Old Bailey Online hasn’t replaced anything for me or displaced anything for me, but it is part of this general transformation of how I do what I do.
    8. 8. “ The amount of time I now spend doing the very mechanical, laborious, time-consuming work is much smaller. You can now do things in 5 seconds which it took you 3 months to do a few years ago.
    9. 9. “ 20 years ago, I would have gone into the British Library and done it with the actual paper in front of me. Now I sit at home and I do a keyword search.
    10. 10. “ It’s a huge change. You can do things much more quickly, read much more widely, find connections… it’s very, very important .
    11. 11. “ I get pretty much everything I need by way of primary sources now from the web. For primary sources, I’ve now got more material than I will need probably for the rest of my lifetime.
    12. 12. Asking new questions? “
    13. 13. I’m not sure all of this raises the quality of anybody’s work. I think it would be quite daft to pretend that all of this makes us better scholars, or makes our books or papers of higher quality. I don’t know if that is true by any means, but it certainly makes it easier and I suppose makes the quantity of stuff that you can produce greater. “
    14. 14. It makes the nature of your research different because it allows you to get quantitative information much more quickly, which then allows you to maybe think about how you might use that information differently, because you’ve got so much more time. “
    15. 15. My greatest frustration in life is that we can now answer all the questions we had in 1980 faster, much, much faster. And we can get around to publishing them much, much more quickly. But what we haven’t yet done is develop the new questions and the new paradigms that should be possible, and that we as imaginative scholars should be able to imagine. “
    16. 16. From big data to interpretation
    17. 17. We have now digitized a lot of resources, we have those silos of information, so trying to manage the delusion of data is a priority . There is a lot of ways that big data can really change scholarship, for the better. But, having said that, I think we always need to be cautious not to see it as a replacement; it is not an either/or, it is a both/end scenario. “
    18. 18. Respecting research practices
    19. 19. For example, I do not use Zotero, my students do. I don’t know why. A lot of it is just habit. I am so busy, I just focus on what needs to be done. “
    20. 20. Going beyond “Ah” experience
    21. 21. It was as if the scales dropped from our eyes, as we had seen the future. … We’ve gotten much more familiar with these kinds of technologies and possibilities , so it’s no longer as though we are seeing the sunrise in all its brilliance every single day, because now the sun is up and we work in sunlight. So, we do not have that sort of ‘ah’ experience every day. “
    22. 22. Establishing evaluation criteria
    23. 23. We need for big professional groups to be able to have a set of criteria that say—just as when they look in a regular print publication— what is the intellectual value here, what is contributing to the field, where is the new knowledge, what are the research methods, are they sound. “
    24. 24. Reconfiguring Resources
    25. 25. In those days [10 years ago] computer scientists at your own university wouldn’t even want to talk to you. Even now when we work with them what computer science recognizes as research and what digital humanities recognize as research are different things. So you have to find a common set of research goals. “
    26. 26. Unless humanists take seriously two things, firstly the value of their own contributions to the migration of cultural legacy into the digital environment, and secondly, the really central value of the humanistic perspective on knowledge, then these environments will be built without the humanists, and that would be a huge mistake. “
    27. 27. We made a fairly conscious decision in developing the Townsend Lab to concentrate on those tools that would be of use to the broadest possible spectrum of humanists . In part because my ambition has been to build a site that would not increase the ghettoization of digital humanities, but really bring it as much as possible into the mainstream. “
    28. 28. What that brings to mind for me is a massive problem of the last couple of decades of building these ‘one size fits all’ sort of solutions, which does not work either. Apps—it’s a different generation in software development…with apps, you let the community define what works. “
    29. 29. One of the things our reviewers look for is the notion that the project is looking outside of itself. … We do not want to keep funding the same types of projects over and over. If something works, we want it to be shared and repurposed or reused. “
    30. 30. Recommendations & future directions
    31. 31. Break down boundaries between text, artifact, and image. “
    32. 32. If you just take something like the Old Bailey in isolation, it only gives you a partial story of London life, but if you combine it with other records, which is what they’re trying to do on London Lives, then you could build a wonderful picture of a society in a way that we find quite difficult to do. “