Collaborative Research Relationships in the Digital Humanities

On 1 September, 2015 in a preview issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly Alix Keener published “The Arrival Fallacy: Collaborative Research Relationships in the Digital Humanities”. The article, based on the results of semi-structured interviews with 11 personnel — faculty, researchers and librarians — within the Center for Institutional Cooperation, explores the collaborative relationship between faculty and academic librarians in the conduct of digital humanities research. The findings are discussed in five sections: I), the best model for engaging DH scholars, II), what domain expertise is needed, III), the areas in which faculty and librarians agree, IV), the areas in which they disagree (tensions), and finally, V), where the two groups have a perceptual disconnect. Below is the article’s abstract:

As discussion and debates on the digital humanities continue among scholars, so too does discussion about how academic libraries can and should support this scholarship. Through interviews with digital humanities scholars and academic librarians within the Center for Institutional Cooperation, this study aims to explore some points of common perspective and underlying tensions in research relationships. Qualitative interviews revealed that, while both groups are enthusiastic about the future of faculty-librarian collaboration on digital scholarship, there remain certain tensions about the role of the library and the librarian. Scholars appreciate the specialized expertise of librarians, especially in metadata and special collections, but they can take a more active stance in utilizing current library resources or vocalizing their needs for other resources. This expertise and these services can be leveraged to make the library an active and equal partner in research. Additionally, libraries should address internal issues, such as training and re-skilling librarians as necessary; better-coordinated outreach to academic departments is also needed.

The Newton Project

newtonBased at the University of Sussex and the University of Cambridge, the Newton Project is an important digital scholarship initiative whose goal is to produce a comprehensive online edition of all of Sir Isaac Newton’s (1642–1727) writings whether printed or not. So far over 6.4 million words have been transcribed and include Newton’s works in religion, alchemy and politics in addition to science and mathematics. His notesbooks and correspondence are also digitized. The project includes additional contextual materials illustrating how Newton’s doctrines were received, taught and popularized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A particularly useful aspect of each of the digitized writings is the presentation of a diplomatic rendition featuring all the amendments Newton made to the text as well a more readable normalized version.

The editors make a very interesting, if somewhat droll, observation about the Newton Project:

The digital medium is particularly appropriate for hosting the writings of a man who evinced what can only be described as a visceral hatred for print culture. Although his interest and expertise in both church history and prophecy was known to many people, no print edition of any of his non-scientific writings, authorized or otherwise by Newton, appeared in his lifetime (though he did show selected works to acolytes). His research remained constantly work-in-progress and there was no terminus to his various projects in the form of truly ‘final’ treatise (this of course applies equally to his great printed works). An evolving and expanding digital site is eminently suitable for publishing these private researches, for showing them to their full extent, and for representing the detailed and dynamic process of his thought.

New Digital.Bodleian Website

bodleianEarlier this month Oxford’s Bodleian Library launched its new Digital.Bodleian website. This site includes over 100,000 images and covers a wonderfully diverse group of topics, e.g. medieval maps; botanical watercolors; 18th and 19th century children’s board games; Victorian playbills, handbills, postcards and posters; Greek and Hebrew manuscripts; Conservative Party election posters; paintings from 19th-century Calcutta; and much more.

There are few restrictions on the use of the digital images, once the use is non-commercial. From the press release:

Digital.Bodleian . . . allows users to download images for non-commercial use, make private notes and annotations, leave public comments on images and share images on social media. The resource is particularly suited to educational use as all images are available under an open license allowing for use in presentations, on virtual learning environments and on other non-commercial platforms.

“One Republic of Learning: Digitizing the Humanities”

In today’s New York Times Armand Marie Leroi, a professor of evolutionary developmental biology at Imperial College, London, published a a very interesting and provocative op-ed entitled “One Republic of Learning: Digitizing the Humanities.” A primary argument of the piece is that the promise of digitization is more than better websites. Rather, it is the transformation of humanities into science.

By “science” I mean using numbers to test hypotheses. Numbers are the signature of science; they allow us to describe patterns and relationships with a precision that words do not. The quantification of the humanities is driven by an inexorable logic: Digitization breeds numbers; numbers demand statistics. The new breed of digital humanists is mining and visualizing data with the facility that bioinformaticians analyze genomes and cosmologists classify galaxies. All of them could, if they cared to, understand each others’ results perfectly well.

The complete op-ed.

Digital Libraries + Hybridity: An Interview with Clifford Wulfman

wulfmanThe website dh+lib (where the digital humanities and librarianship meet) recently published Digital Libraries + Hybridity, a thought-provoking interview with Clifford Wulfman, Coordinator of Library Digital Initiatives at the Firestone Library at Princeton University and consultant to Princeton’s new Center for Digital Humanities. In the interview Wulfman talks about his work and training, digital libraries, digital humanities, alt-ac (“alternative academic” careers), and the future of digital collections.

Digital Treasures from the National Library of Scotland

JamesVIJust hours after the result of the historic referendum where a majority of Scots voted to retain the union with the United Kingdom, it might be opportune to consider one of Scotland’s great institutions, its national library. The National Library of Scotland is the country’s largest library. In addition to over 15 million printed items, it contains seven million manuscripts, two million maps, over 32,000 films, and 25,000 newspaper and magazine titles. It also has an outstanding number of digital projects which cover a broad variety of subject areas. Brief mention may be made of Jacobite Prints and Broadsides, a collection of portraits of people and illustrations of events relating to the Jacobite Rebellions in Scotland in 1715 and 1745-1746. Gazetteers of Scotland, 1803-1901 is a digitized collection of 20 volumes of the most popular descriptive gazetteers of 19th-century Scotland, covering towns, counties, parishes, glens and more. The Word on the Street is a collection of about 1,800 broadsides that informed and entertained Scots between 1650 and 1910. There is an Early Gaelic Book Collection of several hundred books in Gaelic and other Celtic languages, plus works about the Gaels, their languages, literature, culture and history. There is also a digitized copy of the very rare Gutenberg Bible, the first book to be printed with moveable type. Especially interesting perhaps, on this day after the referendum, is the website James VI and the Union of the Crowns which explores the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603.  Numerous other fascinating projects are available on the National Library of Scotland’s Digital Gallery page.

The 2012-13 Survey of Humanities Departments at Four-Year Institutions

The latest survey on the state of the humanities in higher education was released today by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: The 2012-13 Survey of
Humanities Departments at Four-Year Institutions
. Particularly interesting are the findings regarding “digital humanities”. Though the latter has been increasingly in the news in recent years, “the survey found fairly limited engagement at the departmental level.”

A key finding respecting “digital humanities” included:

Among humanities departments, 24% had a center or lab dedicated to digital humanities research on campus, while 15% of departments offered at least one seminar or course that focused on digital methods for research or teaching during the academic year, and 12% had guidelines for evaluating digital publications for tenure and promotion.

These statistics are certainly underwhelming and especially so for the numbers of institutions with guidelines for evaluating digital publications for tenure and promotion. 12% seems very low though the figure is a little higher at 18% for institutions with a Carnegie classification of “Primarily Research”.

One may also access a brief Overview of Findings from the 2012–13 Humanities Departmental Survey.


Intersections of Digital Humanities and Digital Social Sciences

With the increasing interdisciplinary nature of much research and the blurring of the boundaries between subject areas, perhaps the term “digital scholarship” is often more appropriately used than the narrower terms “digital humanities”, “digital social sciences” and “digital science” (sometimes used synonymously with “e-science”). In a recent posting “Defining Digital Social Sciences” in dh+lib Lisa Spiro (Rice University) discusses the first two of these subject areas, “digital humanities” and “digital social sciences”, pointing out that while there exist a distinct separateness between them, there are also some significant points of intersection. She acknowledges that both terms are rather fuzzy and do not easily lend themselves to clear definition. This is perhaps particularly so for the “digital social sciences”. Still, she advocates that scholars in both disciplinary areas seek “opportunities to deepen collaborations in order to share knowledge and build interdisciplinary community.” Moreover, “[d]eeper collaborations might also enable the two communities to band together in confronting common challenges.” She concludes: “The point is to enhance what discipline each does and open up new areas of inquiry, not to turn the humanities into the social sciences or vice versa. Conversations among digital humanists and digital social scientists could also deepen disciplinary self-awareness, since your own thinking often gets clearer when you explain your processes to someone with a different perspective.”

A Catalog of Digital Scholarly Editions

Excerpt from Jane Austen's Persuasion

Excerpt from Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Patrick Sahle, Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCeH), has a very useful web page A Catalog of Digital Scholarly Editions. Presently the page lists 144 editions in Literature, 156 in History, 19 in Philosophy and 4 in Music.

Sahle provides criteria for inclusion in his list, first of all defining a scholarly edition as “the critical representation of historical documents”. He further defines the concepts/words in that definition: “historical documents”, “representation”, “critical / scholarly”. See his “About” page.

The list is an excellent overview of many of the most important digital humanities projects that focus on scholarly editions and include such projects as Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition; Codex Sinaiticus; The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1834; Lord Byron and his Times; The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti – A Hypermedia Archive; Vincent van Gogh – The Letters; Letters and Texts; Intellectual Berlin around 1800, and many others.

Please note that while most of the editions are open access, a small number are not.

Proceedings of the Digital Humanities Congress 2012

A couple of days ago the University of Sheffield’s Humanities Research Institute published the Proceedings of the Digital Humanities Congress 2012. It contains 28 articles classified under the following headings: Keynote Presentations; Practising Digital Humanities; Using Digital Resources; Working with Text; Visual Analysis; Knowledge Building. The articles provide an interesting overview of some theories underlying DH as well as of a number of quite diverse DH practices.