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Digital Technology and the Practices of Humanities Research

Digital Technology and the Practices of Humanities Research Jennifer Edmond
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Most of the ten essays address the revolutionary issues that have emerged in the digital humanities in terms of assessment, access, and publication and the lack of resolution within the academy [...] This will be a welcome volume for libraries that support digital researchers in the areas of history, linguistics, and literature, as it broaches the complications that came with the introduction of code and programming to humanities research.
—J. Rodzvilla, Emerson College, Choice Connects, November 2020 Vol. 58 No. 3.

How does technology impact research practices in the humanities? How does digitisation shape scholarly identity? How do we negotiate trust in the digital realm? What is scholarship, what forms can it take, and how does it acquire authority?

This diverse set of essays demonstrate the importance of asking such questions, bringing together established and emerging scholars from a variety of disciplines, at a time when data is increasingly being incorporated as an input and output in humanities sources and publications. Major themes addressed include the changing nature of scholarly publishing in a digital age, the different kinds of ‘gate-keepers’ for scholarship, and the difficulties of effectively assessing the impact of digital resources. The essays bring theoretical and practical perspectives into conversation, offering readers not only comprehensive examinations of past and present discourse on digital scholarship, but tightly-focused case studies.

This timely volume illuminates the different forces underlying the shifting practices in humanities research today, with especial focus on how humanists take ownership of, and are empowered by, technology in unexpected ways. Digital Technology and the Practices of Humanities Research is essential reading for scholars, students, and general readers interested in the changing culture of research practices in the humanities, and in the future of the digital humanities on the whole.

Digital Technology and the Practices of Humanities Research
Jennifer Edmond (ed.) | January 2020
294 pp.  | 2 B&W illustrations | 6.14'' x 9.21'' (156 x 234 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 978-1-78374-839-6
ISBN Hardback: 9781783748402
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783748419
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783748426
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783748433
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783748440
Categories: BIC: H (humanities), JNV (Educational equipment and technology), CAL (computer-aided learning), U (Computing and information technology); BISAC: EDU037000 (EDUCATION / Research), TEC000000 (TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / General); OCLC Number: 1139152327.

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Notes on the Contributors

1. Introduction: Power, Practices, and the Gatekeepers of Humanistic Research in the Digital Age Download
Jennifer Edmond

2. Publishing in the Digital Humanities: The Treacle of the Academic Tradition Download
Adriaan van der Weel and Fleur Praal

3. Academic Publishing: New Opportunities for the Culture of Supply and the Nature of Demand Download
Jennifer Edmond and Laurent Romary

4. The Impact of Digital Resources Download
Claire Warwick and Claire Bailey-Ross

5. Violins in the Subway: Scarcity Correlations, Evaluative Cultures, and Disciplinary Authority in the Digital Humanities Download
Martin Paul Eve

6. 'Black Boxes' and True Colour — A Rhetoric of Scholarly Code Download
Joris Van Zundert, Smiljana Antonijević and Tara Andrews

7. The Evaluation and Peer Review of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities: Experiences, Discussions, and Histories Download
Julianne Nyhan

8. Critical Mass: The Listserv and the Early Online Community as a Case Study in the Unanticipated Consequences of Innovation in Scholarly Communication Download
Daniel Paul O'Donnell

9. Springing the Floor for a Different Kind of Dance: Building DARIAH as a Twenty-First-Century Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities Download
Jennifer Edmond, Frank Fischer, Laurent Romary and Toma Tasovac

10. The Risk of Losing the Thick Description: Data Management Challenges Faced by the Arts and Humanities in the Evolving FAIR Data Ecosystem Download
Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra


Tara L. Andrews is a university professor in Digital Humanities at the University of Vienna. She obtained her DPhil in Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford in 2009; she also holds a MPhil in Byzantine Studies from Oxford, and a BSc in Humanities and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She currently leads an SNSF-funded project to produce a digital critical edition of the twelfth-century Armenian-language chronicle by Mattēos Uhayec҅i (Matthew of Edessa). More broadly, Andrews’ research interests include Byzantine history of the middle period (in particular the tenth to twelfth centuries), Armenian history and historiography from the fifth to the twelfth centuries, and the application of computational analysis and digital methods to the fields of medieval history and philology. From 2010 to 2013, Andrews worked at the KU Leuven University with Prof. Caroline Macé on the ‘Tree of Texts’ project, which is an investigation of the theory behind the stemmatic analysis of classical and medieval manuscript texts. The suite of online tools developed for the project is freely available online at https://stemmaweb.net/stemmaweb/.

Smiljana Antonijević explores the intersection of communication, culture, and technology through research and teaching in the USA and Europe. She is the author of Amongst Digital Humanists: An Ethnographic Study of Digital Knowledge Production (2015), while other recent publications include Developing Tools for Voices from the Field (2016), Personal Library Curation (2014), Working in Virtual Knowledge (2013), The Immersive Hand (2013), Cultures of Formalization (2012), and Researchers’ Information Uses in a Digital World (2012). Antonijević’s most recent research projects are Alfalab: eHumanities Tools and Resources, Humanities Information Practices, Digitizing Words of Power, and Digital Scholarly Workflow.

Claire Bailey-Ross is a senior lecturer in user experience at the School of Creative Technologies, University of Portsmouth. She is course leader for the BSc Digital Media Degree Programme. Bailey-Ross’ research takes place within the context of digital humanities and her work is highly interdisciplinary: ranging from the user’s experience of digital heritage resources to broader debates surrounding the impact of digital innovation and technological change in cultural heritage environments. Her current research interests include the nature of participation and engagement provided by digital technology, knowledge transfer between academic and cultural heritage institutions, and the innovation opportunities afforded by humanities research.

Michelle Doran is a research fellow and project officer at the Centre for Digital Humanities, Trinity College Dublin and is presently contributing to the CHIST-ERA funded Progressive Visual Decision-Making in Digital Humanities (PROVIDEDH) project. She is a member of the advisory board for HubIT, the HUB for boosting Responsibility and Inclusiveness of ICT-enabled Research and Innovation through constructive interactions with social sciences and humanities research.

Jennifer Edmond is an associate professor of Trinity College Dublin and a co-director of the Trinity Centre for Digital Humanities. She holds a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Yale University, and applies her training as a scholar of language, narrative, and culture to the study and promotion of advanced methods in, and infrastructures for, the arts and humanities. In this vein, Edmond serves as president of the board of directors of the pan-European research infrastructure for the arts and humanities DARIAH-EU. Additionally, she represents this body on the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), which supports the European Commission in developing and promoting Open Science policies. She has also developed a significant individual profile within European research and research policy circles in the past five years, having been named one of Ireland’s five ’Champions of EU Research’ in 2012. She coordinated the €6.5m CENDARI FP7 (2012–16) project and is a partner in the related infrastructure cluster PARTHENOS. Edmond was also coordinator of the 2017–18 ICT programme-funded project KPLEX, which investigated bias in big data research from a humanities perspective, and she is currently a partner in the CHIST-ERA project PROVIDE-DH, which is investigating progressive visualisation as support for managing uncertainty in humanities research.

Martin Paul Eve is the Chair of Literature, Technology, and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the author of four books, including Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (2014) and is one of the founders of the Open Library of Humanities.

Frank Fischer is currently an associate professor in digital humanities at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and co-director of DARIAH-EU. He has studied computer science, German literature, and Spanish philology in Leipzig and London, and is an Ancien Pensionnaire de l'École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He received his PhD from the University of Jena for his study on the dramatic works of Joachim Wilhelm von Brawe and their contemporary translations into Russian, Danish, and French.

Julianne Nyhan is an associate professor in Digital Information Studies of the Department of Information Studies, UCL, where she leads the Digital Humanities MA/MSc Programme. Nyhan is also the deputy director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and on the leadership group of the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage. She has published widely on the history of digital humanities and her work has been translated into a number of languages, including Russian, Polish, and Chinese. Recent publications include (with Andrew Flinn) Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities (2016). Her research projects include a Leverhulme-funded collaboration with the British Museum on the manuscript catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane; an ESRC-funded historical newspaper data mining project; and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie action called ‘Critical Heritage Studies and the Future of Europe’.

Daniel Paul O’Donnell is a professor of English and an adjunct member of the Library Research Faculty at the University of Lethbridge. His research and teaching interests include the digital humanities, scholarly and scientific communication, textual and editorial theory and practice, globalisation, and Anglo-Saxon studies. He is the Editor in Chief of the open access journal Digital Studies/Le champ numérique, and president of Force11.org. In previous years he was the founding chair of both the Digital Medievalist and Global Outlook::Digital Humanities as well as being president of the Text Encoding Initiative. His digital edition of the Anglo-Saxon poem Cćdmon's Hymn received an honourable mention in the MLA's prize for most distinguished scholarly edition of 2006.

Fleur Praal graduated in 2012 with a MA cum laude in Book and Digital Media Studies at Leiden University with a thesis on the quantitative analysis of libraries and publishers' data in the Netherlands. After gaining experience in quantitative research evaluation at Leiden's Centre for Science and Technology Studies, she returned to the Book and Digital Media Studies department as a PhD researcher and lecturer specialising in publishing studies. Her dissertation combines methodologies and models from book and publishing studies, cultural analysis, and the sociology in analysing the changing landscape of scholarly publishing in the current digital age, and especially in the humanities.

Laurent Romary is directeur de recherche at Inria (France), within the ALMAnaCH team, and a former director general of DARIAH (2014–18). He carries out research on the modelling of semi-structured documents with a specific emphasis on texts and linguistic resources. He has been active in standardisation activities within the ISO committee TC 37 and the Text Encoding Initiative. Romary has also been working for many years on the advancement of open access.

Toma Tasovac is director of the Belgrade Center for Digital Humanities (BCDH) and a member of the DARIAH-EU board of directors. His areas of interest include lexicography, data modelling, the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative), digital editions, and research infrastructures. Tasovac serves on the advisory board for Europeana Research, and on the CLARIN-DE/DARIAH-DE technical board. He is also a steering group member for the European Network of eLexicography (ENeL) and the European Network for Combining Language Learning with Crowdsourcing Techniques (enetCollect). Under Tasovac’s leadership, BCDH has received funding from various national and international grant bodies, including Erasmus Plus and Horizon 2020.

Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra received her PhD in cultural linguistics in 2018 at Eötvös Loránd University. In 2016, her commitment to democracy in science led her to join the research discovery platform ScienceOpen, and begin her carrier as an open science advocate. Currently she works as open science officer at the European Research Infrastructure Consortium DARIAH where she contributes to the design and implementation of open science policy statements, guidelines, and services related to the open dissemination of research results in the humanities.

Adriaan van der Weel is Bohn Extraordinary Professor of Book Studies, and teaches book and digital media studies at the University of Leiden. His research interests lie in the digitisation of textual transmission and reading, publishing studies, and scholarly communication. He is editor of a number of book series on these subjects, as well as of Digital Humanities Quarterly. His latest books are Changing our Textual Minds: Towards a Digital Order of Knowledge (2011), and The Unbound Book (2013), a collection of essays edited jointly with Joost Kircz. He is vice-chair of the COST Action ‘E-READ’, about the future of reading in the digital age, and is currently writing a book about reading.

Joris J. van Zundert is a senior researcher and developer in the field of digital and computational humanities. He works at the Huygens Institute for the History of The Netherlands, a research institute of The Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). Joris van Zundert has headed and/or contributed to several key digital humanities projects at the Huygens Institute and the Royal Academy. He was chair for Interedition, a combined European USA network of digital humanities developers that fostered CLARIN in the Netherlands. As a researcher and developer his main interests lie with the possibilities of computational algorithms for the analysis of literary and historic texts, and the nature and properties of humanities information and data modelling. His current PhD research focuses on the interaction between computer science and humanities, and the tensions between hermeneutics and ‘big data’ approaches to interoperability and expertise exchange.

Claire Warwick is a professor in digital humanities at the Department of English Studies at the University of Durham. Her research is on the use of digital resources in the humanities and cultural heritage, on digital reading, and on the relationships between physical and digital information environments.

1. Introduction: Power, Practices, and the Gatekeepers of Humanistic Research in the Digital Age
Jennifer Edmond

The volume begins with a metaphor that frames the study of humanistic research in the digital age with the imagery of a leaf falling and landing upon the surface of a river, the ripples representing the emerging entanglement of technology with the practices and values of humanistic research. Edmond introduces us to the complex heart of the debate, highlighting discussions raised during the 2013 Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities meeting and issues that scholarship is now facing including: validity, formality, conservatism, positivism, ownership and scepticism. Edmond draws attention to the impact of collaboration as well as the changing position of publishers as ‘gatekeepers’ of scholarship, strongly setting up the discussion of humanistic research in the midst of a complex and ever-evolving ecosystem of ideas, people, structures and institutions. The volume aims to shed new light on the shifting practices of humanistic research, facilitated by technology, from the perspective of its complex relationship with the far wider range of impulses from scholars and scholarship.

2. Publishing in the Digital Humanities: The Treacle of the Academic Tradition
Adriaan van der Weel and Fleur Praal

This chapter explores the discrepancy between the communication opportunities offered by new scholarly outputs and the strong adherence to traditional, formal publications. The authors view the digital humanities as not just a divergent scholarly field but also a disruptive one in which publication practices diverge less from traditional practices than expected of a community increasingly grounded in online values. Four functions of formal publishing that embody fundamental academic values are identified: registration, certification, dissemination, and archiving. This framework is used to analyse the inherent properties of the new digital medium and how they are destabilising paper-based conventions. From the perspective of a scholarly author as a primary stakeholder, this article argues that the limited evolution of scholarly communication in the digital humanities is a result of the intertwining of the values of scholarship and the functions of traditional publishing.

3. Academic Publishing: New Opportunities for the Culture of Supply and the Nature of Demand
Jennifer Edmond and Laurent Romary

In this chapter, Edmond and Romary examine the complex interaction between production and consumption of scholarly literature. First, they explore the strengths and appeals of print publishing as opposed to electronic counterparts, highlighting an interesting tension in reader response — that readers prefer the long, written form of the monograph despite research evidence that suggests readers no longer read sources from start to finish. Next, they identify a disconnect between the needs and choices of the writer as well as the reader, and consider issues of formality and informality in relation to new and traditional methods of research outputs. In turn, they highlight the challenge of supplementing traditional forms with smaller units of scholarly production in a way that is verifiable, in-depth, sustains argument, and does not simply mimic monographs. The issue of evaluation in scholarship is then discussed, and institutional and cultural barriers to change are identified in terms of protection and authority. Edmond and Romary ultimately argue that it is not technology that has to change for alternative methods to emerge, become normalised and accepted; but that the culture of the institutions and disciplines needs to stretch to accommodate these possibilities.

4. The Impact of Digital Resources
Claire Warwick and Claire Bailey-Ross

Warwick and Bailey-Ross begin the chapter with a tone of scepticism, examining why there is a bias among students, university managers funding councils, and policy makers alike towards digital resources. In this chapter, they examine what impact digital resources might have, upon whom, in what way and how it might be measured. Beginning by detailing the history of impact-assessment within the GLAM sector and analysing the weaknesses in current evaluation models, they critique Sara Selwood and Simon Tanner’s models of impact assessment before arguing that it is oversimplifying to draw a distinction between research-based digital resources created by academics and the digitisation of collections and resources by GLAM institutions. The authors revisit the case studies assessed by the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, highlighting how the text-mining methods used have limitations. They conclude that even though digital humanities can have an impact on numerous sectors, the impact itself is not easy to measure  — one of the main issues being the question of continued funding for digital resources post-publication, which must be considered by.

5. Violins in the Subway: Scarcity Correlations, Evaluative Cultures, and Disciplinary Authority in the Digital Humanities
Martin Paul Eve

Eve begins this chapter with a question: how good are we at independently judging research work, devoid of its enframing apparatus? Using the analogy of hearing a world-famous violinist play in a subway, Eve draws our attention to the current circularity of incentives that exist in both authorship and peer-reviewing practices that not only skew our ability to determine quality but are also severely restricting advances in how scholarly literature are assessed. He argues that all systems of evaluation, from peer-review to aggregation, are economic in character and examines how digital humanities pose a set of challenges to the three elements of academic evaluative cultures: the desired scarcity correlation between the research artefact and the position, a frame for evaluation that denotes scarcity, and a set of disciplinary norms about which frames best denote comparable scarcity. Among the strategies for changing cultures suggested by Eve in this chapter are disciplinary segregation, print simulation, and direct economics.

6. 'Black Boxes' and True Colour — A Rhetoric of Scholarly Code
Joris Van Zundert, Smiljana Antonijević and Tara Andrews

Van Zundert, Antonijević, and Andrews begin by highlighting the important role coding plays in digital humanities research, how it is easily overlooked, as well as the detrimental and undetectable effects this can have on the research outcomes itself. Using Latour’s concept of the ‘black box’, and drawing parallels between codework and rhetorical arguments, the authors argue that code is a social construct that inadvertently embeds social and ideological beliefs upon research; furthermore, they highlight the current lack of monitoring, crediting and critiquing of codework. They use an analytical autoethnography method to examine the experiences of digital humanities scholars proficient in both humanities research and coding, grouping their observations into categories inspired by ‘the five canons of rhetoric’. Their findings illustrate that while code and codework increasingly shape research, they are rarely part of disciplinary discussions and the consequences include: limitations to the integration of digital scholarship into the humanities, softwares becoming reduced to merely user interfaces, and the loss of recognition for hybrid scholars who function as digital humanities programmers. They conclude that interdependence of code and text should become an established trajectory in the humanities as well as the development of methods for documenting, analysing and evaluating codework.

7. The Evaluation and Peer Review of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities: Experiences, Discussions, and Histories
Julianne Nyhan

In this chapter, Nyhan explores the history of evaluative assessment methods for digital scholarship in the humanities. Starting from the origin of humanities computing in 1949, Nyhan surveys recorded conversations of the humanities computing community concerning peer review and evaluation, adopting a broad definition of digital scholarship as including not only digital or digitally-derived scholarship but also scholarship that has been published digitally. Her findings highlight an overall mixed experience of, and attitude towards, peer review and formal evaluation. Not only was the use of computer for research as well as publishing work on a digital platform considered problematic before the 1990s, there were also concerns about the implementation of peer review and how it could be organised. Nyhan views the eventual consensus that emerged on the importance of formal evaluation as having been accelerated by the gradual acceptance of digital publication, digital humanities and institutionalisation itself. Nyhan concludes that the inauspicious reception digital scholarship has received is linked to the ambivalence towards the evaluation of digital scholarship; she suggests that our approaches towards the latter can reveal the evolving disciplinary identity of the digital humanities.

8. Critical Mass: The Listserv and the Early Online Community as a Case Study in the Unanticipated Consequences of Innovation in Scholarly Communication
Daniel Paul O'Donnell

In this chapter, O’Donnell considers the state of ‘revolutionary stasis’ in today’s scholarly communication by examining LISTSERV and the early online community as a case study. Beginning with a brief history of the early online community (with the rise of email and the LISTSERV mailing list distribution utility), O’Donnell goes onto distinguish two approaches to the design of online, email-based communities: to act as a computer-mediated representation of an existing academic form, as well as to treat mailing lists as an informal, conversational space. O’Donnell engages with Patrick Connor’s discussions on the importance of para-academic social practices over more formal scholarly elements and argues that we are looking for change in the wrong place — our work practices are changing not as a result of digital technology innovations replacing our previous methods, but by supplementing and building on them. O’Donnell argues that it is the expansion of informal channels that has revolutionised in-group para-disciplinary communications. The chapter ends with O’Donnell’s thoughts on where currently emerging innovations can lead us.

9. Springing the Floor for a Different Kind of Dance: Building DARIAH as a Twenty-First-Century Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities
Jennifer Edmond, Frank Fischer, Laurent Romary and Toma Tasovac

Edmond, Fischer, Romary, and Tasovac begin this chapter by exploring what infrastructure means in different contexts before going on to consider ‘digital infrastructure’ as not only a tool that needs to be built but also understood. They examine practices and theories in an attempt to define infrastructure for the arts and humanities in the digital age: firstly, considering infrastructure as knowledge spaces; secondly, considering why the arts and humanities need research infrastructure and; thirdly, establishing why a community approach should be adopted and what baseline requirements should be met. They focus on the case study of DARIA ERIC and its dual hierarchical and marketplace structure to optimise knowledge sharing and in-flow from within its community. They argue that infrastructures today not only represent a different model for supporting knowledge creation but are also developing new models for creating knowledge. They conclude that DARIAH ERIC harnesses the best of two communities — research infrastructures as originally conceived of in the sciences, as well as the arts and humanities research base.

10. The Risk of Losing the Thick Description: Data Management Challenges Faced by the Arts and Humanities in the Evolving FAIR Data Ecosystem
Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra

This chapter explores some of the aspects underlying the domain-specific, epistemic processes that pose challenges to the FAIRification of knowledge creation in arts and humanities. Tóth-Czifra argues that the FAIR principles (findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability) have been designed according to underlying assumptions about how knowledge creation operates and communicates. This causes issues in productive reuse of digitised cultural heritage resources and legal barriers can prevent institutions from sharing metadata online, which can further skew research towards what is easily available and free to find online. However, standardisation of shared metadata can also have epistemological challenges and affect the systems of discovery and knowledge creation — a price which Tóth-Czifra argues is too high. She argues that in order to be truly reusable, data should achieve autonomy from their curator, and by bringing scholarly communication, data sharing and academic publishing together, we can reach a more sustainable research data management ecosystem. Relying on domain-relevant community standards as well as increasing the social life of data is critical to avoid having deposited datasets being buried in isolated ‘data tombs’.