Survey on DH collaborations

Digital history is not simply a matter of asking historians what they want from a digital tool, emailing the resulting user requirements to a software developer, and waiting for the perfect system to be implemented. Instead, digital history requires an ongoing negotiation of software design and alignment with scholarly practices by coordinating the practices of computational researchers and historians. This ongoing negotiation of practices constitutes what I call a ‘trading zone’:[1]Galison, P. (1997). Image & logic: A material culture of microphysics. The University of Chicago Press. a local area within which practices and discourses are coordinated so that participants from different cultures can perform exchanges.

To go to the survey immediately, click here:

For this PhD research I have selected several digital history collaborations in the Benelux[2]Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg as case studies. I have interviewed participants about how they negotiated their practices and goals of the collaboration. I have thereby developed a perspective on what happens inside these trading zones of digital history. However, what has been left unexplored so far are the edges of the trading zones: how do collaborations create boundaries of the trading zone, and how are the trading zones embedded in wider organisations. With the survey introduced in this blog post, I hope to explore these boundaries of collaborations further.

Contact & Participation

I consider three dimensions of trading zones, as mentioned in an earlier blogpost: 1) cultural maintenance, 2) coercion, and 3) contact & participation. The current survey focuses on this final dimension, the contact & participation. With this dimension, we aim to gain an insight in the ways people in a trading zone participate, and the organisational structures of interdisciplinary collaboration.  It is entirely possible that you are part of multiple collaborations; e.g. you could be part of a DH centre that has a lab, and you work on one or more projects. If that is the case, we kindly ask you to take the survey for each individually, and not combine answers in one go. We are particularly interested in collaborations that include historians.

Why a survey?

I take a ‘meso’ perspective on how trading zones are organised. A survey therefore provides an appropriate tool to gain a wider outlook at digital humanities/history collaborations. The survey is primarily focused on digital history, separating history while combining other humanities subdisciplines under the grouping ‘humanities’. Still, I am very interested in other DH collaborations as well. As explained on the first page of the survey, all results will anonymised, and you may stop at any time. The anonymised results will be published as open data.

The survey will be supplemented with a case study of how digital history collaborations are organisationally embedded at the University of Luxembourg, where we have a) the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, b) the history department at the humanities faculty, c) the Digital History Lab, and d) run several digital history projects. How all these collaborations create boundaries and cross boundaries will be used as qualitative information on top of the more quantitatively oriented survey.

I would really appreciate if you could fill out and distribute the survey and help me finish my PhD 🙂

You can find the survey via

References   [ + ]

1. Galison, P. (1997). Image & logic: A material culture of microphysics. The University of Chicago Press.
2. Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg

ECHIC Abstract: Infrastructure As Afterthought

Now that I’m halfway through my third year my supervisors told me it would be better to start focusing on writing chapters rather than conference abstracts. They are of course absolutely right, but then a colleague notified me of the call for papers for ECHIC 2018 (European Conference for the Humanities on behalf of the European Consortium of Humanities Institutes and Centres). This conference will be in Leuven (Belgium) from 4 to 6 April 2018, and will focus on the role of infrastructures in the humanities. As a conference so close to home, and so close to my topic, I could not resist sending in an abstract. In my presentation, I will argue that infrastructuring is the central practice of digital humanities, even though practitioners of digital humanities themselves do not always give as much attention to infrastructures as needed. This is a result of my thinking of the need for a definition of DH, and the work I’m conducting for my PhD. So the below is a slightly more provocative summary of an argument I intend to make in my thesis. I would love to hear your comments and feedback, both good and bad!

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Historians must become digital now!

As long as there have been computers, there have been scholars pulling at historians to adopt computational methods, otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant. Already in 1948, Murray Lawson wrote “historians have not been sufficiently conscious of the benefits to be derived from the technological revolution which has transformed contemporary society”, and similar claims are still being made today. Without discussing the extent to which historians have answered or ignored such provocative claims, I’d like to try and collect such claims that warn scholars they will become irrelevant if they do not take up computers or data analysis. Please do let me know any quotes you have relating to historians or humanities scholars in general and I will add them to the list below.

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The Ends of the Humanities Abstract – Interdisciplinary Ignorance

Next week I will be at The Ends of the Humanities, a conference organised by the University of Luxembourg from 10-13 September 2017, in Belval. This conference aims to “investigate the relationship between the humanities on the one hand, and ethics, cultural and social politics, the education system, the law, the economy, new technologies and other sciences, on the other”. As such it also includes a digital humanities track, to which I submitted a paper about knowledge asymmetry in interdisciplinary collaborations, to discuss how this asymmetry creates a power relation in digital humanities. See below the abstract for my paper.

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DH2017 Abstract – Unpacking Collaboration in Digital History Projects

Next week I will be in Montreal for the ADHO DH conference, where I will present a poster with some results from my PhD research. Below you can find the abstract, and below that the poster itself, designed by my wife Lindi. For those not able to come, follow the Twitter hashtag #dh2017, and if you’re able to come I hope to see you somewhere during a coffee break or at my poster presentation!

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DHBenelux 2017 Abstract – Digital History Projects as Boundary Objects

Next week I will be in Utrecht for the fourth DHBenelux conference. This year the conference will include pre-conference workshops, and I signed up for the workshop on tool criticism, a follow-up to the excellent workshop that was held in 2015 (see PDF report here). At the conference I will present a paper showcasing some results of my PhD research into digital history collaborations. Below you can find the abstract of the paper.  For those not able to come, follow the hashtag #dhbenelux. And if you are able to come, see you next week!

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Why do we need a definition of DH?

Like all great debates in DH, the return of the “what is DH” debate started off with a tweet:

This is a recurrent question, and one might ask whether in 2017 it’s still a fair question. Indeed, in 2017 it is not so popular anymore to debate definitions of DH. As I wrote in my previous blogpost, I agree it is not always important, as I don’t think it is an important question when educating students about DH. On the other hand, one might ask whether this isn’t just evasive; we can’t define DH, so we deny the importance of that definition.  In this blogpost, I will not provide a definitive answer to what is DH, but I will argue that is remains an important question for two reasons: practical and epistemological.

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What should we teach when teaching DH?

Recently a student approached me with extensive feedback on my course Doing Digital History of last year. The short summary was that he liked me as a teacher, that he liked the structure of the course, but that he disagreed with the learning objectives of the course. We eventually had a discussion about what teaching digital humanities (DH) should be about, and the up- and downsides of different approaches. In the end, his disagreements went down to three assumptions I made that lie at the core of my course. As many universities are developing courses in digital history or digital humanities, I thought it would be interesting to lay out my assumptions and his objections as a student. If you have any feedback on my assumptions, please put them in the comments!

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DHBenelux 2017 submissions

This year marks the fourth annual DHBenelux conference, which cycles through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. This fourth instalment will be held in Utrecht (the Netherlands), and last week the review process was finished and authors were contacted about the decisions. This provides me the opportunity to write down an analysis of submissions to DHBenelux 2017. For previous years, see blogposts related to 2016 and the period 2014-2016. Below I will look at the submissions, authors, and keywords.

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AIUCD 2017 Panel and Paper abstract

Next week I will be visiting Rome to join the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e le Culture Digitali (AIUCD) conference which will be held from 26-28 January at Sapienza University. See the entire programme here. The topic of the conference is “Il telescopio inverso: big data e distant reading nelle discipline umanistiche”, and as a result Mark Hill and I have formed a panel on big data, distant reading, concept drift, and digital history. In this blogpost I’ll post the abstract of the panel, and my own abstract; if the full proceedings including the abstracts of the other panel members are online I’ll add it to the presentations page. We are excited to have brought together scholars working on concept detection, ambiguity, and methodology of history, so we hope we will get a very nice discussion going.

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