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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!

Unpacking Collaboration in Digital History Projects

Digital history is concerned with the incorporation of digital methods in historical research practices. Thus, digital history aims to use methods, concepts, or tools from other disciplines to the benefit of historical research, making it a form of methodological interdisciplinarity.[1]Klein, J. T. (2014). Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field. online. University of Michigan Press doi:10.3998/dh.12869322.0001.001. This requires expertise of different facets, such as technology, history, and data management, and as a result many digital history activities are a collaboration of professionals and scholars from different backgrounds. Such collaborations would fit Svensson’s characterisation of digital humanities as a fractioned trading zone.[2]Svensson, P. (2011). The digital humanities as a humanities project. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11(1–2): 42–60 doi:10.1177/1474022211427367.
Svensson, P. (2012). Beyond the Big Tent. In Gold, M. K. (ed), Debates in the Digital Humanities. online. University of Minnesota Press.
Simply stated, this means first that digital humanities functions as heterogeneous collaborations, i.e. with participants from different backgrounds, and second that the participants act voluntarily. In this paper, we will investigate these two aspects in the context of digital history to understand how digital history projects function as heterogeneous collaborations, and what the participants’ incentives are for entering such collaborations. We will discuss this by presenting findings from interviews with practitioners in digital history projects, and reflections on projects in which the author himself has participated.

The concept of trading zones was coined by Galison who described it as “an arena in which radically different activities could be locally, but not globally, coordinated” (p. 119).[3]Galison, P. (1996). Computer simulations and the trading zone. The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts, And Power. Stanford University Press, pp. 118–57. That is, although the disciplines of e.g. computer science and history cannot coordinate activities on a global discipline-wide level, and do not contribute towards one another as disciplines, in local collaborations it is possible to communicate and coordinate a shared goal of research within a so-called trading zone. This concept was further developed by Collins et al. who suggested four types of trading zones using two dimensions.[4]Collins, H., Evans, R. and Gorman, M. (2007). Trading zones and interactional expertise. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 38(4): 657–66 doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2007.09.003. The first dimension is cultural maintenance from homogeneous to heterogeneous, i.e., how the two groups define themselves and to what extent they aim to maintain their identity. On this scale, more homogeneous means the two groups become more alike to form a single group, while more heterogeneous means they remain two distinct groups. The second is coercion from collaborative to coercive, i.e., what the power relations in the trading zone are. On this scale, more collaborative means the two groups are both acting out of free will, while more coercive means one group is imposing practices upon the other. When a trading zone is heterogeneous and collaborative, we speak of a fractioned trading zone as Svensson does.

One instantiation of this is through boundary objects, a concept developed by Star and Griesemer to describe objects used in heterogeneous collaborations where different parties may have different understandings of the object, while the object keeps a common core identity to all parties.[5]Star, S. L. (2010). This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept. Science, Technology & Human Values, 35(5): 601–17 doi:10.1177/0162243910377624.
Star, S. L. and Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional Ecology, `Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3): 387–420 doi:10.1177/030631289019003001.
This concept could be used to refer to the tool under development or the data on which the tool and historian will work. However, in this paper we will approach the project itself as boundary object; the project binds the participants together, but we will ask what each participant expects out of the project, and how participants individually approach the project.

This leads us to the second part of our investigation, the incentives for collaboration. When writing about interdisciplinary collaboration in digital history, this is almost always done to underscore the positive or even necessary effects.[6]For example
Eijnatten, J. van, Pieters, T. and Verheul, J. (2013). Big Data for Global History: The Transformative Promise of Digital Humanities. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 128(4): 55–77.
Hitchcock, T. (2014). Big Data, Small Data and Meaning Historyonics http://historyonics.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/big-data-small-data-and-meaning_9.html.
Sternfeld, J. (2011). Archival theory and digital historiography: Selection, search, and metadata as archival processes for assessing historical contextualization. American Archivist, 74(2): 544–75.
However, such collaboration is not trivial and requires dedication and investments from all involved, e.g. as shown by Siemens.[7]Siemens, L., Duff, W., Cunningham, R. and Warwick, C. (2009). “It challenges members to think of their work through another kind of specialist”s eyes’: Exploration of the benefits and challenges of diversity in digital project teams. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 46(1): 1–14 doi:10.1002/meet.2009.1450460223.
Siemens, L. and INKE Research Group (2012). From Writing the Grant to Working the Grant : An Exploration of Processes and Procedures in Transition. Scholarly and Research Communication, 3(1).
In previous research, it has been shown that the incentives for joining a project had a strong influence on the success of collaborations between computer scientists and earth scientists.[8]Weedman, J. (1998). The Structure of Incentive: Design and Client Roles in Application-Oriented Research. Science, Technology & Human Values, 23(3): 315–45 doi:10.1177/016224399802300303. To understand these incentives, we follow this work and look at reasons for joining the project, individual goals for the project, and expected effects of the participation after the project has ended. From these aspects, we will analyse situations of conflicting interests and expectations. For example, in an interview one historian noted about their project:

”[W]e’re supposed to be advising the team developing the tool. And trying to then carry out research on a specific case study. And so originally it was like wow we’re going to be able to use the tool, but very quickly it became clear ok actually probably we’re not going to be able to use the tool.”

In this paper, we will thus unpack the fractioned trading zones of digital history projects, to gain an understanding of how heterogeneous, interdisciplinary collaborations work, and why participants join these collaborations.

References   [ + ]

1. Klein, J. T. (2014). Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field. online. University of Michigan Press doi:10.3998/dh.12869322.0001.001.
2. Svensson, P. (2011). The digital humanities as a humanities project. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11(1–2): 42–60 doi:10.1177/1474022211427367.
Svensson, P. (2012). Beyond the Big Tent. In Gold, M. K. (ed), Debates in the Digital Humanities. online. University of Minnesota Press.
3. Galison, P. (1996). Computer simulations and the trading zone. The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts, And Power. Stanford University Press, pp. 118–57.
4. Collins, H., Evans, R. and Gorman, M. (2007). Trading zones and interactional expertise. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 38(4): 657–66 doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2007.09.003.
5. Star, S. L. (2010). This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept. Science, Technology & Human Values, 35(5): 601–17 doi:10.1177/0162243910377624.
Star, S. L. and Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional Ecology, `Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3): 387–420 doi:10.1177/030631289019003001.
6. For example
Eijnatten, J. van, Pieters, T. and Verheul, J. (2013). Big Data for Global History: The Transformative Promise of Digital Humanities. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 128(4): 55–77.
Hitchcock, T. (2014). Big Data, Small Data and Meaning Historyonics http://historyonics.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/big-data-small-data-and-meaning_9.html.
Sternfeld, J. (2011). Archival theory and digital historiography: Selection, search, and metadata as archival processes for assessing historical contextualization. American Archivist, 74(2): 544–75.
7. Siemens, L., Duff, W., Cunningham, R. and Warwick, C. (2009). “It challenges members to think of their work through another kind of specialist”s eyes’: Exploration of the benefits and challenges of diversity in digital project teams. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 46(1): 1–14 doi:10.1002/meet.2009.1450460223.
Siemens, L. and INKE Research Group (2012). From Writing the Grant to Working the Grant : An Exploration of Processes and Procedures in Transition. Scholarly and Research Communication, 3(1).
8. Weedman, J. (1998). The Structure of Incentive: Design and Client Roles in Application-Oriented Research. Science, Technology & Human Values, 23(3): 315–45 doi:10.1177/016224399802300303.

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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User Required? User Research in the Digital Humanities

The development of tools plays an important role in the Digital Humanities. For the recent DHBenelux conference, I found that the word “tool” was used almost a hundred times in all the abstracts, not counting my own. Still, the actual adoption of all these tools by the target audience, the humanities scholars, does not always reach its potential. [1]Claire Warwick, M. Terras, Paul Huntington, & N. Pappa. (2007). If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 23(1), 85–102. http://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqm045 ref-closed (OA version ref-oa) In a recently published paper by Martijn Kleppe and me, titled User Required? On the Value of User Research in the Digital Humanities, we look into how Digital Humanities scholars might address this problem.[2]Max Kemman, & Martijn Kleppe. (2015). User Required? On the Value of User Research in the Digital Humanities. In Jan Odijk (Ed.), Selected Papers from the CLARIN 2014 Conference, October 24-25, 2014, Soesterberg, The Netherlands (pp. 63–74). Linköping University Electronic Press. ref-oa

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References   [ + ]

1. Claire Warwick, M. Terras, Paul Huntington, & N. Pappa. (2007). If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 23(1), 85–102. http://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqm045 ref-closed (OA version ref-oa)
2. Max Kemman, & Martijn Kleppe. (2015). User Required? On the Value of User Research in the Digital Humanities. In Jan Odijk (Ed.), Selected Papers from the CLARIN 2014 Conference, October 24-25, 2014, Soesterberg, The Netherlands (pp. 63–74). Linköping University Electronic Press. ref-oa

No tool can do all

DHBenelux 2015 (8-9 June 2015, Antwerp, Belgium), the second edition after 2014, demonstrated a nice growth from last year with 150 attendees, 62 presentations, plus seven more demos-only and three posters-only (some presentations were also presented as demo or poster): an acceptance rate of 90%.

This blogpost is not intended to provide a complete overview of the conference, but rather to show the discussion from my perspective. The main theme I will follow is that no tool can do all research for you.

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DH funding in the US

Currently I’m following a MOOC on Information Visualization offered by Indiana University called IVMOOC. Each week a course is made available and thus far I’ve done the “when”, “where” and “what” modules. As an additional incentive, students gain access to the Scholarly Database (SDB) with which I have been having some fun.

A did a search in all NEH awards, for which the database contains 47,197 records from 1970-2012 [1]SDB NEH explanation: http://wiki.cns.iu.edu/display/SDBDOC/NEH+Awards. Do note the chart at the bottom showing the distribution of records..

SDB offers full-text search in titles and abstracts. I tried the following:

  1. “Digital Humanities” in titles: 20 records from 2001-2012
  2. “Humanities Computing” in titles: 0 records (to see if there was DH-related work before coining of the term “DH”)
  3. “Digital Humanities” in abstract: 82 results from 2001-2012
  4. “Humanities Computing” in abstract: 3 results from 2006-2008

In order to create an interesting visualisation, I wanted a nice bunch of result, so I made the searches broader by searching for digital OR computational in abstracts, resulting in 654 records from 1985-2012, with a total “original amount” of $95,248,977.4 [2]The data contains several figures, namely approved_outright, approved_matching, award_outright, award_matching and original_amount. I’m still figuring out a bit which figures I should focus on.

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References   [ + ]

1. SDB NEH explanation: http://wiki.cns.iu.edu/display/SDBDOC/NEH+Awards. Do note the chart at the bottom showing the distribution of records.
2. The data contains several figures, namely approved_outright, approved_matching, award_outright, award_matching and original_amount. I’m still figuring out a bit which figures I should focus on.

Grasping Technology

dhbeneluxWith all kinds of digital technologies becoming available, the uptake of digital research methods by the humanities might have been inevitable. How the humanities can incorporate digital tools, and contribute to the development of technology aimed at the humanities were questions central at the DHBenelux conference (12&13 June 2014, The Hague, the Netherlands). Around 180 attendees met to discuss research projects presented in 50 presentations, 16 posters and 10 demo’s.

This blogpost is not intended to provide a complete overview of the conference, but rather to show the discussion from my perspective. The main theme I will follow is that of the humanities grasping technology; referring to 1) taking technology, 2) embracing technology and 3) coming to an understanding of technology.

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The value of keywords for papers

At the Digital Humanities congress 2013, 159 papers and 52 posters will be presented. All abstracts have been made available online, but fortunately it’s possible to browse the material by several metadata elements conference-related such as room and date, or paper-related such as author and affiliation. I was particularly interested in the browsing by keyword, as I hoped to gain an overview of the papers available, as well as gain quick access to material interesting for my research.

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“Just Google It” Abstract

In the summer of 2012, we held a survey amongst scholars, inquiring about their online search practices. The results of this survey were presented in September 2012 at the Digital Humanities Congress Sheffield, titled “Mapping the Use of Digital Sources Amongst Humanities Scholars in the Netherlands“. This August, we hope to publish a (first) paper about the results of this survey in the then launching online journal Studies in the Digital Humanities. This journal will be Open Access, additionally we will make the manuscript available Open Access at the Erasmus University Library RePub, and will publish the survey data Open Access at DANS. I’ll provide the links later on the Publications page.
This paper was co-authored with Martijn Kleppe and Stef Scagliola. Below I provide the abstract we submitted, which undergo some modifications before publication.

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eHumanities Workshop Soeterbeeck: More Digital Than Humanities

On 13-14 June the Radboud University Nijmegen and the eHumanities group from KNAW co-organized the eHumanities workshop Soeterbeeck. This very nice mid-sized workshop with under 50 participants staying in the beautiful monastery Soeterbeeck in Ravenstein included very interesting invited-talks as well as a nice postersession where we presented the PoliMedia project. However, the workshop also demonstrated that so far the Digital Humanities is more Digital than Humanities.

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