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.

Update April 3rd 2018: The survey is now closed, thank you for your interest and participation.

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 🙂

Update April 3rd 2018: The survey is now closed, thank you for your interest and participation.


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

1 thought on “Survey on DH collaborations

  1. Hi Max,
    I’ve read about your research with interest. I’m retired now, but most of my working life was spent in universities on the interface between humanities academics and IT professionals. With a background in both the humanities (mainly Art History) and IT (computing from 1974) I often served as a ‘translator’ … explaining to the IT developers what the humanities academics wanted … and explaining to the academics why they couldn’t have it!

    From 1990 through to 2012 I worked at the UK Open University, a distance learning university that since the 70s has provided its students with online learning resources. When I was an OU student I remember logging on to the OU mainframe via a teletype terminal to run a simulation as part of the Technology course that I was studying and by the time I joined the staff, most OU courses included some online elements, including many Arts courses.

    Two Arts courses I recall in particular were A427 – Charles Booth and social investigation in Britain 1850-1914 and A295 – Homer: poetry and society. Both included CD-roms as part of the study material. From memory, the A427 CD included contemporary maps and social data that could be interrogated by the students to build up their own picture of life in London in the late 1800s in preparation for the assessment questions that were asked of them. The A295 Homer CD-rom played a very large part in the course including as it did, I think, a searchable copy of the Iliad, images of contemporary artifacts, archeological simulations and maps.

    The Homer CD-rom was mentioned in Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies by Diana Laurillard,
    pub: Routledge, 2 edition (22 Nov. 2001), referencing in particular an in-house OU report that evaluated the CD by E. Chambers and J. Rae (1999)…my partner, Dr Jan Rae, who also worked at the OU. E.A. Chambers also referenced the same report in her (edited) book Contemporary Themes in Humanities Higher Education (2001).

    I have always regarded these as examples of Digital Humanities, even though they predate the popular current usage of the term. They were the results of the OU’s in-house course development process. The university was fortunate at the time to have a dedicated IT development team that was used by faculty course developers to realise their needs. The success of the collaborations was due, I think, firstly to humanities academics with enough vision and awareness to know that IT could help them teach and secondly to IT professionals that were prepared to develop the necessary software (even though the subject matter was alien to them). All this was done of course (and importantly) within a university environment that actively supported research and development in online pedagogies. Many of the people involved have now retired, as have I, but names that may be worth looking at include Dr Joel Greenberg who was head of the IT Developers, and academics: Prof Simon Eliot, an expert in the history of text and Dr Lorna Hardwick, a classics scholar. All may have published on the work they did at this time at the OU.

    I hope that your PhD goes well. I watched as my wife completed her’s in 2007 so I have some understanding of the work you are having to do and of the stresses that are involved. Her’s was a comparison of the theatrical rehearsal process with the process of educational software and the lessons that could be learned.

    If you have a minute when you have completed your study I would love to hear and see the results.

    Best wishes

    twitter: @simonrae
    retired Lecturer in Professional Development (Open University)

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