Dimensions of Digital History Collaborations

University of Luxembourg | June 9, 2016

What is "Digital History"?

[D]igital history is a transitional term that exists for a reason: it has helped to emphasise and put into focus new practices, whether in terms of analysis or knowledge (re)presentation or both; and it highlights how data and tools are changing historical knowledge production.
Zaagsma (2013)

A transition to digital practices?

In general, however, historians have not been sufficiently conscious of the benefits to be derived from the technological revolution which has transformed contemporary society.
Lawson (1948)

Not mere conservatism, but alignment with scholarly values (Kaltenbrunner, 2015)
Opportunity: analysing science in the making (Latour, 1987)

Object of Research

Methodological interdisciplinarity:

Improving research by incorporating methods, concepts, or tools from another discipline (Klein, 2014)

  • Digital History as collaboration with (a.o.) computer scientists
  • Digital History as end-users of tools
  • Digital History as building tools independently


Often perceived as faster or easier research

Source: XKCD
How is historical scholarship affected?

Trading Zones

[A]n arena in which radically different activities could be locally, but not globally, coordinated
Galison (1996)

Acculturation & Dimensions

[T]he process by which the beliefs and practices of one community diffuse across the boundaries of another and subsequently alter the second community's practices and interpretations
Barley (1988)

Research Questions

What forms of Contact & Participation do we see?

What kind of trading zones do we see with Digital History?

Homogeneous Heterogeneous
Collaboration Digital History as inter-language
- A new discipline?
- McCarty (2005)
Digital History as fractioned trading zone
- A dual citizenship for practioners and research objects?
- Svensson, Klein, Hunter, Rieder & Röhle
Coercion Digital History as subversive
- Historians assuming the practice
of Computer Science, but not the expertise (or vice versa)?
Digital History as enforced
- A power struggle of who decides what the digital technology will do?
- Mounier (2015)

Problem: DH discussed as a homogeneous phenomenon, a single trading zone

Methods & Preliminary results

Ethnographic study

  • Interviews with practitioners
  • Observations of practitioners and colleagues

(Very) Preliminary results

17 interviews so far, 1 transcribed

Preliminary Contact & Participation

  1. Interdisciplinary team within a single department
  2. Collaboration between different departments of a single university
  3. Collaboration facilitated by a centre in a single university
  4. Collaboration between different departments at different universities
  5. Collaboration between different departments at different universities in different countries
  6. Collaboration between university and enterprise

Generally: more distance = more issues?

Preliminary Cultural maintenance

  • "Simplicity & Speed" vs "Complexity & Comprehensiveness"?
  • Conflicting research goals and how to prioritise

Preliminary Coercion

  1. Different levels of (esp. technological) expertise
  2. Senior staff pushing for DH
  3. Struggles within departments now DH is 'hot'?

Future efforts

More interviews (get in touch!)

Repeat interviews to see whether acculturation has occurred

Maybe: online survey to expand taxonomy of positions along the dimensions

Future updates

To stay up-to-date
Blog: www.maxkemman.nl
Twitter: @MaxKemman
Email: max.kemman@uni.lu

Slides: http://www.maxkemman.nl/slides/2016/dhbenelux2016.html


  • Barley, S. R., Gordon, W. M., & Gash, D. C. (1988). Cultures of Culture: Academics, Practitioners and the Pragmatics of Normative Control. Administrative Science Quarterly, 33(1), 24–60.
  • Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 697–712.
  • Collins, H., Evans, R., & Gorman, M. (2007). Trading zones and interactional expertise. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 38(4), 657–666.
  • Galison, P. (1996). Computer simulations and the trading zone. In The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts, And Power (pp. 118–157). Stanford University Press.
  • Kaltenbrunner, W. (2015). Reflexive inertia: reinventing scholarship through digital practices. Leiden University.
  • Klein, J. T. (2014). Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field. University of Michigan Press. http://doi.org/10.3998/dh.12869322.0001.001
  • Latour, B. (1987). Science in Action. Harvard University Press.
  • Lawson, M. G. (1948). The machine age in historical research. American Archivist, 11(2), 141–149.
  • Zaagsma, G. (2013). On Digital History. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 128(4), 3–29.