Back at the end of October I attended a two-day workshop put on by the European Science Foundation (yes, Humanities research counts as Science in the European Union). The Workshop (http://tinyurl.com/2wbrtjj) addressed the issue of Research Communities and Infrastructures in the Humanities as they are developing in a digital context. Researchers from all around Europe and involved in various aspects of Digital Humanities were invited to talk about their experiences, including: representatives from two large-scale pan-European projects, CLARIN (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure: http://www.clarin.eu/external/) and DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities: http://www.dariah.eu/); some other Brits (e.g. Graeme Earl of the University of Southampton’s Archaeological Computing Research Group: http://tinyurl.com/2fqgfyw), and myself, there representing the OU projects HESTIA and GAP, to share my experiences of working in an interdisciplinary group. (For a full programme, go to: http://tinyurl.com/37xvg6c.)
The formal ‘wrap up’ of the workshop runs to several pages; for me it raised three key issues.
First, the ESF committee made it clear that they didn’t see it as their job to establish or enforce an infrastructure themselves: that had to be community-driven with local-user input. The role of pan-European bodies like the ESF lay, rather, in support, by maintaining scholarly standards (essential for the reusability of data), overseeing transparency of methods, ensuring recognition of digitally-based work in publication records and promotion cases, facilitating co-operation between groups/individuals, and helping to establish best practice guidelines. A tangible part of this guidance would be in offering training, so that all academics could develop a working competency in the field.
Second, it was recognised that the wheel should not have to be reinvented continually, meaning that there had to be better joined-up thinking across the pan-European institutions to ensure that academics working across disciplinary boundaries could learn from each other. As well as tools, methods and practice, data also needed to be shared, rather than being stored in ‘data silos’. The challenge, then, is to find ways of linking datasets. One solution proposed would be to embed metadata to provide a common ontology for each and every digital object, which could be recognised as generic and re-usable. But above all the emphasis was on making the data, tools, methods and practice accessible and open.
Lastly, it was felt that the digital medium presented an ideal opportunity to appeal to a much broader constituency beyond a narrow single-discipline academic circle. It would not only be the case of creating tools and methods, or presenting data, which are easy for all scholars to adopt and use; it would also be possible, and desirable, to develop the means of communicating the latest cutting-edge research to the general public. In fact, Humanities scholars, like their better known colleagues from the Sciences, could even play a role in shaping educational and social policy. It is certainly true that computer scientists are keen to work with us, for they recognise that the kinds of questions that we typically ask of data has the potential to extend the latest computing technology into exciting new areas.
I would urge anyone interested in Digital Humanities research at the OU to follow this up, either by going to the ESF website (http://tinyurl.com/2wbrtjj) or else by contacting me (firstname.lastname@example.org). On the back of this workshop, the ESF are currently preparing a document that will influence strategy on a European-wide level: the more user-input that we can garner, the better geared towards the community we can make that strategy.