Building Capacity for Digital Humanities: A Framework for Institutional Planning

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 1.00.38 PMA growing number of researchers in the humanities are using computational tools and methods that are more typically associated with social and scientific research. These tools and techniques enable researchers to pursue new forms of inquiry and new questions and bring more attention to—and cultivate broader interest in—traditional humanities and humanities data. This paper from ECAR and the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) outlines a practical framework for capacity building to develop institutional digital humanities support for IT staff, librarians, administrators, and faculty with administrative responsibilities.

Experimenting with Books

In their article “Evolving in Common: Creating Mutually Supportive Relationships between Libraries and the Digital Humanities,” which appeared in January 2013’s issue of Journal of Library AdministrationMicah Vandegrift and Stewart Varner write that “the library can no longer be simply a place to get the right answers or to be directed to the correct resource; it must facilitate [Steven] Ramsay’s ’Screwmeneutical imperative’ in browsability and playfulness” (72).  “One role for the library in [digital humanities],” the authors explain,” is to support the journey of research as a means in itself, and encourage imaginative, new, transformative uses of the products of research” (73).

By mentioning Ramsay, Vandegrift and Varner invoke one such “imaginative” use of books that Ramsay and a growing group of scholars have championed in the last several years: “distant reading,” or the technology-aided discovery of patterns and occurrences of language in and across large bodies and numbers of texts.  When distant readers and digital humanists talk about text mining, they are often talking about locating words, phrases, and parts of speech using complex algorithms and software that have been developed in collaboration with computer scientists. Although, there are at least a few existing tools such as Google’s N-Gram Viewer and Harvard’s Bookworm that allow anyone to experiment with a few of these techniques.  Audrey Watters offers a great comparison of N-Gram Viewer and Bookworm here. After they’ve culled their data, scholars then read and analyze the data, and propose theses based upon their analyses.


A screen shot of Google’s Ngram Viewer homepage.

Debates about distant reading abound.  In “Text Analysis, Data Mining, and Visualizations in Literary Scholarship,” Tanya Clement writes: “One main thrust of the argument that literary study and digital methodologies [like distant reading] are incompatible is that digital methodologies function outside the contexts that are meaningful to literary study” (para. 2). Clement goes on to state, however, that

[u]ltimately, these analytics and visualizations help us generate new knowledge by facilitating new readings of the text and by affording a self-reflective stance for comparisons, a perspective from which we can begin to ask why we as close readers have found some patterns and yet left others undiscovered. (para. 23)

Furthermore, according to Clement,

[s]ometimes the view facilitated by digital tools generates the same data human beings (or humanists) could generate by hand, but more quickly—an important advantage when so many literary texts go unread and, essentially, undervalued. At other times, these vantage points are remarkably different from that which has been afforded within print culture and provide us with a new perspective on texts that continue to compel and surprise us by being so provocative and complex—so human. (para. 42)

Are large, complex distant reading and data visualization projects, then, descendants of  those that scholars and students have been doing for years?   For example, I remember the day I discovered this concordance.  For a seminar paper, I had decided to discuss the poet’s use of a particular word across her 1700+ poems. The concordance helped me find the instances of the word I chose.  Then, I read the poems in which the word appeared. Next, using a variorum, I mapped these poems to the dates when they had been written.  Finally, I formulated a thesis that compared and contrasted the poet’s use of the word over time.  What if I had not only presented textual analysis and close readings of poems in my paper, but visually represented my findings in a graph or diagram, too?

A page from A Concordance to the Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by S. P. Rosenbaum

A page from A Concordance to the Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by S. P. Rosenbaum

Experimenting with text mining, distant reading, and data visualization – indeed, the playing around in both physical and digital libraries that Ramsay suggests – by no means requires and probably discourages a fixed perspective. Rather,  in my mind, these techniques encourage readers to “dwell in possibility.”

Here in SF, the fog days of summer offer a change of pace on campus, and perhaps a chance to experiment and play with new ideas.  Distant reading is a digital humanities-related idea that I’ve been interested in for a while, and one that I hope to learn and think even more critically about in the next few months.  What will you be experimenting with this summer?

Digital Humanities and Undergraduate Education – A view from the new Praxis Network Blog

A new DH blog recently launched – Praxis Network Blog.

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From the Praxi website:

Praxis Network programs are allied but differently-inflected humanities education initiatives, mainly focused on graduate training, and all engaged in rethinking pedagogy and campus partnerships in relation to the digital. Among other elements, the initiatives emphasize new models of methodological training and collaborative research. Each program exists within a particular ecosystem of disciplinary expectations, institutional needs, available resources, leadership styles, and specific challenges.

What particularly interested me was the connections Praxis makes between DH and teaching. After browsing thier site for a while I came across the Interactive Arts and Science (IASC) Program at Brock University. One theme here at USF as we’ve begun our discussions around DH has been the connection between undergraduate education and digital humanities. Its exciting to learn about the work happening at Brock and I hope to learn more as I spend more time on their website looking at examples of IASC programs.

Digital Humanities and Libraries: A Conceptual Model

A recent article in The Journal of Library Administration by Chris Alen Sula provides one of the first conceptual models expressing linking the work of academic libraries and digital humanists. From the abstract for the article, Digital Humanities and Libraries: A Conceptual Model:

Though there has been much discussion of the connection between libraries and digital humanities (on both sides), a general model of the two has not been forthcoming. Such a model would provide librarians with an overview of the diverse work of digital humanities (some of which they may already perform) and help identify pockets of activity through which each side might engage the other. This paper surveys the current locations of digital humanities work, presents a cultural informatics model of libraries and the digital humanities, and situaties digital humanities work within the user-centered paradigm of library and information science.

Chris’ article is part of a special issue in the Journal of Library Administration dedicated to DH and libraries.

The author uses the term ‘cultural informatics’ to describe the ways in which cultural heritage institutions such as libraries, museums, and archives create, manage, and organize information artifacts. These artifacts are often the sources for digital humanists work and the information librarians and other cultural institutions work with. In turn, the areas where DH and libraries overlap, complement or at times work in related areas describe the ‘conceptual model’:

Digital Humanities and Libraries: A Conceptual Model

Digital Humanities and Libraries: A Conceptual Model

One thing that struck me was that Chirs acknoledges that some of the leaders in the DH field might do more to address the roles of pedagogy. Below, Chris is referencing the National Endowment for the Humanities DH start-up grant criteria:

…explicit recognition of the role of pedagogy is absent from the criteria. Digital humanists are among the forefront of instructors using technologies to engage students in new forms of digital scholarship, communication, and dissemination of ideas.  Moreover, digital humanists are often responsible for training others in using particular tools or methods, particularly undergraduates, or for seeking instruction in those areas themselves. Most often, this has been left to extracurricular skill-shares or workshops in which digital humanists can “catch up” on the latest trends. These tasks are far beyond merely providing technological resources, a model that pervades many IT departments; they involve directed and creative uses of those resources, and the literacies required to sustain them. Libraries and librarians can fulfill a vital need here in supporting instructional technology and working with faculty to use technology more creatively in classroom settings.

Much of what Chris outlines here with respect to pedagogy was discussed at USF’s recent DH meet-up as issues that can be vexing but also ones that possibly shed some light on where we might want to go as the digital humanaties develops on our campus.

The article is available at  the Journal of Library Administration 53(1) (2013): 10–26.

The Digital Public Library of America Hires Dan Cohen

ImageSo, how does one go about launching one of the most anticipated library organizations in recent memory (DPLA)? Hire someone who has in many ways shaped digital humanities for 10+ years with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  From a recent Chronicle update on Dan Cohen and his new role at the Digital Public Library of America:

“[Dan] has led major open-source development projects, helped to digitize important works of culture, supported teachers and students in accessing fantastic digital materials, and written about the importance of libraries, archives, and museums in a digital age.”  

Dan Cohen will be taking over the Digital Public Library of America in the coming months and I am very excited about the possibilities.

@Storify Follow up — Debates in the Digital Humanities: Lecture & Reception with Matthew Gold

David Michael and Matt DH

(L-R) David Silver. Michael Rozendal and Matthew Gold

Many thanks to Matt Gold for flying out to USF to discuss Debates in the Digital Humanities. The turnout was excellent and the conversations were absolutely top drawer.

I did my best to capture some of the lead-up to Matt’s talk, the event itself and some of the social media followup in a brief @Storify article.

Feb 13: The full video of Matt’s talk is up on YouTube now and and it should be available on Vimeo soon.

Organizing Research, Digitally: Bibliographic Management Tools

How are we using technology to navigate the iterative, and often messy, process of academic research? One topic briefly discussed at last week’s Digital Humanities reading group dinner: bibliographic management software (also known as citation or reference management tools).


Photo: C. Hayes

Bibliographic management software, according to NYU Libraries, allows users to “import citations from databases, websites, and library catalogs, create bibliographies in most output styles, format citations for papers, manage, categorize, and organize citations, attach PDF’s, images, etc. to citations in [a] collection, and add notes to any citation(s).” In short, these tools help writers gather, store, organize, annotate, and later retrieve saved materials.

Today, a wide variety of bibliographic management software options are available. DiRT (The Digital Research Tools Wiki, which is now part of the Bamboo DiRT project – a great resource for digital tools, in general) provides a rather comprehensive list here. Ample literature comparing the tips, tricks, pros, and cons of these different options also exists. Four of the most commonly used bibliographic management tools are EndNoteMendeleyZotero, and Refworks. UC Berkeley Libraries offers this comparison, while MIT Libraries provides this table and advice, for choosing between these four widely used options.  Miriam Posner, coordinator and core faculty, Digital Humanities Program at UCLA also offers a short list of bibliographic management tools in this post about managing research assets.

While there are learning curves associated with using bibliographic management software, for many scholars these tools have proven useful and effective in the long run. The important task is determining which option will work best for you. Most bibliographic management software adopters agree that talking to colleagues who have used one or more of these tools is helpful. So is test-driving different options.  Many bibliographic management tools are free (including Mendeley and Zotero), and others offer free trials (EndNote). At USF, Refworks accounts are available for free through Gleeson Library. Questions? Contact the library: