CfP: Calculating Knowledge: What Your Project Needs to Fully Benefit from Digital Humanities

Call for Papers for a panel at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, 2018 (New Orleans, March 22-24)

Dead line: June 1, 2017

The vast quantity of historical sources currently at the disposal of history research projects was unimaginable twenty years ago. This abundance of sources has increasingly led to a change in the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach to research questions. Moreover, the possibility of long-term studies in this new frame has re-emerged.

The rapid access of individual scholars to often high-quality electronic reproductions of sources has supported this transformation in the historical disciplines but, at some point, the number of sources superseded the working capacities of single scholars or of groups working on specific projects. Historically, this was the moment when all kinds of historians began to look at digital humanities as a means of support; as a kind of subdiscipline. It was soon discovered, however, that digital humanities enable the formulation of qualitatively different research questions and an inclusion of corpora of sources that are, theoretically, practically unlimited.

The most profound change caused by the advent of digital humanities in historical disciplines is represented by the possibility to fully integrate pieces of information, of a social, institutional, or economic nature, with those strictly concerned with the content of the actual research. This applies to scientific, artistic, or technological research and, at the same time, can embrace large conceptual, spatial, and temporal areas. We no longer focus on the “heroes” of history but instead investigate a continuum.

In spite of the apparent simplicity of this development, all those who work on projects in digital humanities soon discover that each small step of the process is fraught with perilous technicalities, behind which hide hugely differing visions, algorithms, and workflows. Even when all the relevant steps have been mastered and a vast amount of varied data is stored in an optimal way, the most fundamental question on how to exploit such data may nevertheless lead to obscure ideas and maybe even no results at all. Consequently, we assist in the continuous creation of new approaches, methods, and tools, which are not always compatible with each other and are often unsustainable for the tasks at hand.

The panel aims to approach the fundamental questions of what a historical research endeavor in the frame of digital humanities really is, and what role is played by institutional affiliations, particularly libraries, in such projects. How such projects should be set up is finally mirrored by the structure of the panel, and the four papers thus build upon each other.

The papers should present specific ongoing projects and involve the following methodological areas:

  1. Structure of the repository of the historical sources and type of metadata. This subject implicitly also concerns the future development of archives and libraries that hold source collections;
  2. Execution of text and image mining. This subject approaches automatic transcription methods as well as reading and annotation processes (assignment of content-related metadata) executed by software under the control and guidance of scholarly reflection and orientation;
  3. Data repositories for scholarly results that integrate metadata from the collections, metadata from the automatic analysis, and any other data added by scholars. In this frame, particular attention is paid to the type of data, the compatibility and sustainability of the system, the openness of structure and data, and the export modules for the further use of the data in different environments;
  4. Application of analytical models that range from visualisation techniques to network theory. In this framework, an example of graph mining and/or network calculations and their role in history writing should be demonstrated.

We call for projects that closely integrate the work of librarians and archivists with historical research and IT developments. As such, we would like to encourage the application of research fellows as well as IT professionals in digital humanities and librarians.