Researchers as Infrastructure

by Erik Malcolm Champion

1. Introduction

In his chapter “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism” for the book Debates in the Digital Humanities, (edited by Matthew Gold), Dave Parry raised the controversial question as to whether Digital Humanities is best considered as the application of computing, or an inquiry as to how digital media has irrevocably changed the Humanities (Parry 429-37). This question is of prime importance to people entrusted with setting up and maintaining Digital Humanities1 research infrastructures.

The problem of what is, could be, or should be a centre or network was specifically of prime importance to me as the Project Leader of DIGHUMLAB. The Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education contributed a grant of DKK 30 million to the development of DIGHUMLAB, the Danish Digital Humanities Laboratory. The establishment of DIGHUMLAB was explicitly referred to as a priority in the Ministry’s roadmap for research infrastructure in 2010.2 The intention was to promote research in the humanities and social sciences, education and knowledge exchange by providing access to digital resources and developing new research methods and practices.

Still in its start-up phase, DIGHUMLAB is currently a national consortium of four Danish universities: Aalborg University, Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Southern Denmark. The Royal Library of Denmark and the State Library both joined a year after the start-up, in 2013. Together the partners agreed to work together to promote access to digital research resources, the development of research tools and education as well as strengthening ties to international networks.

There were three themes when DIGHUMLAB launched,3 Theme 1: Language-based materials and tools, CLARIN, is also the Danish chapter of CLARIN and based at the University of Copenhagen. Theme 2, based at Aarhus University, has two components: Mediatools (the Net Archive, Net Lab4) AU, (subcontractor: State Library) and “Developing tools for audio and visual media.” Theme 3: Interaction and Design Studies, is shared between Aalborg University and the University of Southern Denmark.

DIGHUMLAB is also a member of three EU research infrastructure networks, CLARIN (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure)5 and DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts & Humanities)6 as well as TELEARC (Technology Enhanced Learning European Advanced Research Consortium).7 In 2013 we won several grants, which should allow DIGHUMLAB to extend its infrastructure partnerships, with American universities in the area of digital literature, and other European-based universities through shared centres of digital heritage.

So far so good, but now there are challenges. These challenges were certainly not unique to us, but probably affect many Digital Humanities groups and related infrastructures. I am no longer working at DIGHUMLAB so I am not sure what direction they will take, however the thinking behind these observations and suggestions may be of interest to others who may be wrestling with similar issues.

These are problems of how to encompass the demands of a wide variety of scholars without excluding those who need helping most (but who may not realise it); how to go about establishing an identity and scope in a quickly changing world; and defining relevant and significant but achievable assessment criteria, parameters and milestones (for resources are always limited and goals are often not shared or measured by different parties as being of differing value).

2. Challenges

2.1. Challenge 1: Inclusivity

For example, despite our recent success, the original mission was highly ambitious:

DIGHUMLAB will serve as the single virtual access point to all digitised resources of relevance to the research areas of the humanities and social sciences in both Danish and European research infrastructures.

The Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education asked that we include as many as possible, a noble goal, but how does one include others when there is no extra money to entice them to join or to otherwise collaborate? And how does a large network communicate amongst its members without spending a large amount of time in committees and forums? Given our limited resources of time and money, how can resources include and positively influence all those who could best benefit from the digital humanities?

2.2. Challenge 2: Identity and Focus

And there is a related challenge, the issue of research focus and definition is problematic in an emerging and rapidly changing area. How does one create a national focus while allowing academics and other researchers to pursue their own specific goals? What are the boundaries of the Digital Humanities pertinent to our researchers, beyond which we should not tread? How can we focus on key research areas important to our country in particular, without becoming cut off from international networks?

2.3. Challenge 3: Impact

There is a notion of quality standards in the ERIC, that by association DIGHUMLAB (and EU infrastructure-related groups in general) should aim to address. An EU research infrastructure is defined as having access to

…facilities, resources and related services that are used by the scientific community to conduct top-level research in their respective fields and covers major scientific equipment or sets of instruments; knowledge-based resources such as collections, archives or structures for scientific information; enabling ICT-based infrastructures such as Grid, computing, software and communication, or any other entity of a unique nature essential to achieve excellence in research.

According to the ERIC, such infrastructures may be “’single-sited’ or ‘distributed’ (an organised network of resources)…” Arguably, there are few Digital Humanities centres that are actually distributed. Some examples include Göttingen (although that might be stretching it), Southampton (although they have only recently started), Oxford Interactive Institute (and they seem more to be many individual projects but with support staff on call), and also the HuNI consortium in Australia (which is again very recent).

And despite the many related tools and services out there, there are few high-quality, reliable and fully featured collaboration tools for distributed research in the Digital Humanities. For example, Virtual Research Environments (VREs), have several issues, and in my opinion seldom seem to be used by large networks and organisations. Yet these organizations use proprietary video-conferencing. In a blog post entitled Thinking about Infrastructure, Andrew Prescott (Professor of Digital Humanities at King’s College London) wrote “In short, the issues confronting digital scholarship in the humanities are less to do with the storage and curation of data and much more to with creating models which resist the commercialisation and commodification of knowledge..”8 Yet Digital Humanities Centres seldom seem to tackle this issue. Surely greater impact would be the development of open-source software and related technology?

2.4. Challenge 4: Future-Proofing

We obviously need to prepare for tomorrow. How can one develop an infrastructure five years ahead, based on catering for technology that we are not yet using? How can such a distributed network allow for unified identity and individual planning? Which resources are best managed centrally, and which are best distributed?9

3. Initial Questions to DIGHUMLAB

So when I had my first meeting with the theme research leaders, and then with the four deans of the various Humanities Faculties, I asked what might appear to be very simple and even naïve questions:

  • What about the social sciences?
  • What is a research infrastructure?
  • What do we mean by a laboratory – is there only one?
  • What kind of databases do we have?
  • What about funding?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What should we deliver and when?
  • What are the goals for success after the five-year period and how do we measure it?

In this short paper, I can only hope to address a few of the above questions. In particular, I will focus on possible areas of strength for a Digital Humanities centre or infrastructure. I harbour some concerns regards the common interpretations of what is a Digital Humanities research infrastructure (as it appears inextricably linked in a chicken-egg type of relationship to the question of who exactly is the intended audience for what type of output or service). I will also mention in broad brushstrokes my suggestions to the Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, and the DIGHUMLAB Management Committee and Steering Committee as to how DIGHUMLAB could show its worth after the five years of start-up funds are spent.

3.1. What is a Digital Humanities Centre?

In “A Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States” by Diane Zorich, Zorich has a useful definition and summary of potential goals for Digital Humanities centers (centres).

Definition: where new media and technologies are used for humanities-based research, teaching, and intellectual engagement and experimentation. The goals of the center are to further humanities scholarship, create new forms of knowledge and explore technology’s impact on humanities based disciplines. To accomplish these goals, a digital humanities center undertakes some or all of the following activities (abridged)…

Zorich then lists ten activities. I will paraphrase them here as: building digital collections; creating tools; “using digital collections and analytical tools to generate new intellectual products”; building digital collections as scholarly or teaching resources; digital humanities training; provides lectures and seminars; funds academic appointments and staffing; acts as a “zone of experimentation”; information portal (typically online, I assume); “a repository for humanities-based digital collections”; or “provides technology solutions to humanities departments.”

Of course many centres have activities that are a combination of several of the above. We can already see signs of a slight division between providing services and creating innovation and new perspectives. We could also simplify the above activities or functions as providing services such as tools space or equipment, producing traditional academic outputs (research), or training and teaching. I will suggest here that if they provide traditional academic output, if they are essentially a cluster of academics, then they are academic departments (or research clusters), rather than centres. So from my point of view, a Digital Humanities centre is in the business of supporting external clients and communities (it hosts, develops tools or methods to support research, funds, or trains). It provides for research beyond itself, as it were.

Zorich may differ on this point. In her report she states that digital humanities centres (she does not capitalise) can “either be Resource focused or Center focused “ (American spelling). Zorich notes the physical focus of a centre, “If center focused, centers are organised around a physical location, with many diverse projects, programs, and activities that are undertaken by faculty, researchers, and students, and that offer many different resources to diverse audiences. Most of the centers surveyed operate under this model.”

On page 45 of her report Zorich also lists different types of “Science Models” in terms of what type of community is involved and how it is brought together and how resources are created and shared. I won’t list them all in detail but would like to comment here that DIGHUMLAB is probably best viewed as a hybrid of a “distributed research center” and “a community infrastructure project”.

3.2. So Is Digital Humanities Primarily a Cluster of Teaching Related Courses?

No. In a brief twitter conversation, Geoffrey Rockwell answered my question as to whether ‘centre’ was the best word for Digital Humanities organisations. I had raised the question of whether the notion of a “Digital Humanities centre” was paradoxical. Digital media has been promised as a saviour for long-distance collaboration for some time, yet centres tend to bring people together. Rockwell replied that one could consider a well as a metaphor and I can see his point. A well nourishes at the source and provides support and growth far away from its source. The word “well” does remind me of the virtual community in the early 1990s, but it also reminds me of the fluid and yet necessary component of Digital Humanities.

Perhaps then Digital Humanities is a community sharing courses? Some might say so, but the interest in creating a shared pan-European Digital Humanities course, (such as discussed in the education workshop at the 2012 Digital Humanities conference in Hamburg) concerns me. I understood the need for solidarity, sharing international investigations etc., but to posit shared basic courses for the Digital Humanities constrains all the local, elastic and self-motivated people who would have become Digital Humanities scholars a generation or more ago. If this approach does not work for the humanities, why could or should it work for the Digital Humanities? Software, disciplines, IT networks and copyright policies are not uniform across national institutions let alone across international borders but this is not my primary reason for concern.

My main reason is that I don’t believe early generation Digital Humanities people learnt best by institutionalised coursework, they learnt best by self-directed learning. Incompleteness and difference can be powerful mechanisms to learn deeply. Those earlier generations taught themselves, they had to. It might appear to be some form of victory to have an institutionalised Digital Humanities across all of a continent, but to me this would be a Pyrrhic victory if the courses did not attract people like these early explorers. I would rather teach explorative, stubborn, creative individuals than people who would follow a universalised course blindly. In fact I would rather not teach them, I would prefer that they taught themselves and me, and that we learnt about new media together, and they would learn about it by working out how to teach it. In other words, we would design the new courses together, and we would redesign them every year.

The potential dangers of institutionalised Digital Humanities was brought home to me quite vividly when the organiser of the workshop said one had to be careful with course titles, as so many disappeared after a few years, they were no longer relevant. Well ICT software and hardware disappears as well and so it should. We are at the start of a revolution and even if objects activities or processes disappear this does not mean they weren’t relevant and significant at the time. So I don’t think the nucleus of Digital Humanities are specific courses, yet again I believe the important denominator is people.

3.3. Do Digital Humanities Centres Train Humanists to Program?

When I initially presented my paper at Sheffield,10 the audience questions centred mostly on the issue of people, not around equipment. Questions included ”Do humanities scholars need to learn how to program” and ”How do we keep our programmers”?

I answered that in order to understand Digital Humanities, what it is or could be, one should at least attempt to understand why people programme, and what it has allowed them to do. There also needs to be a debate on programming itself, is it always needed, is it another type of thinking, must it be so hard? Once a humanities scholar works with programmers, begins to understand the general concepts of programming, why it came into being and what it can do and why so many refuse to learn it or think that one requires a certain mindset to learn it, then perhaps humanities scholars can begin to recognise and reward the IT skills and knowledge that is required for digital humanities projects.

For the knowledge goes far further than the code, there is a huge resource in terms of people skills and experience that is lost when skilled ICT people leave the university for the higher paying commercial world. They are typically not well recognised academically, and not all academics realise they too want challenge: rather than ask how we can teach humanities scholars to programme, why can’t we coax ICT people to develop interests in and knowledge of the humanities? They would also be more likely to stay if their creative and intellectual input was appreciated and they were given time to work on self-directed projects that could feed back into the overall centre (similar to the one day a week option at Google, where workers are given “time off to innovate”)11.

A counter argument might be that research infrastructure is not research, it is simply the provision of suitable equipment. For example, Geoffrey Rockwell has written:

Research infrastructure is not research just as roads are not economic activity. We tend to forget when confronted by large infrastructure projects that they are not an end in themselves. There is an opportunity cost to investing precious research funds into infrastructure. Every $100,000 lab that lasts four years before needing renewal is the equivalent to $25,000 a year for a Ph.D. student to do research for four years.12

I am compelled here to counter that infrastructure IS people. Research infrastructure IS research because only if it is part of the research process does research get done. Roads are not infrastructure; roading is infrastructure, for roads by themselves are not necessarily used. Research must inform research infrastructure otherwise the infrastructure will be left behind!

Closer to home, too many university departments are given money to buy equipment but no people resources to not just maintain the equipment and ensure it stays relevant, but also support and train scholars how to use the equipment. So I argue that only when equipment is used and modified by people is it infrastructure. So infrastructure is required equipment used by people for certain goals and it is modified in turn. Given this cyclical nature we could say that a genuine infrastructure is the ecosystem of resources plus people (and their goals) plus a feedback system (otherwise the infrastructure atrophies because people and their needs change over time).

4. Not Problems Just Projects

In setting up a Digital Humanities centre, the general problems I mentioned at the start of this article may be more constructively tackled as research challenges and research projects. Problems include, securing financing, attracting researchers, explaining to audiences “what we can do for you” and so on. Articulating the problems to achieve solutions can be difficult. What should it be: tent, umbrella or force field-should it be exclusivist or inclusivist? Should we train and support generalist or specialist Digital Humanities scholars? Should the centre be distributed or centralised?

Possible solutions should include not just seed funding and micro financing; products and processes should also be reusable and agglutinative. To show an audience what can be achieved one can also provide case studies and walkthroughs, share and review across fields, host Thatcamps (where humanities scholars and experts work together on practical but small projects), mini workshops, expose processes, corrupt coders (turn them into humanities scholars and supporters), provide bottom up teaching, create clearing areas and explorative spaces such as, hack spaces, train the trainers” rather than large audiences, and circulate ideas through competitions and fellowships like the Vectors Fellowship which was hosted at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy and published via their electronic journal Vectors.13

4.1. Idea 1: Challenge People with New Ideas

Hack4LT14, hosted by Vilnius University Faculty of Communication (VUFC) and Vilnius University Library (VUL) was the first Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities-oriented hackathon in Lithuania. The event was inspired by Lithuania’s co-operation with the biggest European digital library, EUROPEANA, which provides a significant multilingual online collection of digitized cultural heritage and an open API.

Hackathons are simple in concept: over twenty four hours, student teams are invited to come up with new software solutions, the winner receives a prize and publicity (along with the host institute). This is ideal for libraries and museums as they can find out how their digital corpora can be used, the hackathon sees ICT people engage with cultural heritage content, inspire others, and the public may receive new ways of interacting with hitherto unused or inaccessible material.

The pictures below show one of the winning projects. The team CodeUnited sourced material from the online Europeana library, which is selected as part of a quiz and projected onto a large screen (or uploaded to a website). Using a QR reader on a smart phone a passerby must quickly guess which monuments belong where or names of famous paintings, sending his or her answers from his phone, possibly competing at a bus stop or at a museum with complete strangers. Rather than a flashmob game, this game appears to be a Quizzmob!

Figure 1: Developing a Quizzmob tool based on Europeana. The interface.

Figure 2: Developing a Quizzmob tool based on Europeana. The spectacle.

4.2. Idea 2: Involve Communities to Bridge Process and Product

Is/Are Digital Humanities Process or Product? Process needs to be part of product. Process involves the young but their output is lost if it is not integrated into the infrastructure. So some form of design process should be part of the infrastructure, to continually question and challenge and critique the infrastructure, but also to preserve those parts of the creative process that are worthy of posterity.

For example, when visiting the Ethnographic Collection at the National Museum of Science, Bergamo, Italy, I was impressed with the tools and materials they left in each room, with thematic ideas for children (and adults) to create their own artefacts. In the mask room you could create masks, in other rooms you could solve puzzles relying on your knowledge of historical events or the names of animals. Humanities work can be interactive and collaborative, it does not need to be digital. So if inventiveness and collaboration is not essential, why should we use digital media, and talk about Digital Humanities?

We have a duty to explain what we are trying to do to our audience. Researchers at TGE-ADONIS in France told me they also kept a record of all digital projects, and a summary of what benefits the digital component added to the project.

My field of personal research is mostly in the area of Virtual Heritage, interactive technologies (such as Mixed Reality, Virtual Reality or computer games) used to help record and communicate sites and objects of significant cultural heritage (Stone and Ojika). With students we have managed to create engaging and educational prototypes, but how do we add them to an overall infrastructure? How can we evaluate and analyse the overall field when many models are locked away or fall into oblivion?

For example, the below project (Wang and Champion), was to create four touch-screen games that revealed something of the thinking behind traditional Taoism, through teaching the Four Great Arts of China, calligraphy, painting, music, and the game of Go. Original music by a trained traditional musician was composed and integrated into the games, and the content was reviewed by scholars in Chinese traditional arts and Taoism.

Although engaging and educational it is not immediately clear how such projects could be incorporated into a research infrastructure. There should be an integrated research community that hosts research data and research projects, provides critical commentary and integrates feedback from cultural shareholders.

Figure 3: Learning about Taoist beliefs in Chinese culture using Touch-Screen Flash games.

5. A Digital Humanities Scholarly Ecosystem

Which brings me back to the question of what is a centre? A centre needs to attract and retain people. DH centres requires equipment, feedback mechanisms, competitive funding, additive research, an innate capacity to sense and help support quality research (to understand the significance and implications of research projects), an ability to select tap and drive new and emerging talent, a willingness to bridge imagined or real divides between humanities and ICT.

We need to invite people into community forum groups, to help maintain and filter appropriate tools, methods, events, profiles, grants and jobs. A community of such keen and eager people can research issues, target relevant funding opportunities, develop scholarly groups, and be a pool that competes for competitive seed funds and link to and represent institutional partners (archives etc.). For example, at the Cultural Heritage Creative Tools and Archives Workshop in 2013, (funded by the European Association of Digital Humanities and supported by NeDiMAH, DIGHUMLAB, and the National Museum of Denmark), we invited as many infrastructure groups in cultural heritage as we could, to try to understand what issues we shared; which solutions were being needlessly duplicated; and where synergy was possible. Yet funding bodies seldom explicitly supports such intra-group meetings. This is not to say that I believe formal workshop presentations are the most effective way to engender collaboration. In the image below, you might also ask yourself, where were the ideas more effectively communicated?

Figure 4: The CHCTA 2012 workshop. Speeches or talks?

In the case of Digital Humanities, what is missing is the notion of a scholarly eco-system. Digital Media has the potential to dynamically link traditional academic outputs (papers, projects, reports) with online directories of their active components (tools, services, methods, measures). Online directories of Digital Humanities tools are often organised into what has been called “scholarly ontologies” and linking them to the papers where they are used seems a simple enough but useful step. That, however, is really only part of the story.

Digital Media also has the capacity to link reviews and case studies by communities of scholars and students with the traditional outputs and the directories of tools etc. and the papers they feature in. I won’t go into this in much more detail, but if you are interested it might pay to keep a look out for the continuing DARIAH-NeDiMAH project15 where they are attempting something along these lines, or Open Editions collaboration with DiRT Bamboo16 and DHCommons.17 For example, the below figure is a schematic table by Christof Schöch, showing how these international research infrastructure groups could meaningfully collaborate:

Figure 5: Convergence of Digital Humanities groups towards a scholarly eco-system.

6. The Aims of a Digital Humanities Centre

Given the above, I believe that Digital Humanities Centre must wherever possible:

  1. Explain the values and usefulness of Digital Humanities.
  2. Include as many as possible.
  3. Bridge the divide between process and product.
  4. Transform ICT programmers into humanists.
  5. Improve collaboration tools.
  6. Link all parts of the Digital Humanities scholarly ecosystem.

6.1. How Does This Help DIGHUMLAB?

I suggested to my colleagues that DIGHUMLAB is needed by the Danish scholarly community if it can help develop scholarly tools for interfaces to archives; develop policy at Danish and EU level; assist in the growth of online communities (university networks, DIGHUMLAB website); share courses workshops tools corpora and how to integrate into teaching and research; spread news and involvement in Danish, Nordic, EU opportunities.

Most importantly it should integrate community needs with public and scholarly resources; and to complete and continue the infrastructure cycle. In other words, it must support and advance humanities scholars’ manifestos that are not our own.

From the above suggestions as to why an audience would need DIGHUMLAB I provided three goals.18


  • Develop laboratory facilities to support experimental humanities and social sciences research with associated development of database facilities and metadata structures.
  • Provide an integrated and useful web-portal linking Danish researchers with digital assets, tools, methods, debates and opportunities in the Digital Humanities.
  • Both influence and benefit from European and international collaboration in the development of appropriate and relevant Digital Humanities standards, methods, tools and services; and in the adoption and adaptation of digital humanities resources to best enable Danish research in the Digital Humanities.

However I also stated quite categorically that DIGHUMLAB must have some form of measurable assessment criteria, so that after the five year start-up phrase, its performance can be judged and used to source future funding.

My assessment criteria were:

  • Establishing a national research infrastructure and promoting access, preservation, training and inter-disciplinary issues in Digital Humanities.
  • The development of tools, new collaborative and stand-alone research projects, and the mentoring of students and scholars in the wider area of Digital Humanities.
  • Demonstrated involvement in the development and dissemination of best practices (in terms of standards, methods, services, data, tools and infrastructure projects) in Digital Humanities research and scholarship.
  • Demonstrated involvement in Digital Humanities-related policy formation and organisations involving and impacting on Denmark, and Europe, and the wider international community.
  • Demonstrated involvement in Digital Humanities-related research and research dissemination, involving Denmark, and Europe.
  • Academically recognised publication outcomes, detailed in both the annual reports and final report to the Ministry.
  • Quantifiable user feedback and peer esteem on the collaboration development and dissemination of DIGHUMLAB’s involvement in the Digital Humanities, via Danish, Nordic, European and international user groups and organisations.

The above were modified by helpful suggestions from the DIGHUMLAB Steering Committee, and they may well change in the future, but I hope they are of some use to you when you design or review your own Digital Humanities Centres and Infrastructures.

The above assessment criteria when placed against my concerns for inclusivity, impact and future-proofing led me to suggest at the end of the five year project we should separate DIGHUMLAB into four specialist nodes, one at each university with a specialist technical staff member whose job would be to provide support for staff and ensure their products and tools and outputs could be enhanced and extended.

There would be space and resources for visiting fellows or postdoctoral fellowships (internally or externally sourced), which would be available each year in competition. The applications would be graded on how well they addressed specific needs; were feasible given current resourcing; involved potential shareholders in their design and evaluation; if the funding would be leveraged to apply for further grants; and if the intended outputs could be extended, generalised or modified into the overall infrastructure.

Ideally each node would have direct links to a major infrastructure partner. Overall these four nodes would also run a web portal and provide tools and services to the major European infrastructures while also in turn providing training and support for Danish researchers to best use the features of Danish, European and international research infrastructures. I saw the role of libraries and archival organisations as well as ICT-supporting organisations such as DeIC (the Danish e-Infrastructure Cooperation) as being crucial in this endeavour.

7. Conclusion: Infastructure is People

A Digital Humanities Centre can be built around people (key scholars), research themes, opportunities to do research, or state of the art (or necessary) equipment. From my own experience I now think planning a centre around equipment is dangerous, since equipment needs maintenance and upkeep and may be out of date at some future date (not only because tools are often superseded, but also the research questions needing certain tools can change, and a tool is only as good as the person trained and skilled enough to use it).

Opportunities to do research are distinct from equipment, as they can involve strategic repositioning of funds and do not have to be directly related to specific equipment requirements. Research themes in turn rely on the right combination of people, access to relevant resources, and funding. Building around key people is a tried and sometimes true tactic, but there is a danger of jealousy, internal competition and no guarantee of synergy, the centre may in reality merely be funding of individual scholars under the mask of collectivity. An additional danger is that there may be no incentive for the scholars to grow the funding base further.

The above factors all rely on people, the right sort of people and the right sort of opportunities to attract the relevant people are key to all of the above focuses. The Vector Fellowships that were run by the Annenberg Centre of Digital Humanities at USC Annenberg are an example of access to equipment and trained staff. Also, to address my earlier questions to myself, attempting to create a national focus and international collaborations was not such a prime issue in Denmark. There are key research areas per university and national issues of national archives that due to copyright cannot be publically shared and critiqued, and there are particular inter-relationships between government policy and education that shapes a particularly national approach to education. So challenges can have a positive effect on identity and focus.

However there are blockages to people working together across institutional boundaries. In ICT and more recently in the humanities, I believe this will have to change. It is more important to learn new skills quickly and efficiently and work with skilled people from different backgrounds and perspectives, than it is to foster a specific skill in isolation.

Thus, to understand what makes Digital Humanities centres successful, we need to ensure that there are strategies in place to tackle weaknesses and threats, that there are identifiable current strengths and ideal future strengths, and that the output can be measured. I believe such general criteria require an understanding of who the audience is; which for Digital Humanities typically means you must understand how your Digital Humanities Centres provide for and train researchers. I would also argue that the most cost-effective solution is to train people to learn how to design and modify tools and services rather than to buy equipment (tools and services) and expect the researchers to work out how to use what is there.

Finally I will end with a quote from David Parry (436), who inspired the beginning of this paper.

He wrote:

The digital changes what it means to be human, and by extension what it means to study the humanities. (Although I would argue that you cannot begin to understand the complexities of these questions without engaging the present. No amount of Shakespeare and claiming his centrality to expressing a universal human condition will help you understand the role of Wikileaks in the Tunisia uprising.)

In the Arab World, when they began to translate English text into Arabic and vice versa, Shakespeare was their starting point. Shakespeare had huge influence on their understanding of Europe, and influenced their notion of politics and political discourse. In fact, today, Tunisian directors travel to Western countries to show their perspectives on Shakespeare (McLaughlin-Duane), and Arabic commentators link directly to Shakespeare when discussing the Arab Spring and other political events (Brown and de Melker). On WikiLeaks there is even a purported scandal linking Arabic Shakespeare scholarship and the beleaguered ruler of a current war-torn Arabic region (which the reader might wish to investigate on their own).

If David Parry was part of a Digital Humanities Research Infrastructure where Researchers are the infrastructure, through colleagues and collaboration networks, he might have discovered the answer to his question. Attention cared for and shared between many is far more useful than individual genius. Indeed, Shakespeare, as paraphrased by no less a character than Willy Wonka, wrote a little passage that seems apropos to why Researchers (with a capital R) are so essential to worthwhile Digital Humanities infrastructure:

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world.

Neither books nor data are imbued with immortality. Even in the Digital Humanities, long-term significant illumination requires a well-trained team of maintenance workers who know what they are doing.

8. References

Brown, Jeffrey, and Saskia de Melker. “Al-Bassam Theatre Takes Inspiration from Shakespeare and the Arab Spring.” pbs newshour: Art Beat. 2011.

Directorate-General for Research, European Commission. Legal Framework for a European Research Infrastructure Consortium – ERIC Practical Guidelines. Brussels B-1049, Belgium: European Commission, 2010. Print.

McLaughlin-Duane, Rebecca. “The National” Tunisian director adapts Macbeth for the World Shakespeare Festival (2012): Online. Web. April 23, 2012.

Parry, David. “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Gold, Mathew K. Minneapolis USA: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

Rockwell, Geoffrey. “As Transparent as Infrastructure: On the Research of Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities.” Connexions. 14 May 2012. Web. 29 August 2013.

Stone, Robert, and Takeo Ojika. “Virtual Heritage: What Next?” Multimedia, IEEE 7.2 2000: 73-74. Print.

Wang, Li, and E. Champion. “Chinese Culture Approached through Touch: Chinese Cultural Heritage Learnt Via Touch-Based Games.” Virtual Systems and Multimedia (VSMM), 2012 18th International Conference on. Ed. Guidi, Gabriele and Alonzo C. Addison.: IEEE, 2012. Print.

Zorich, Diane M. A Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States. Washington D.C.: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2008. Print.

  1. For the sake of consistency I will try to keep to Digital Humanities rather than digital humanities, although the connotations of the capitalisation do not escape me.
  3. The launch of DIGHUMLAB, presentations and programme for the official opening can be found on the website
  9. my Friedlander, (in Zorich, 2008), lists many of the challenges, similar to those mentioned in the paper.
  10. This article was initially delivered as a research paper “Research as Infrastructure” at the Digital Humanities Congress, University of Sheffield, 6-8 September 2012.