Scaling Up the Arts and Humanities

The Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom established four strategic themes in 2010, one of which was ‘Digital Transformations’. The Digital Transformations theme aims to explore the way in which engagement with digital technologies can change the subject, methods and outputs of research in the arts and humanities and create innovative modes of scholarly investigation and discourse. The theme also seeks to bring an arts and humanities perspective to bear on such issues as digital identity, intellectual property and privacy.

The Digital Transformations theme has funded nearly one hundred projects in areas ranging from big data to the internet of things across the full range of arts and humanities disciplines. Among these projects are three large-scale projects: ‘Digital Panopticon: the Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925’ (PI, Professor B. Godfrey, University of Liverpool), which will bring together existing and new genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets held by different organisations in the UK and Australia; ‘Fragmented Heritage’ (PI, Dr R. Donahue, University of Bradford), which will seek to dramatically improve the scale and quality of the analysis by archaeologists of fragmentary materials across large sites; and ‘Transforming Musicology’ (PI, Professor T. Crawford, Goldsmiths’ College), which will explore how emerging technologies for working with music as sound and score can transform musicology, both as an academic discipline and as a practice outside the university.

We propose a series of round tables for the Digital Humanities Congress 2014 which will present and discuss overarching themes and issues which have emerged from the various projects in the Digital Transformations theme. Each roundtable will consist of four academics from various projects funded under the theme who will make short (ten minute) presentations presenting their perspective on the general theme of the roundtable, leading into a wider discussion. Each roundtable will be chaired by Professor Andrew Prescott (King’s College London).

Scaling up the Arts and Humanities

Much of the first wave of humanities computing operated on what has been described as a ‘boutique’ scale, producing carefully crafted digital resources focusing on individual texts or objects. One of the issues evident in the various Digital Transformations projects is the pressures of trying to scale up the use of digital technologies to address much larger scale problems in the arts and humanities. The ‘Fragmented Heritage’ project is seeking to develop techniques which will allow archaeologists to explore large geographical areas, using crowdsourcing to identify dispersed fragments and developing automated techniques to refit these fragments. Likewise, ‘Transforming Musicology’ seeks to explore how advances in the automated handling of music, both as score and sound, allow larger scale patterns to be identified. This process of scaling up is more than simply allowing tasks to be carried out more quickly. It enables fresh perspectives on scholarly material to be developed, as more distant views of overall patterns and interconnections emerge. It also engages new audiences in the research, as the use of crowdsourcing by a number of projects in the Digital Transformations theme shows. This roundtable will explore the methodological and interpretative implications of this scaling up of arts and humanities work.