Report from the Digital Humanities 2013 Conference

Vivian Lewis, University Librarian at McMaster and a member of the digital scholarship study team, shares her research notes from the Digital Humanities 2013 conference in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Conference: The conference is run by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, an umbrella organization of 6 groups.

We were tremendously impressed by the content and the quality of presentations and by the sheer passion of the DH community. We made strong connections with many global leaders in the field – connections that we believe will benefit our research project.

Participants: The event attracted approximately 450 participants from 24 countries. Most were faculty practitioners. The link to libraries was very strong: A large number of the participants were affiliated with centres located within campus libraries and spoke frequently about collections and shared initiatives.

Some Big Themes:

  • The humanities are facing difficult times on many campuses. A strong DH program can help strengthen the humanities (attract students and funding, encourage new methods…)
  • The jury is still out on what DH actually is. (This came up over and over again.) Some would suggest that the integration of “digital” and “humanities” has not yet taken place.
  • DH requires a broad range of skills that aren’t necessarily taught in graduate school. Some organizations have introduced formal programs to introduce these skills to graduate students.
  • Some universities (like UCLA) are introducing DH courses to undergraduates.
  • Digital humanists face many challenges. Many are untenured faculty relying on soft money. The primary metric is still the printed article and some Digital Humanists still struggle to get the recognition they deserve on campus.
  • Humanists talk about the importance of being interdisciplinary – but the blending is easier said than done.
  • The spectrum of DH projects is broad – from the more traditional textual analysis to music, television and sound.
  • Some feel that DH scholars occasionally get too caught up in the creation of new tools and not enough in the sense making.

The History and Future of DH: McCarty

  • Changing the name from Humanities Computing to Digital Humanities and attempting to make it “popular to boys and girls” is not a good aspiration.
  • The field is still, unfortunately “humanities AND computing.”
  • We should not be using computers simply to reduce the drudgery of tasks but to help us to ask better questions and find deeper meaning.
  • Questioned why computers have not done more for humanities given what they have done for science.
  • Discouraged practitioners from being too “product driven.”
  • We suffer from professional amnesia. We forget where we’ve been and loose track of where we are going.
  • Julianne Nyhan (University College London) is gathering oral histories of DH scholars (individuals not centres). Asking them about their first use of the computer, their objectives for using computers, how their work was accepted by others.
  • Recognized the huge benefits received from information science, library science, etc.

The Death of Cyberspace and the Emergence of the Digital Humanities – Steven Jones (Loyola)

  • Steven describes the emergence of “mixed realities” or “cross realities” – the blending of digital and real. He calls it “everyware.”
  • QR codes and video games represent the convergence
  • Used MineCraft as a great example – uses purposefully lego-like blocks to build structures with.
  • He said, “The book is not dead. It is undead”. (Not sure what this actually means, but interesting!)

The DH Workforce:

  • Estimate that 75% are non tenure-track faculty. Too many adjunct faculty members trying to “grade papers out of their car while doing DH on the side.”
  • Too many DH scholars rely on soft money.
  • The scholarly article is STILL the primary metric.
  • Estimate that little over 50% of scholars are working independently – i.e., not affiliated with a centre.

Providing DS Training to Library Staff -– Nora McGregor (British Library)

  • BL employs about 300 curators – 4 of which specialize in Digital Scholarship.
  • Aiming to create an environment in which cross-disciplinary collaborative initiatives thrive.
  • Created a 2-year internal training program for their curators.
  • Drafted learning outcomes.
  • Offered 25 one-day on-site courses including:
    • What is digital scholarship?
  • Digital collections at the BL
  • Digitization at the BL
  • Communicating about our Collections
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Text encoding initiatives
  • Data visualization
  • Geo referencing
  • Delivered from the perspective of the library practitioner. Include hands-on components. Aimed at “intelligent novices.”
  • 152 staff attended one or more courses.
  • Started with larger class sizes but reduced to 15. Opened to all staff.
  • Challenge: Reaching the “less inclined.” Providing followup support.

Teaching Grad Students about DS (Digitizing the Humanities)

  • Many grad students feel like technophobes
  • Recommend a “playful” approach. Make sure that the content is responsive to their needs.
  • Scholars Lab (Virginia) is running PRAXIS, a two-year Mellon-funded pilot to prepare cohorts of graduate students for DH and alt ac careers.
  • Graduate students preparing to work in Digital Humanities (regardless of the scale of the projects) need a new set of skills. Include project management skills, collaboration/teamwork skills, strategic thinking, financial/budget/revenue generation skills, and marketing/outreach. NOTE: In reality, virtually all grad students need these skills/competencies – given the large number of them destined for alt ac careers.
  • Some graduate students express concern about these requirements. Feel they already have heavy work loads.
  • Many members of the audience noted that they themselves were self taught.
  • IU runs a training program for librarians to support DH.

Teaching DH to Undergraduates

  • UCLA offers an UG minor in DH. Students must take an introductory course (DH 101), three electives and a capstone project.
  • The ideas for projects come from all over campus.
  • Students are assigned to cross-faculty cross-level projects. Include faculty and students. The philosophy: We all teach. We all learn. (Hard for some faculty to accept.)
  • Example: Creating a front end for grant funded research.
  • One student is chosen to be the project manager.
  • Some students find it hard to understand what humanities are, let alone digital humanities.

The Challenge of Being Truly Interdisciplinary (Willard McCarty)

  • Being truly interdisciplinary is not easy. It’s not simply a case of the scientists creating the data and the humanists analyzing it.
  • Quoted Northrop Frye: Rely on your discipline as the place from which you begin.

Esquisite Haiku – David McClure

  • Author is using computers to create “authorless” texts.
  • Created a tool called exquisithaiku to write pretty impressive poems.

soundBox: Toward a noisier digital humanities

  • Project led by three grad students from Duke – but involving scholars from many institutions.
  • Many DH project are very silent. Trying to counter that.
  • Improved the scaffolding through the graduate experience.
  • Started with a $500 grant.
  • But we need more innovative grad degree requirements. This work considered extracurricular.

Robots Watching Television (great title!)

  • Hannah Goodwin (UC Santa Barbara) is analyzing television shows (like using social networking graphs. Tracks fan analysis of romantic attachments. Does her own tracking of race relationships in shows. Tracks tweets during television shows.
  • Jarom McDonald (Brigham Young) is trying to determine the relationship between algorithms like scene length and narrative structures.

Against the Binary Gender in DH

  • Speakers called upon researchers to take a “non binary” approach to categorizing gender (i.e., not just Male / Female)
  • Acknowledged that they themselves did not have the answers to what those categories should be.

Global Outlook :: Digital Humanities (GO::DH)

  • (See: )
  • A Special Interest Group of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations. Supported by the University of Lethbridge.
  • Planned an event called Around DH in 80 days.

Some DH Products We Learned About:

  • Tesserae – a freely available tool for detecting allusions in literary text.
  • PRISM – A tool for crowdsourcing interpretation created by Scholars Lab (Virginia). Lets users highlight words based on a small number of facets. (
  • Textal – a freely available textual analysis tool available on the App Store created by the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and Barlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. Creates word clouds and quick textual analysis from published texts or your own files. (I downloaded this onto my iPhone and it works!)
  • TXM – an open source text/corpus analysis tool. See Provides concordances of word patterns, frequency lists, etc.
  • Name dropper – a new open source product (in beta) to help libraries identify people, places and things. Created by the Digital Scholarship Commons at Emory. See

Some Interesting Projects

  • Visual Historiography: Visualizing the Literature of a Field. Group machine-read over 1500 research articles across 85 years of the Florida Historical Quarterly and generated the top 100 key terms. Used the JSTOR Data for Research application. See
  • Atlanta Map Project: TEI and GIS collaborate to create maps of segregated Atlanta. See

Seeking Best in Class Digital Scholarship Centers

Our study takes a global perspective in benchmarking the skills and competencies required to support digital scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. We will be visiting ten “best in class” digital scholarship centers around the world, five in North America, five international. We seek to understand whether there is a set of core competencies important to digital scholarship and, if so, whether that slate of competencies remains consistent across disciplines, geographic areas and cultures.

We invite the digital humanities community to suggest sites for us to visit. We are using a variety of criteria to identify potential sites, including clear vision and implementation strategies, strong records of successful projects, national/international recognition, innovation and/or strong training and education programs, as well as a willingness to participate in a site visit. Please email Lisa Spiro, the project’s research consultant, at if you would like to recommend a site for us to visit (including your own institution) or have any questions.

Benchmarking the Skills and Capacities to Support Digital Scholarship

In order to understand the skills and capacities necessary to support digital scholarship, Xuemao Wang (dean of the University of Cincinnati Libraries), Vivian Lewis (Acting University Librarian at McMaster University Library), and Jon Cawthorne (Associate Dean for Public Services and Assessment at Florida State University Library) are conducting a benchmarking study of “best in class” digital scholarship programs. With the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, the investigators will collect information about leading digital scholarship programs, conduct interviews and site visits at ten top centers around the world, and determine the key workforce-related factors associated with those centers’ success. They will then generate a set of benchmarks, always with an eye to continuous improvement and shared learning. The research will be global in scope. Lisa Spiro serves as research consultant for the project.

For more about the study, please see “UC Libraries Receive Mellon Foundation Scholarly Communications and Information Technology Grant.”

Follow this blog to stay up-to-date with the project.

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