A Sample of European Digital Humanities

Having seen the fascinating collection of Digital Humanities Projects in general, as well as historically oriented projects at Stanford’s CESTA Spatial History Project (available here), I could not help but suspect that European Academies would at least be able to upload something resembling this project. (Though, most likely, not in its admirable scope.) Rather than focusing on one specific project, I therefore set out to find at least a slice of Europe’s contribution to digital and/or digitized history/humanities projects.

As far as Humanities goes, one quickly finds DARIAH, the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. While its focus, as far as conferences go, seems to be more oriented towards tracking the latest developments in computer-based research in general, its trans- or interdisciplinary approach is likely to result in fruitful collaborations for the humanities as well. As with all European projects, its focus is on building up collaborations, rather than immediate results, as may be evidenced by its 2012 conference programme. The usual caveat about European projects is therefore very much in place here: almost all of them are, and are likely to remain, works in progress (DARIAH was only founded in 2004). One interesting feature that may have future ramifications is their Data Seal of Approval designed to ensure high quality of research and archival projects.

DARIAH suggests one continues the search on what they call “[a]n outstanding example of these kinds of infrastructures”, the French Recherche Isidore website. Not only does the research center collect conferences on topics as diverse as Law and Anarchy, Infantile Sexuality, and archaeological problems in Celtic studies; they also allow a recherche in more than 1,800,000 documents of French history digitized in various places (universities, libraries, collections, etc; all over France). The search engine, however, was either not working properly when I accessed it, or the categorizations are in dire need of being cleaned up: a search for pre-1500 documents found these results. Certainly, this is a work in progress as well; but for French historical foci, a valuable resource.

Moving into Germany, the G├Âttingen Centre for Digital Humanities is certainly worth looking at. The eTraces project, for example, might go very well with our reading, particularly the section on Trees (see, for instance, this presentation, particularly slides 30 through 46). Its research focus, generally, is on mapping the spread of textual sources throughout Germany between 1500 and 1900: for example, the Luther bible’s so-called gefl├╝gelte Worte (“winged words”, proverbs) rapidly spread throughout what is now Germany after its publication. eTraces itself is currently developing the TRACER tool for users to map these spreading words, phrases, and quotations themselves. Once again, unfortunately, a work in progress; but a promising one; not least for its events. What I found to be strikingly innovative research methodology, eTraces hosted a Hackathon devoted to “the challenges of creating a digital edition for the Greek author Athenaeus, whose work cites more than a thousand earlier sources and is one of the major sources for lost works of Greek poetry and prose” – thereby not only digitizing his work, but also attempting to recover, and make available, the fragments of earlier authors.

Austria’s Graz University features, among other projects, a research collection of Southeastern Europeans historical photographs and postcards.

Other European examples should probably move more to the category of “how not to do it.” For example, the Belgian Centre Informatique de Philosophie & Lettres advertises itself as a leading digital research institution, while its publications list only a number of offline book-based texts. One may take this as an example for European conservatism in academic approaches. Likewise, the Swedish Umea University offers a digital humanities project almost entirely consisting of classes. – Nevertheless, these might be resources for future development under DARIAH’s lead; or if one happens to be at these universities.

Leaving the continent, the UK situation is about the same. The University of Nottingham’s Digital Huamnities Centre is a mere part of the university’s structure. – Resources with a historical focus may be found surrounding the International Conference on local and global women’s history, hosted by the University of Sheffield. – Finally, however, London’s Centre for Digital Humanities offers a wide sample of historical and generally huamnities-based research. – These projects might be said to suffer from an approach that applies technology to pre-defined fields of research, instead of re-defining fields.

Certainly, more obscure corners of the continent hold exciting research opportunities in the digital humanities as well. The amount of effort one has to put into collecting the places and sites where such information and tools are to be found, however, is discouraging as of now. Wether DARIAH can help here, remains an open question. As always, Europe is at once too big and too small to provide readily available solutions. As always, things remain in progress.

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