Welcome to the start of a new academic year! Those outside academia often think that we do nothing in the summer. While it is true that there are fewer students around and not so many meetings to attend, there is lots to keep us busy, as the contributions in this issue of the eHumanities group e-magazine clearly demonstrate. Folgert Karsdorp went to Germany to share his knowledge of the scripting language, Python, in not one but two summer schools. He makes an important point about how humanities scholars need themselves to learn how to program, in order that they better understand the results of their digital humanities research.
Many of us attended the first ever Digital Humanities (DH) BeNeLux conference held in The Hague in June, and many attended the international DH conference in Lausanne a few weeks later in early July. Albert Meroño Peñuela and Corina Koolen provide accounts of these conferences, and others.
We took advantage of the presence of so many interesting DH scholars at the BeNeLux event to record their views of what DH meant to them, their experiences of more and less successful DH projects, and their moments of excitement and revelation. With the enormous help and hard work of Benjamin Miller, our 2014 visiting fellow, we turned this material into an interactive web-based documentary – which now can be seen on our website. (You need Flash for this)
Now back to the more usual routine after summer schools, conferences, and holidays of course, the eHumanities group started the new academic year with an extra-long Thursday afternoon ‘new trends in ehumanities’ symposium. More than 40 people joined us to hear from the researchers working on the four KNAW-funded computational humanities projects. Two striking conclusions emerged, cutting across the four projects. First, computers do not always lead to less work. It is still the case that enormous amounts of human labour are needed, not only to interpret the material produced by computers, but also to prepare material so that it can be processed by computers in meaningful ways. Whether it is historical census data, millions of words of text from Indonesian newspapers, or something else, getting the data into a form that can be processed, with sensible metadata, always takes more time and effort than we think when writing proposals.
Second, and far more interesting, is the attention that needs to be given to the development of interfaces. Much of the general discussion focused on this important point, raised by Franciska de Jong, a member of the Computational Humanities Programme Committee. She was primarily concerned with the interfaces between those producing data and tools and other potential users. The conversation quickly took off in different directions, as ‘interface’ has a variety of potential meanings, including APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), and the role of data and other visualisations, which could also be considered a type of interface. Developing user interfaces is beyond the scope of the CH projects themselves, but there are more general problems to be solved of knowing who is responsible for interfaces, of knowing who future users might be and what kinds of interfaces would best serve their needs. But ‘interface’ also works at a more metaphorical level, to capture the work of interdisciplinary collaboration. What all of the project presentations demonstrated was how powerful this can be when it works well.
The important point that emerged during the meeting of project leaders which took place earlier in the day was that for this to work researchers need to spend time together, they need to talk to one another, more importantly they need to be prepared to listen to one another.
One of the problems that has long haunted DH projects is precisely that they are projects, often funded for a relatively short period of time to develop a particular data set, resource or tool, with little thought by the powers-that-be given to the long-term needs of development and preservation. This is one of the reasons why it is such good news that NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, has decided to award €12 million to CLARIAH, the Common Lab Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. This will get started at the beginning of 2015, with the important aim of developing an infrastructure for structured data, such as historical census data, text of crucial importance to linguists, literary theorists and many others, and audio-visual data. At the end of the eHumanities meeting, Henk Wals, a member of the CLARIAH Board, and director of the International Institute for Social History, one of the CLARIAH data centres, gave an overview of CLARIAH, an important development for everyone involved in digital humanities in the Netherlands and beyond.
Our featured article in this edition has been written by Gerry van Klinken, the project leader of the Elite Network Shifts project. We are lucky to see a first, somewhat shortened version, of his introduction to a forthcoming special issue of the Asian Journal of Social Sciences. He goes to the heart of on-going debates about the promises, potentials and problems of ‘big data’, and of interdisciplinary collaboration in DH research.
We’re looking for a visiting fellow to join us again for three months in 2015. The deadline for applications is 1 November, and full details can be found on our website. In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming many of you at ‘new trends in ehumanities’ meetings over the coming months. We have a great line-up between now and the end of the year, including contributions from leading international scholars spending some time in or near Amsterdam, such as Jane Hunter from the University of Queensland and Christine Borgman from UCLA and a KNAW visiting professor with DANS this autumn.