10B. Summary Issues

State of Debates, Integration, Federation etc.

(JDrucker 9/2013)

As the field of digital humanities expands, and as more and more materials come online in cultural institutions, through research projects, and other repositories or platforms, the challenges combine technical and cultural issues at a level and scale that is unprecedented. Figuring out how repositories can “talk” to each other or be integrated at the level of search is one challenge. Another is to address the fundamental problems of intellectual property. What are the modes of citation and linking that respect conventions of copyright while serving to support public access, education, and scholarship? What are the ways in which data and digital materials can be made sustainable? What practices of preservation are cost-effective and practical and how can we anticipate these going forward?

Technological innovations change quickly, and cultural institutions are often under-resourced so that thinking about how they can be supported to do the work they need to do without being overwhelmed by corporate players is an ongoing concern. Integration of large repositories of cultural materials into a national and international network cannot depend on Google or other private companies. The creation of networked platforms for cultural heritage depends on connecting information that is in various “silos” and behind “firewalls.” Issues of access, fair use, intellectual property, and other policy matters affect the ways technology is used for the production and preservation of cultural materials.

All of these are practical, pragmatic issues with underlying political and cultural tensions to them. They are not likely to disappear in the near future. Early attempts at federating existing projects around particular communities of scholarly interest were NINES, which grew in part out of Romantic Circles, and 18thConnect, like Pelagios, the portal for study of the Ancient Classical World, these were projects that linked existing digital work around a literary period and group of scholars with shared interests.

Exercise: Look at NINES18th Connect, and compare them with Pelagios. How are these different from something like the Women Writer’s Project and ubuweb.

Large scale initiatives, like the Digital Public Library of America, or Europeana, or CWRC in Canada, envision integration at a high level, but without the requirement of making standards to which all participating projects must conform. Still, the goal of standards is to make data more mobile and make connections among repositories easier.

Exercise: Look at the Digital Public Library of America and get a sense of how it works. Compare it with the National Library of Australia. Compare these with Europeana and the Australia Network and CWRC . How can you get a sense of the scale of these different projects? Of their background, motivations, funding, and business models?

Not everyone believes that open access is a universal good. Many cultural communities have highly nuanced degrees of access to knowledge even within their close social groups. Some forms of knowledge are shared only by individuals of a certain age, gender, or kinship relation. The migration of knowledge and information onto the web may violate the very principles on which a specific cultural group operates. The assumption that open access is a universal value also has to be questioned. Likewise, sensitive material of various kinds—personal information about behaviors and activities, sexual orientation or personal transgressions—might put individuals at risk if archives or collections are made public. How are limits on use, exposure, and access to be set without introducing censorship rules that are extreme?

Exercise: Using Gilliland and McKemmish’s discussion, create a scenario in which materials from a national archive would need to be controlled or restricted in order to respect or protect individuals or communities. Do the terms of intellectual property that are part of the standards of copyright and print apply to the online environment? If so, what are they, and if not, how should they be changed to deal with digital materials?

Meanwhile, questions of what other skills and topics belong in the digital humanities continue to be posed. What amount of programming skill should a digital humanist have? Enough to control their own data? To create scripts that can customize an existing platform? Or merely enough to be literate? What is digital literacy and should it be an area of pedagogical concern? How much systems knowledge, server administration expertise, and other networking skills should a digital humanist have? Area areas of research that border on applications for surveillance to be avoided, like biometrics and face recognition software? Is knowledge of the laws of property and privacy essential or are the cultures of digital publishing changing these in ways unforeseen in print environments?

Finally, the intersection of digital humanities and pedagogy has much potential for development ahead. The passive, consumerist use of repositories will likely give way to participatory projects with many active constituencies in what we call “networked environments for learning,” which are different in design from either collections/projects or online courses with pre-packaged content. For all of this activity to develop effectively, better documentation of design decisions that shape projects should be encouraged so that as they become legacy materials, their structure and infrastructure are apparent and accessible along with their materials.


Becoming acquainted with the basics of digital humanities—knowledge of all of the many components of the design process that were part of our initial sketch of digital projects as comprised of STUFF + SERVICES + USE –provides a foundation that is independent of specific programs or platforms. Having an understanding of what goes on in the “black boxes” or “under the hood” of digital projects allows much greater appreciation of what is involved in the production of cultural materials, their preservation, access, and use.

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