"Some Things I Learnt at Digital Humanities 2013"

Submitted by Erhard Hinrichs on 24 July 2013

This past week, I attended the Digital Humanities 2013Digital Humanities (DH) is an annual conference organized by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. DH 2013 was held on July 16-19 at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Local organization was provided by the internationally renowned Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

Following the highly successful DH 2012 conference held at the University of Hamburg, DH 2013 once again attracted a high number of participants from around the world. Without a doubt, Digital Humanities has become the premier international conference for reporting on cutting-edge Digital Humanities research and for providing a comprehensive overview of the field. This year’s conference program featured on-going trends in Digital Humanities research, including the increasing use of mobile devices as tools for data collection and for providing easy access to DH data and tools; the importance of data visualization for Digital Humanities research; the challenges by Big Data; the opportunities and limitations of crowd sourcing techniques.

History, Linguistics, and Literary Studies were the three humanities disciplines that stood out in terms of the number of papers on the DH 2013 program. In order to be able to accommodate all long and short papers accepted for presentation at DH 2013, the conference program was organized in multiple, parallel sessions. I can therefore only comment on those papers that I was able to attend personally.

Among the paper presentations that I attended in the field of history, I found the following particularly interesting: The paper on ChartEx: a project to extract information from the content of medieval charters and create a virtual workbench for historians to work with this information discussed how tools for language technology can play an important role in the workflow of historians. The paper Opening Aladdin’s cave or Pandora’s box? The challenges of crowdsourcing the Medici Archives provided a very useful and convincing case study of the potential and the limitations of crowdsourcing methods in the construction of a high-quality archive of historical manuscripts. The paper on Slave Biographies: Atlantic Database Network showed the added value of powerful data visualization techniques for the analysis of complex and geographically distributed historical data. Visualizing Centuries: Data Visualization and the Comédie-Française Registers Project was another paper that highlighted the importance of data visualization – in this case for historical data in the area of theatre studies. Finally, the panel session Center for Historical Information and Analysis: Big Data in History provided a highly informative overview of an ambitious, NSF-funded infrastructure project in the field of history.

CLARIN researchers contributed an impressive number of papers to the main program of the DH 2013 conference. The member countries of CLARIN ERIC were largely responsible for making language resources and tools for the annotation and visualization of language data a highly visible topic at DH 2013. In their paper entitled The German Language of the Year 1933. Building a Diachronic Text Corpus for Historical German Language Studies, Hanno Biber and Evelyn Breiteneder, colleagues from CLARIN-AUT, reported on their on-going efforts to extend their National Academy Corpus. Douwe Zeldenrust and Marc van Oostendorp, researchers at the CLARIN-NL Center at the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam, described the integration of the resource Speaking Map of the Netherlands into the CLARIN infrastructure in their paper Combining tailor made research solutions with big infrastructures. Researchers from the CLARIN Center at the Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen presented on-going work on their tools LEXUS and ELAN, which are much in demand world-wide. Shakila Shayan, Andre Moreira, Menzo Windhouer, Alexander König, and Sebastian Drude reported on LEXUS 3 - a collaborative environment for multimedia lexica. Han Sloetjes, Aarthy Somasundaram, Sebastian Drude, Herman Stehouwer, and Kees Jan van de Looij presented a co-authored paper entitled Expanding and connecting the annotation tool ELAN. A second paper about ELAN on the topic of Automatic annotation of linguistic 2D and Kinect recordings with the Media Query Language for Elan was contributed by Anna Lenkiewicz, and Sebastian Drude. The CLARIN-D Centers at the Universities of Leipzig and Tübingen reported on their research on combining language technology with data visualizations. Marc Küster (University of Leipzig) presented Agents for Actors: A Digital Humanities framework for distributed microservices for text linking and visualization. I presented joint research at the CLARIN-D Center Tübingen with Thomas Zastrow, Marie Hinrichs, and Kathrin Beck in our paper Scientific Visualization for the Digital Humanities as CLARIN-D Web Applications.

CLARIN member institutes also participated in the DH 2013 poster session. Bastian Entrup, Maja Bärenfänger, Frank Binder, and Henning Lobin from the University of Giessen, another CLARIN member institute from Germany, presented a poster on Introducing GeoBib: An Annotated and Geo-referenced Online Bibliography of Early German and Polish Holocaust and Camp Literature (1933–1949). Dana Dannélls, Lars Borin, and Leif-Jöran Olssen from the University of Gothenburg had a poster on MapServer for Swedish Language Technology.

Sometimes you have to travel to far places to be able to fully appreciate the richness of the humanities research that CLARIN members are involved in. A case in point is the collaborative research project of the poets Katharine Coles and Julie Lein at the University of Utah with a team of computer scientists and corpus linguists at Oxford University, which includes Martin Wynne, co-director of CLARIN ERIC. Their highly innovative approach to visualizing poetry was presented in their co-authored paper Freedom and Flow: A New Approach to Visualizing Poetry. Katharine and Julie also spoke very eloquently about the challenges and fruits of their interdisciplinary interactions in their presentation Solitary Mind, Collaborative Mind: Close Reading and Interdisciplinary Research. This very captivating presentation made me aware of the wonderful poetry of Louise Bogan, an American poet of the 20th century.

My apologies to any CLARIN colleagues who also presented their work at DH 2013 and whom I may have inadvertently left out in this piece. For more information about the above papers, but also about all papers, posters, panel presentations, and workshops offered at DH 2013 please consult: http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/.

Digital Humanities research on language data was also very much present in other ways at DH 2013. The current issue (Vol. 28.1; April 2013) of LLC, the Journal of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, which was on display at the conference, is a special issue, guest-edited by John Nerbonne and William A. Kretzschmar Jr, on the topic of ‘Dialectometry ++‘. It contains a collection of papers on the application of computational techniques to the study of language variation. William Kretzschmar, who was present at the conference, presented as co-author a paper entitled Simulation of the Complex System of Cultural Interaction that nicely demonstrated the predictive value of such dialectometric methods.

Three keynote addresses brought together all conference participants in plenary sessions and provided special highlights throughout the conference. David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, opened the conference with his inspiring keynote address Harnessing the Wisdom of the Crowd: The Citizen Archivist Program at the National Archives. Isabel Galina, Researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas at the National University of Mexico (UNAM), closed the scientific program of the conference with her thoughtful and forward-looking address Is there anybody out there? Building a global DH community.

The main conference program was preceded by two days of tutorials and workshops. I greatly enjoyed attending Mia Ridge’s tutorial on crowdsourcing. Thanks to this very informative and nicely presented tutorial, I am now aware of digital humanities projects such as Digital Harlem (http://acl.arts.usyd.edu.au/harlem/) and Old Weather (oldweather.org/), where crowdsourcing methods are an integral part of the project.

The Digital Humanities conferences also provide a forum to honor outstanding scholars for their achievements in the field. The Roberto Busa Award is named in honor of Father Busa and given in recognition of outstanding lifetime achievements in the application of information and communication technologies to humanistic research. At DH 2013 the award was presented to Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London and Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (London). In his acceptance address Getting there from here: Remembering the future of digital humanities, Willard McCarthy reflected on the origins and the early days of what is now referred to as Digital Humanities.

Finally, it is time to look toward the future. The plans for the next Digital Humanities conferences have already been made. DH 2014 (http://dh2014.org/) will be hosted by the University of Lausanne on July 6-12, 2014. And for 2015, the conference will move to the University of Sydney, Australia. I can only recommend attending these conferences and urge you to submit your Digital Humanities research to them. The Digital Humanities conference has a special tradition of entertaining participants with an extensive social program, including a welcome reception, a Busa Award reception, a special dinner for first-time participants, the DH fun run, and a banquet.