Setting the frame
The following text is based on a talk I gave at the workshop “Research Conditions and Digital Humanities: What are the Prospects for the Next Generation?” (#dhiha5) organized in Paris on the 10/11th of June 2013 by Mareike König, Georgis Chatzoudis and Pierre Mounier. It is thus a work in progress, presenting thoughts in a flux, including personal remarks that I originally didn’t want to keep for the written version, but then decided to maintain, not least because of the encouragement of colleagues who read the text and of the reaction of the audience at the Paris workshop.
My contribution takes into account the preliminary statement of the working group of Panel IV of the workshop (“Career, Financing and the Academic Recognition of Achievements in the Digital Humanities”), and the blog contributions to this workshop. It is also based on the work done in the Standing Committee for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation (ESF) under the chair of Milena Žic Fuchs, as well as my one experiences in the domain of the Digital Humanities and as the director of one of the oldest extant European Centers of Digital Humanities, the Trier Center for Digital Humanities, that was founded more than 15 years ago.
In this context, I would like to draw attention to two publications of the ESF dedicated to the Digital Humanities, where some of the topics of the workshop have been tackled and also have led to recommendations for the science policy makers, the scientific community itself and other stake-holders involved in Digital Humanities. In the Science Policy Briefing “Research Infrastructures in the Humanities” that I chaired, the expert group put a special focus on the evaluation of digital research and its outputs, on communities of practice, education and training and last but not least, academic recognition. This publication was a true joint and collaborative effort in the best sense and in an genuine spirit of the Digital Humanities: On the whole, more than 80 experts from Europe and beyond were involved in its making, a. o. either through participating in the preliminary discussion or at the Strategic Workshop in Strasbourg in 2010, close-reading and assessing the paper (including anonymous peer-evaluation) or, for example, through concrete contributions in form of case-studies and testimonies. In another ESF publication in the context of the Young Researchers Forum with the title “Changing Publication Cultures in the Humanities“, chaired by Margaret Kelleher, Digital Humanities played a central role, and recommendations have also been formulated concerning the professional development of early-career researchers addressed to the early-career researchers themselves as well as to senior scholars.
The preliminary statement of the working group in Panel IV by Anne Baillot, Natalia Filatkina and Anika Meier identifies three main areas on which the analysis of the topic and the subsequent propositions were focused: the recognition of persons, the recognition of performances, and early career as a long term career perspective. The paper gives a precise description of the central challenges and focuses especially on the situation in Germany and France when looking for answers to one of the main questions underlying this panel, namely “How can a young researcher construct a DH career?”.
I would like to develop the panels subject by highlighting the three dimensions included in the panels title “Career, Financing and Academic Recognition of Achievements”
Reading the different blog posts on this topic and the text by the working group we can identify on the one hand elements, challenges and problems linked to the position of early-career researchers in a generic context, that is a context not specific to digital humanities, but in a global sense applying to all academic disciplines – this is well illustrated in the charts and tables provided by the working group of the panel: I would like to highlight especially the intrinsic, almost “god-given” nature, the stiff hierarchic disposal and traditionality of existing career development paths (in universities, research centers and academies), though of course we can observe some changes and reform efforts. This epistemic master map of Academia roots in traditional 19th Century concepts, with a strong hierarchic verticalization in the way Academia is conceived and a deeply gender conditioned, specific conception of status groups in their societal organization. As a linguist, I note the metaphors used in this context: you are down or up the career path, the same thing for the age scale with the opposition young vs. senior, not mentioning the gender issue or the opposition between the so called hard sciences and (soft) humanities. In my opinion, this academic construction and the “rules of the game” need a rethinking, a reconfiguration and redefinition. Furthermore, the loads and constrictions of working contracts, administrative constraints (in Germany, for example, the problem of the “Kettenverträge” (fix-term, consecutive employment contracts), the lack of transparency and the système de vase clos (i.e. the isolated and closed context) of some academic systems, only to mention a few elements on this to-do-list, have thus to be revisited.
But on the other hand, as an optimistic person, I am wondering if the developments taking place, especially in the Digital Humanities, will not be one of the driving (even if unconscious) forces behind such a transformation process – in other words, if the issues raised by careers in the Digital Humanities will not be one of the flash points or catalysts for undergoing and future reforms of academic organization, career development and a new drawing of the academic organigram.
The Digital Humanities indeed bring a series of specific dimensions and challenges concerning the career topic. Some of the key elements of a researcher’s career in the Digital Humanities rely on novel, underlying prerequisites, that question the functioning of research as a whole and that are closely related to the nature of research in this emerging field, comprising among others: the hybridity of the research methods and scientific approaches, the multimodality of the underlying research topics respective the combination of approaches, the crosslinking or interconnectedness not only of data but also of research topics and the persons involved, emerging in inter- and transdisciplinarity and collaborativity, and– this is a genuine renaissance in Science, constitutive of the Digital Humanities outside the Anglo-Saxon world – multilingualism. True actors involved in Digital Humanities research are thus no more only mono-dimensional, i.e. coming from one well defined discipline or thematic field (though a solid disciplinary expertise is of course important) or confined in the corset of one language. In the same way, Digital Humanities are not a mono-dimensional issue (even though some might like to limit them for example to computer linguistics or (re-)interpret them as a mere offspring of computer sciences).
The consequence in the career dimension of these underlying epistemic criteria demand a. o. an equitable and fair visibility of the work done by the eHumanist (i.e. the humanities scholar applying, modeling and reflecting DH-technologies) as well as the IT-specialist and technical staff involved in this inter-/transdisciplinary endeavor. Concretely, we are talking about job grading, wage classifications and opening career paths to so-called “Quereinsteiger” (lateral entrants) on the level of the research and technical collaborators as well as promotion strategies on high scale positions, as the professor level. This is an issue I am facing day to day in the academic institutions I am involved in or I am evaluating on a national and international level. It is for example habitual practice, that the PhD in the Humanities is getting 50% of a researcher’s position, the one in informatics (due to stronger competition with the private industry) 75% or 100% of it. Not to speak of the technician whose pay is so low that I’m desperate about it, and in great trouble with the board of finance audit if I want to promote him. And why should the member of the technical staff involved in Digital Humanities research should not be allowed to get funding in order to present papers at scientific conferences or travel to such?
Besides the fact that contracts are often limited in time and subdued to strict administrative constraints, we thus have also to face a high fluctuation of staff, especially in the technical sector, and this is not to the benefit of the research projects we are carrying out. Many of these issues are in my opinion intrinsically linked to the question of academic recognition, but also to the financing aspect.
The difficult economic situation we are facing for the moment is of course a global one, but it becomes more and more a burden for career development in the Humanities, as Humanities are – in contrast to the so called hard sciences – a fragile partner, and thus, and in lack of equal strong political endorsement and lobbying, often the first prey for cost cuttings.
In this context, it is interesting to observe that the Digital Humanities are on the whole being given (in comparison to traditional humanities research) a series of good and interesting funding opportunities on a national and international level. In some sectors, Digital Humanities will in fact be almost the only possibility of raising funds in humanities research, especially on the European research level. A similar observation concerning infrastructural development can be made regarding the vivid creation of DH Centers (for example in Germany) and professorships in the last few years. And, we’ve all noticed as a side effect the growing amount of people suddenly being interested in doing Digital Humanities, though they maybe didn’t want to have anything to do with it a few years ago and are not really engaged in it either.
Regarding funding opportunities, in Germany, for example, there is already a long tradition to be noted; several DH-calls with large funding possibilities have been launched in the past years by the Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and the DFG, the German research funding agency, has been supporting and funding DH-projects since the beginning. The concentration of grants was initially particularly focused on building infrastructures and information systems as well as digitizing textual heritage in libraries. This phase of digital resource building is still vital and an important prerequisite for research in the Digital Humanities, but the scientific community and research stakeholders are now intensifying efforts to genuine digital humanities research with an own theoretical foundations, methods and modeling, especially also for non-textual artifacts. It is noticeable that if the number of DH-projects raises significantly in the next years, we will be having a shortcut of (wo)manpower in the domain, though the situation of precarity of young researchers, as Pascal Arnaud coined it for the French system, will be building the major (rather depressing) challenge in the years to come. Thus, the questions of training, mentoring and education (for example in the university curricula) and being able to keep excellent researchers and know-how at a university or research center with interesting career opportunities will be becoming more virulent than ever, and this probably already in a relatively near future. This development will challenge more funding than the one offered by traditional ‘punctual’ research programs by ministries and funding agencies, and this new situation calls for and is already leading to infrastructural changes, financial investments and strategic setting of the points in the longue durée by the entities actually responsible of Academia, i.e. the universities, the research centers and the academies, preferably in a joint effort.
Academic Recognition of Achievements
Let me begin this chapter with a few personal remarks: When I was appointed to the chair of Historical Linguistics and named director of the Trier Center for Digital Humanities ten years ago, several colleagues came to me, telling me “to shut the thing down”. This of course only raised my sense of resistance, yes, one might call it renitency, and instead, I decided to enter uncharted territories, set my efforts in the wonderful team we had, foster young researchers careers, get back young researchers that had left in the years before my appointment and develop the Center for the future to come. As things grew, and the Center was evolving as one of the main third party funding actors of the university, we became noticeable, even if we still were considered being something different, outside the traditional research fields. Until today, though we have established ourselves on the academic chess board, I have met more than one curious situation hearing myself having “charming research ideas” or being the fund raising “milk cow” doing “digital stuff”. These are of course punctual experiences, the positive reactions, encouragements and promotion of the Center by the university governance and the competent ministry having been really great, and first offshoots of the center having obtained positions and chairs for Digital Humanities themselves elsewhere. But, these anecdotes are quite symptomatic for the field of Digital Humanities as a whole.
Things can thus also be seen in a more fundamental perspective: Of all the intellectual and technical turns the Humanities and Social Sciences have made in the last Century the digital one seems to be of another nature and of a broader impact, even if not everyone in Academia might be enthusiastic about this. The development of digitality (to take up Nicholas Negroponte’s term) is not only of societal relevance in general, as it changes our everyday lives and communication structures; it also has a deep impact on the academic world and the way we do research and thus our everyday scientific life. Yet, as mentioned, we meet doubters and skeptics every day. And all of us know of the topos-like situation of the discussions that emerge and all of us have made more or less funny experiences of this kind. These experiences all sum up to the words: Digitality is undoubtedly changing Academia, but how much changing should it be? … The changes I’m referring to are not only a content matter and a way of assessing or even coping with digital driven research, it’s probably more the subsequent consequences of these changes that – like a snow ball – are hitting the whole academic system and profoundly modifying it. And this, as new or unknown things or situations use to do, also brings a certain amount of fear along. In fact, some still might not know if they want to love it or reject it.
The issue of recognition is thus for the Digital Humanities a crucial one. Though – as a senior researcher – I could look at this issue (respective the experiences I’ve made with it) in an easygoing way, I am convinced that this is where the scalpel has to be put at. And, I am, in a sense, not really sure that we have a generation problem in Digital Humanities as a field, but this would be the topic for another panel.
The preliminary statement of our the three panelists distinguish regarding the recognition issue pertinently between the recognition of persons and the recognition of performance. We can add, at another level, the recognition of the discipline, if we want to call Digital Humanities as such (for me personally, it is a good strategic, working hypothesis). We might even consider Digital Humanities as a meta-discipline, as Vera Hildenbrandt suggested it before the conference, while reading the draft of this paper. And our French colleague, Pascal Arnaud, also took up the term in his statement concluding our panel.
In this context, a number of changes in the way Academia is conceived today are essential, and I would like to formulate some fundamental ones here, in a nutshell, and taking into account the recommendations we formulated in the ESF-Science Policy Briefing.
First, the change towards a culture of recognition that accepts the research character and process-oriented nature of projects in the Digital Humanities and that of digital, open access publications. This change is more than a change of recognition, it is a change of culture.
Second, the change of publication cultures and recognition of these new publication cultures as equal to traditional ones. This involves new formats of publications of the results and achievement in Digital Humanities and recognizes its diversity across the Humanities, ranging from the monograph (which still keeps its importance as genuine scientific genre, even it might be undergoing transformations), the article, the database and data visualization, the scientific blog to micropublications in different forms.
Third, the change of evaluation culture and thus recognition of new types of academic output, taking into account that Humanities and Social Sciences cannot be measured with the same instruments than the hard sciences.
Fourth, the consideration and recognition of language and multilingualism as a key element of European research and its dissemination/publications. Doing Humanities in Europe (and in other non-Anglo-Saxon parts of the world) means for example that we are undertaking research on primary data that is not necessarily or per se in English. The witnesses of our history, culture and languages have to be dealt with in their original forms and are equally important (for example in large strategies in digitizing cultural heritage), if research in the Humanities doesn’t want to give up its own fundaments, and eventually collapse. This diatopic, diachronic and diastratic diversity has thus a two-fold dimension: the one of the essential objects of our research, and the metalanguage(s) we use to communicate about this research.
Fifth, the establishment of more comprehensive and transparent clearing mechanisms to secure scholarly reliability and the proper recognition of this research across international, inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations.
Sixth, the fostering of inter-, transdisciplinary and collaborative tools and teams as well as the scientific recognition and rewarding of the contributing persons and competences, that is the humanistic and the technical sides.
And last, the proper recognition, mentoring, training, credit and career perspectives for the young generation of researchers working in and applying Digital Humanities research. I can only stress the importance of enabling these voices to be heard and also encouraging young researchers to articulate their wishes, claims and visions for this new, emerging field of research.
This is of course not an exhaustive list, and is rather a quarry for further thinking in the community and as a scratchpad for the planed Manifesto by the working group of #dhiha5.
All the images shown are from the wonderful exhibition “iFormations” by Nathan McNinch, Kevin Day and Yan Luo. Curated by Ksenia Cheinman (UBC Vancouver, August 1 – August 31, 2011), that we were also able to show at the DH2012 in Hamburg. Ksenia Thank you to Ksenia and to Kevin, Nathan and Yan for making this possible!
Pascal Arnaud, Statement at the #dhiha5, Panel IV, Paris 11th June 2013
Anne Baillot, Natalia Filatkina, Annika Meier, Working Paper #dhiha5 Panel IV: Career, Financing and the Academic Recognition of Achievements in the Digital Humanities, June 2013
Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2013
Changing Publication Cultures in the Humanities, Young Researchers Forum, ESF Humanities Spring 2011, February 2012
Arianna Ciula, Julianne Nyhan, Claudine Moulin, “ESF Science Policy Briefing on Research Infrastructures in the Digital Humanities, Lexicon Philosophicum: International Journal for the History of Texts and Ideas, [accepted, in press]
Claudine Moulin, Arianna Ciula, Julianne Nyhan et al., Research Infrastructures in the Digital Humanities, ESF 42 Science Policy Briefing, September 2011
Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, New York 1996
Michael Schmalenstroer, Digital Humanities als Generationenkonflikt, Blogpost 2. Juni 2013 (schalenstroer.net)
 see also Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2013 .
 Moulin, Ciula, Nyhan et al., ESF Science Policy Briefing, Research Infrastructures in the Digital Humanities, 2011, p. 40-41