As has been noted previously (Borgman 2009; Friedlander 2009; Presner 2009) Digital Humanities (DH) is becoming an established field. However, one of the remaining challenges is to locate and increase collaboration with new emerging DH communities. At the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) we are working on a) identifying key scholars and projects; b) investigating key local issues in the development of DH projects; c) raising awareness of DH and d) consolidating a community and linking with international DH. Previously we reported (Galina & Priani 2011) on the results from a series of workshops aimed at developing a diagnosis of the DH landscape including the identification of key challenges and issues for the development of projects in order to consolidate and promote DH in the region. An important result of the workshops was the initiative to form a DH community (Red de Humanidades Digitales – RedHD), first in Mexico and then expanding to other Latin American countries. The aim of this poster is to present the multi-faceted approach to DH community building that we are adopting. We will present and discuss the different strategies we have employed and the main challenges encountered. We hope that this model will be useful for other emerging DH communities to build upon.
One of the first challenges was moving from a workshop environment to establishing a network of DH practitioners while still remaining a vibrant and participatory group. Although virtual communities can be useful, if not managed appropriately they run the risk of becoming an empty and lifeless virtual space. Although all workshops participants were enthusiastic about promoting DH, in practice we feared that our different disciplines, geographical distance and personal workloads could lead to a weakening of our initiative. Reingold (1993) defines a virtual community as a situation in which ‘people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships’. For this we needed to assure that we had good communication channels to talk, organize and work with relevant people on particular topics.
Therefore, one of the first issues was defining who would form part of the network? Following on from the workshops, where we used a very ample definition of DH, we also wanted to make the community as inclusive as possible. University structures can be inflexible, rigid and hierarchical. Many of our workshop participants were not formal employees of the UNAM and we also had participants from other institutions, as well as non academic organizations. Many DH project participants are not established academic members and RedHD should function in such a way as to incorporate this diversity. The second step was to define specific objectives with concrete goals in order to promote meaningful communication of useful information between us. We needed to develop a web based information system that acted as a hub as well as providing information and communication channels.
From the workshops we also defined the initial topics that needed attention:
Information: Initially we defined three different types of information that we wanted to provide through our website: a database of DH practitioners, a catalogue of DH projects and a bibliography of published DH results from a particular DH project. The definition of appropriate XML metadata will be described in more detail at a later date, but for the moment it is important to mention that we wanted the databases to work as a system of information with interconnections. For example, for a DH scholar you can also query all DH projects they have worked on as well as the publications they have, and in the same way a DH project will also list the relevant publication and participants and so forth.
Formation: We found a very limited offer of DH related courses and one of RedHD’s aims is to build upon this. Initially, as means of promoting DH in general, we are working on short introductory type courses (for example, ‘Digital resources and the Humanities’, ‘Introduction to TEI’). This work is leading up to the design of a longer certificate/specialization course1 to be offered at the UNAM beginning of 2012. The aim is that this program will later be developed into a MA course. Human resources can be formed through teaching, but we are also working on the development of documentation, guidelines, publications and other type of support material in Spanish, as there is little available. We published a special issue of Digital Humanities for RDU, a UNAM peer-reviewed, general interest journal (RDU 2011). We are also focusing on the social networking approach for both academic and non-academic audiences. We are also planning a local Digital Humanities conference, the first of its type in the region, in Spring 2012.
Project evaluation: Another key element for the development of DH are the current difficulties involved in the evaluation of research performance of digital humanists as well as the impact and value of DH projects as a research outcome in themselves. One of reasons for this is that evaluation committees do not necessarily have the tools or the know-how to do so. RedHD aims to contribute towards recognition by providing tools and guidelines to help out with this task. This particular type of work requires a more in depth approach and so we have set up a working group that includes face to face meetings. The group is currently revising international available guidelines and will work on developing material not only in Spanish, but also adapted to our own particular institutional and funding structures.
The consolidation of RedHD has been a huge challenge. Although money is a common problem in Humanities, funding has been a particular ordeal for us. The development of the website, which is the core infrastructure for our network, has consequently been slow. We depend heavily on student work. Long term funding is an issue that we have not yet addressed. In this sense, the registry of DH projects in particular, is a concern. The discontinuation of AHDS, Intute and similar DH resource discovery systems is a negative sign. However, it also presents an opportunity for us to learn from previous initiatives and focus on different approaches to long term sustainability. Initial ideas are linked to our grass root development and working in partnership with libraries (Galina 2011).
In terms of numbers the RedHD has grown little since the workshops. We have not actively sought new members in part due to the delays in the development of our website. The digital humanist registry database is fundamental to our growth as a community and the system must be stable before we encourage new partnerships. However, already there has been a lot of interest and once established we believe that the community will grow rapidly.
We also want to focus on connecting with the international DH community from whom we have had a lot of interest and support. Both DH11 and DH12 have made specific references to emerging digital communities in their call for participation. However, involvement is still low. This could be due to a number of reasons. One is that we are still building momentum. Another factor may be language, as English is the main discourse for publication and participating in DH. It is possible that increased professionalization of the DH field will result in more English speaking members. However, we also we want to focus on Spanish documentation and projects as well. Organizing local, regional and Latin American events will be vital part of our work.
There is still a lot of work to do towards consolidating and more importantly maintaining RedHD. Ideally the network will move from being based on enthusiastic individuals to being incorporated into institutional frameworks. Institutional recognition and backing would support long term sustainability. Ideally this network will promote the establishment of DH centres, postgraduate courses, journals, established working groups and other types of academic endeavor. RedHD for the moment works as a proof of concept allowing us to advance towards the next phases.
Borgman, C. (2009). The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly 3(4).
Friedlander, A. (2008). Asking Research Questions and Building a Research Agenda for Digital Scholarship. In Working Together or Apart: Promoting the Next Generation of Digital Scholarship http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub145/pub145.pdf.
Galina, I. (2011). El papel de las bibliotecas en las Humanidades Digitales, 77th IFLA General Conference and Assembly, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 13-18 August 2011 http://conference.ifla.org/past/ifla77/104-russell-en.pdf.
Galina, I., and E. Priani (2011). Is There Anybody Out There? Discovering New DH Practitioners in other Countries. Digital Humanities 2011, Conference abstracts. Stanford 2011, pp. 135-138
Revista Digital Universitaria-RDU (2011). Las Humanidades Digitales, Special Issue 12(7) http://www.revista.unam.mx/vol.12/num7/art68/index.html.
Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Presner, T., and C. Johanson (2009). The Promise of Digital Humanities. UCLA.
1.Known as diplomado this type of academic course is highly specialized and most cover a minimum of 120 hours.