Friday, June 16, 2017

#DHSI 2017 - The Evolution of the Digital Humanities (DH)

It's been a while since I've attended my last Digital Humanities Summer Institute.   The colloquium and workshops have evolved since I first attended in 2008.   Back then, the DHSI was about learning the new tools available to us (text encoding initiative, digitization, transcription, etc.)  There was only a handful of courses.   At the time, DH could easily have been mistaken for Web 2.0 (or social software!)   In less than a decade, I've witnessed the emergence and evolution of a cohort of scholars and practitioners who have come back each year and have coalesced into a community of practice, with the DHSI as a stage for informing and encouraging new members to join the fray.

Of course, what I witnessed at DHSI 2017 is a critical mass of scholars and libraries of the need for DH support in the form of facilities and funding.   As a way to become more inclusive, some have instead preferred broader designations as digital scholarship as an embracing term that encompasses DH.  Some have also used data science that collate various faculty to an interdisciplinary lens.  Whether it be political or fiscal, before an institution can embrace DH, it needs to have a paradigmatic shift in mindset in institutional culture from one in which lone scholars conducting DH pedagogy or research can be fully supported with pooled resources.  I've seen not only the new tools, but also the gradual emergence of DH pedagogy and new DH methodologies.

One of the key themes I've heard and seen from the DHSI is the models that institutions need in carrying out DH work.   Institutions vary widely on how far along they are in establishing an institutional framework for DH.  Some have an institutional DH mandate with accompanying staff, but no centre or lab facilities; while others, have the centre and requisite facilities, but not necessarily a mission to coordinate a comprehensive DH plan.    Timing is everything because during the DHSI, Educause and the Centre for Networked Information (CNI) released a working paper Building Capacity for Digital Humanities: A Framework for Institutional Planning.  In my opinion, the authors address some of the fundamental issues with DH planning in higher education that is by far the most cogently articulated on paper.   So where to begin?  Let's start off with the organizational models first, which I find most interesting:

Centralized Model - This model focuses on meeting faculty and student needs by housing most or all DH services in a centralized unit.  In one collaborative space, practitioners can "rub elbows" and share insights easily, and this model is usually set up by a school, or program such as the library to support DH work.

Hub-and-Spoke Model - In this model, expertise, personnel, knowledge, and services are embedded in academic departments, units libraries, and other service points around campus, but coordinated through a central node.

Mesh Network Model - No one unit is dominant in this model.  Rather, each unit that offers DH services pools knowledge to create a linked network of units, groups, and practitioners who contribute their expertise to the overall pool.

Consortial Model - As the most recent model to have emerged onto the DH scene, this model leverages resources and interests across institutions to better support DH initiatives within each institution.  Such partnerships tend to arise organically as DH practitioners look beyond their own organizations to share ideas and knowledge while collaborating on projects.

As I'm writing this, I'm excited about the final day (yes, day #5) of the DHSI.   I'm going to be reflecting more about the stages of progression along the spectrum in which institutions belong to in creating infrastructures that can support and carry out DH work.

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