I wrote the below abstract for Digital Humanities Congress 2012 at the University of Sheffield, 6th – 8th September 2012
Title: Research As Infrastructure
In the edited book Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew Gold, the chapter “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism” by Dave Parry raised the controversial question as to whether Digital Humanities should be the application of computing, or an inquiry as to how digital media has irrevocably changed the Humanities. While this may appear to be a very theoretical issue, the debate has major practical consequences. For example, I have been entrusted with managing the development of a national research infrastructure for the Digital Humanities. This task may seem to involve logistics, technical details, and general funding issues. However, before we even get to that stage we have major fundamental, political and theoretical challenges.
We currently have four universities as partners, the national library (or libraries) should be joining soon, and hopefully the major museums will follow. Our government has asked that we include as many as possible, a noble goal, but in practice we have hit a major roadblock. How does one create a national focus while allowing academics and other researchers to pursue their own specific goals? This also raises a deeper question, what are the boundaries of the Digital Humanities pertinent to our researchers, beyond which we should not tread? Having discovered our niche, or niches, how can we focus on key research areas important to our country in particular, without becoming cut off from international networks?
Of course there are perennial questions such as how can one develop an infrastructure five years ahead, based on catering for technology that we are not yet using? How can a distributed network allow for unified identity and individual planning? This leads us to a more pragmatic issue of which resources are best managed centrally, and which are best distributed. These more technical issues do however return us to a central problem: how one create a centre for something that has no physical centre, unifying traditionally disparate and sceptical disciplines, without restricting them or discriminating between them?
So now my task is to solve the problems so I can deliver the paper!