Young Researchers in Digital Humanities: A Manifesto

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[Crossposting from Digital Humanities at DHI Paris by Mareike König]

The Humanities and Social Sciences are a vital component of human culture and offer an essential insight into the world in which we live. The Digital Humanities reflect the transition of the Humanities to the digital age. However, they do not only bring with them new technical means, but also new forms of knowledge creation and dissemination within, across and outside academic disciplines.

In the field of Digital Humanities, experimental practices, reflexivity and the collaborative elaboration of standards are deeply interconnected. They are, therefore, an occasion to rethink and extend the Humanities through new materials, methods and hermeneutics. Furthermore, they represent an opportunity to redefine our relationship to society through open access to cultural heritage and the development of collaborative projects which also engage non-academic audiences. Thus, we see them as pivotal in the future of the Humanities.

Three years ago, over 100 members of this emergent community took part in THATCamp Paris 2010. Together, they wrote the first European Manifesto of the Digital Humanities to express their commitment to this new field of studies. Subsequently, the number of individuals and projects involved has increased significantly, giving them much greater visibility.

The academic world, however, with its institutions, actors and practices has not evolved at the same pace. On the one hand, new modes of research – connected, collaborative, horizontal, multimodal, multidisciplinary and multilingual – are being developed. Digital practitioners are engaged in new activities and work with new tools, building databases, developing software, analysing big datasets, defining conceptual models, collaborating through wikis and pads, communicating through websites, blogs and other social media. On the other hand, research institutions often resist or hinder these changes: training for scholars, funding schemes, evaluation criteria, recruitment and promotion procedures have only marginally evolved and do not seem able to make the most out of the digital environment.

The widening gap between flourishing digital practices and their institutional acknowledgment represent a threat for the academic community as a whole and for young scholars in particular, since it casts uncertainty on their future as research professionals.

On 10-11 June 2013 scholars and other members of the academic community met at the German Historical Institute in Paris to participate in the international conference “Research Conditions and Digital Humanities: What are the Prospects for the Next Generation?”. The conference was preceded by an open “call to join the blogparade”, that is to publish online contributions, in order to collectively and publicly prepare the event.

This manifesto is the result of this process. It emphasises the most important aspects of the challenges and the most pressing institutional needs.

I. General

Young researchers in all disciplines face a high level of job insecurity, the consequences of short-term contracts and the risk of never obtaining permanent positions. Digital humanists feel this pressure even more, due to relatively shorter funding periods, few suitable positions and a lack of clear career perspectives.

  • Long-term career perspectives should be available to early career researchers, engineers, and librarians who engage in Digital Humanities work.
  • Senior researchers should encourage, counsel and support them. This aspect is also stressed in the recommendations of the Young Researchers Forum convened by the European Science Foundation in 2011 (Changing Publication Cultures in the Humanities).
  • Fair principles and clearly-defined guidelines should be established to assess the scholarly relevance of digital collaborative contributions and attribute relevant merit to all participants.
  • The diversity of digital media and publication genres need to be accepted as genuine means of scientific communication.

Significant work by digital humanists remains below the radar of internal and external evaluations: it should not be ignored by their peers.

  • Open Access and Open Data publications need to be encouraged and sustained – by opening up participation, supplying adequate funding and increasing academic recognition.
  • The right to re-publish texts needs to be implemented in European and national law, in order to ensure legal security when engaging in the “green road” in Open Access.

Research and teaching with digital tools require specific skills and infrastructures. To create conditions in which those can deploy, we need:

  • Suitable and sustainable academic infrastructures such as repositories, publication platforms, catalogues, social media networks and blogging portals.
  • A public project database providing national and European information on submitted projects in DH, whether successful or rejected, for better orientation and coordination through greater transparency.
  • Ambitious digital training programs in the Humanities, which should address all generations and all levels of skills and needs. Advanced students, junior and senior researchers need appropriate training.

As humanists we value intercultural dialogue and multilingualism. Publications in English should not be exclusive, but encouraged as a complement to publications in other native languages.

II. Research and higher education institutions

Coherent digital strategies should be developed and sustained in every institution. Academic societies and universities should support early-careers in Digital Humanities through adequate funding periods, promotion of tenure and long-term sustainability both for researchers and technology. They should foster early experience in collaborative work, as well as team-based technical expertise.

We advocate for the establishment of specialised working groups to encourage digital undertakings and to allow cross-disciplinary research. Institutions need to support this by creating a scientific ecosystem for Digital Humanities practitioners, including:

  • trusted Open Access platforms
  • long-term archives and technologies and infrastructures for the long-term archiving of research publications and research data in combination with an Open Access and Open Data policy
  • database and software infrastructures (e.g. Big Data and Linked Data applications)
  • efficient tools for the digitisation of analog sources
  • search engines and metadata tools which facilitate the findability, contextualisation and evaluation of digital media
  • promotion of open educational resources and Creative Commons licenses

Scholarly blogging, activities in social media and reviewing in non-traditional formats must be officially recognised and encouraged. Research institutions should provide expertise and training to ensure that the following skills are available: use of social media in research and public communication, encoding, website management, database construction and multimedia editing. All professionals involved must also have sufficient knowledge of legal questions, with particular regard to traditional copyright and open licenses.

III. Funding agencies

It is important that funding agencies take into consideration the needs of scientific communities, since they decide which digital projects, institutions and infrastructures are supported and how their results are evaluated. Funding agencies need to be aware that digital projects, especially when they include a website, never really end: continuous support beyond the initial funding period is essential (e.g. for server costs and technical maintenance).

We need funding agencies to build specific programs to support collaborative research across national borders, sustainable research infrastructures and practical training in the use of digital research tools.

We need funding agencies to develop new evaluation procedures, which take into account both digital formats and digital qualifications.

  • Peer-reviewed texts in print journals can no longer be the only publications to be considered in application and proposal procedures. Various practices of digital scholarly communication, reviewing and publication must be recognised and encouraged.
  • The evaluation of Digital Humanities projects should take new criteria into account: scientific quality, technical quality and usage.
  • The traditional circle of reviewers needs to be broadened: experts on digital media, computer scientists and engineers have to be included in order to allow reliable evaluation.
  • Funding agencies should integrate open peer review and open commentary in their assessment procedures.

 What’s next?

Practitioners and observers often regret the slow pace at which infrastructures evolve. While a new research culture is being established, in which the value of digital means and methods will be fully acknowledged, positive action must be taken to adapt academic structures to new research practices. This is a fundamental and very concrete task for everyone, in each academic field and discipline. We can all contribute to this common reinvention.

The first signers were the participants (on-site and online) of the conference “Research Conditions and Digital Humanities: What are the Prospects for the Next Generation?

Pascal Arnaud
Anne Baillot
Aurélien Berra
Dominique Boullier
Thomas Cauvin
Georgios Chatzoudis
Arianna Ciula
Camille Desenclos
André Donk
Marten Düring
Natalia Filatkina
Sascha Foerster
Sebastian Gießmann
Martin Grandjean
Franziska Heimburger
Christian Jacob
Mareike König
Marion Lamé
Lilian Landes
Matthias Lemke
Anika Meier
Benoît Majerus
Claudine Moulin
Pierre Mounier
Marc Mudrak
Cynthia Pedroja
Jean-Michel Salaün
Markus Schnöpf
Julian Schulz
Bertram Triebel
Milena Žic-Fuchs


Benoit Majerus

Since January 2011, I am working as Associate Professor at the University of Luxembourg. I have written my PhD on the occupation of Belgium during World War One and World Two. In 2013 I published a history of psychiatry in the 20th century from below. I am also co-editor of h-madness.

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