A Cross-Atlantic Meeting of Medievalists

After the first “DARIAH Beyond Europe” workshop in mid-September, there were two easy next steps for the “cowboys” on the US side who wanted to “do something” with DARIAH: add to the DH Course Registry and find one or more working groups to join. The course registry is a topic for another blog post, but I was curious to see what reception I’d get, as a somewhat random American emailing the coordinators of an existing working group.

The first working group I contacted was “Defining cloud infrastructure services for DH”, hoping to draw upon my experience working in research computing at UC Berkeley. As luck would have it, I picked the one group that was no longer active, as it had been part of a limited-term grant that had wrapped up. It was the perfect illustration of the greatest challenge of infrastructure-building: we direct our energy and attention to tackling big challenges of service development, provisioning, dissemination, and stability, and it’s so easy to lose track of the small, prosaic things like keeping all pages of a website current.

Francesca Morselli, the DARIAH-EU Integration Officer and coordinator of the working groups, was very kind to get in touch with me and explain the situation with the cloud infrastructure group. She facilitated an introduction to the “Mediaevalist’s Sources (MESO)” working group, and one of the co-leads of the group, Emiliano Degl’Innocenti, was planning to be in San Francisco at the end of October for the DigitalHERITAGE 2018 conference.

Quinn Dombrowski and Emiliano Degl’Innocenti

While the Medievalist’s Sources working group has been on standby for the last few years, funding from DARIAH, supplemented by additional funds from a number of related research projects, has allowed the group to start making progress on a number of bigger-picture goals. These include developing a registry of medieval sources; fostering a community around common tools, methods, and standards relevant for medievalists; and working within the larger DARIAH context to generalize and promote tools originally developed for medievalists for a larger group of scholars. The approach they’ve taken to registry development is informed by the state of the medieval field with regard to publication of text: which is to say, they’re web-scraping text archive sites, extracting new or updated information, and having scholars vet that information and map it to the appropriate RDF triple for inclusion in the directory. It’s a realistic solution, if an unsatisfying one. I hope that the working group can help better practices gain traction, and I’ll be working with medieval projects at Stanford, including Prof. Kathryn Starkey’s Global Medieval Sourcebook (which will relaunch this month), to make their texts and metadata as easily reusable as possible by the international medievalist community.

Collaboration inevitably requires some overhead, and Emiliano and I talked some about what model might be most effective. I suspect this will be a question for many of the DARIAH working groups where “cowboys” from beyond Europe show up: does everyone work together, making compromises and accommodations for time zones, local constraints, and cultural contexts, or do we refactor working groups into “chapters” clustered by nation, time zone, or interests?

I’m looking forward to working through the thorny issues — be they medievalist or bureaucratic in nature — with the MESO working group.

Quinn Dombrowski supports digital humanities in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford University.

Emiliano Degl’Innocenti supports the integration and interoperability of CH and DH Research Infrastructures at CNR-DSU, Italy.

DARIAH Beyond Europe: Reflections from the Library of Congress event

The DARIAH Beyond Europe (DBE) event, held on October 2-4, in Washington was the second of the series of workshops dedicated to international cooperation and knowledge exchange. The workshop, hosted by the Library of Congress (LoC), brought together digital humanists from the US east coast and Europe to exchange ideas and discuss the state of play in the two continents. The event was part of the Horizon 2020 funded project DESIR.

“Research infrastructures and libraries are natural allies in the business of sharing knowledge,” said DARIAH Director Toma Tasovac. “The workshop at the Library of Congress was a great opportunity for us not only to showcase DARIAH and our research infrastructure landscape – a uniquely European phenomenon – but also to explore possible roads of cooperation with our American colleagues.”

The event was structured around three knowledge exchange sessions: Digital Newspapers & Text Analysis, Infrastructural Challenges for Public Humanities and Using web archives in humanities research.

Abigail Potter, Senior Innovation Specialist with the Library of Congress Digital Innovation Lab moderated the first session. From the European point of view, Mikko Tolonen, Assistant Professor at the Department of Digital Humanities, University of Helsinki, gave an overview of the current state of digital newspaper work in Europe, while Antoine Doucet, Professor of Computer Science at the University of La Rochelle and Principal Investigator of the ground-breaking Horizon 2020 funded project, NewsEye, which aims at developing tools and methods for effective exploration of digital newspapers by means of new technologies. Deborah Thomas, Program Manager at the LoC, presented the National Digital Newspaper Program, a project started in 2003 to create and maintain a digital archive of significant historic newspapers published in the US, which led to the launch of the website Chronicling America which now contains more than 14 millions pages online. The first day ended with a series of lightning talks aimed at showing some projects and initiatives both in the US and Europe.

The second session, chaired by Professor Christophe Verbruggen, Director of the Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities, was centered around Public Humanities. Meghan Ferriter, Senior Innovation Specialist at the Library of Congress, described how the Library enables transformational experiences by connecting users to its digital collections. This was complemented by presentations from Fien Danniau of the University of Ghent and Stephen Robertson of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media explored the challenges of Public Humanities respectively in Europe and in the US.

The final knowledge exchange session focused on web archives with an additional international point of view, as Olga Holownia presented IICP, the International Internet Preservation Consortium, which represents organisations form over 45 countries with the aim of acquiring, preserving and making accessible knowledge and information from the Internet for future generations. Kees Teszelszky from the National Library Netherlands gave a short history of web archiving efforts in Europe and described the difficult situation in terms of copyright and legal issues and different approaches to overcoming these challenges. Abigail Grotke, Web Archiving Team Lead at the Library of Congress gave an overview of the current situation in the US, characterised by the absence of a legal deposit, and showed what types of collections are recorded.

Furthermore, two inspiring keynotes were given by Jason Rhody (“Posting Signs and Filling Potholes on the Information Superhighway: Toward a Research-Ready Scholarly Infrastructure”) and jointly by Laurie Allen and Stewart Varner (“Collections as Data: Digital Collections for Emerging Research Methods“). The challenges of creating ‘research-ready infrastructures’ as well as how to provide sustainable access to digital cultural heritage collections are both at the heart of work undertaken by DARIAH in Europe, as exemplified by our comparable Heritage Data Reuse Charter.

The workshop was also attended by the Library of Congress’ Director of Digital Strategy, Kate Zwaard. For Kate “an event like this is important to the Library of Congress because it allows us to engage in partnership opportunities with our friends and colleagues at other institutions. As we have outlined in our recently published Digital Strategy, we believe that collaborating with other allows our resources to stretch further, we so can do more together than any of us can do alone.” This event was an important first step to foster international cooperation between US and European colleagues as well as a catalyst for ongoing collaborations in the future.