Calling – Elvis?

Since the German Ministry of Research issued a call for applications specific to eHumanities with two types of funding (junior research group and center) in January, not a week goes by that I don’t hear of a new application. The call has two deadlines, one by the end on this May and one in May 2014.

The fact that so many people are rushing on this call came to me in the first place as a surprise, especially regarding the amount of projects competing for the title of “center”. After two months, some kind of resignation took over the surprise. And now, not even two weeks before the first deadline, I am tending to curiosity. With so many applications even on the first deadline, how will the ministry manage to find enough competent reviewers that will not be, in some way, involved in one project or another, and which will be the selection criteria?

This is certainly a sign that the call for applications was the answer to a real need: there are obviously a lot of people evolving in the field of DH, coming from different disciplines. But it is also the sign of situation of concurrence in a field that is not so easily definable. (yet again: would it help if DH were a discipline and not just a transdisciplinary toolbox? I am even tempted to think that it would, in the actual situation). What is more, the combination of infrastructure and research as it is presented on the call for eHumanities centers does not seem to solve, in the practice, the basic question of the balance between technique and research. It proves difficult to connect services and research questions in a way that does not reduce the technical aspects to purely ancillary services.

Which brings me to DH Aphorism number 2: In DH, not everything is in the cloud.

Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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3 Responses

  1. I fully agree with the first two paragraphs of your post. Very nicely put!

    However, I’ve got to admit I don’t understand the other two paragraphs. Why would it help if DH were a discipline instead of an interdisciplinary field? (Hmm, maybe I don’t see your point because I wouldn’t call DH a “transdisciplinary toolbox.”) And I’d say it’s quite natural to regard services and infrastructure as ancillary (unless you’re doing research on the infrastructure, but then the question is whether this is actually DH).

    • Anne Baillot says:

      Thanks for your comment! I have tried to be more explicit in the third paragraph.

      The toolbox aspect is a complicated question. To me, the difference between a humanities project using digital methods and a DH project is the way the technical profile is included in the research question, each one influencing the other (technique and research). It is my personal view of it and I don’t think that everybody shares it. It is also what I meant in the last sentence, which is, again, really only my personal opinion: the infrastructure, the institutions are part of it, not just the abstract ideas.

      • Ah, now I see what you’re getting at! Yes, the question is indeed whether DH = humanities + computers or whether DH = humanities + computer science. For me (as a computational linguist) it’s the latter, but I guess most eHumanities infrastructure initiatives are rather leaning to the former interpretation. Of course, this is not really surprising: If you’re specifically funding infrastructure its role is by definition ancillary.

        Personally, I think the track for junior research groups is much more interesting, because it requires a much higher degree of interdisciplinary collaboration.

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