The DH Lab as a living oxymoron

by Fabian Cremer and Thorsten Wübbena

Newly established DH Labs in research institutions often find themselves in a field of tension – of simultaneous and contradictory expectations, goals and missions. We would like to discuss these contradictions within their context and their implementation in concrete work, based on experiences (both failures and successes) from our own DH Lab, as we aim to offer good practices (and unsolved challenges) from the strategical and operational levels of lab management. „The DH Lab as a living oxymoron“ weiterlesen

What is a Digital History Lab? Reflections from a trip to Lisbon

by Ian Marino and Demival Vasques Filho

Being part of a DH Lab involves questioning what constitutes this type of organism: who we are, what we do, how and why we do it. A recent workshop at the Digital Humanities Lab of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa has sparked a reflection regarding the question that entitles this blog post.1 The multiple nationalities and institutions of the researchers present there added ingredients that allowed such a question to cross European national borders and even the Atlantic Ocean.

Coming from a research-first institute at the IEG to meet labs with teaching as a chief concern may look like a mismatch. The language, the position of the labs within their main institutions, and the composition of the teams also present a situation in which it is easier to point out differences than similarities. However, the feeling of proximity spoke loudly. Why so? The answer to that may be in a combination of two seemingly out-of-place words: Digital History labs are marked by need and precariousness.

Such words make us think about materiality. Yes, many DH labs worldwide are precarious regarding physical space and hardware, not to mention the absence of stable funding for research and teaching. Such precariousness reflects global inequalities, which contribute to forging new layers of inequity in the development of knowledge within the Digital Humanities in general.2

That is one of the unfoldings of the “laboratorial turn” that defines the field’s recent growth in the last decades.3 As our host in Lisbon, Daniel Alves, defined well, the Digital Humanities are a “community of practices”: Increasingly, people are the labs, more than physical and institutionalized spaces.4

Nevertheless, we are making a different point here when we say that DH labs are marked by need and precariousness. Without proper training5, digital historians face the constant sensation of delayed understanding and following up in a continuously updating digital world.6 There is always new software, new methods, or updated versions of available tools (not to mention AI!). For example, after a workshop that presented Tropy – a new software for most of us which allows managing research photos in an unprecedented way – a conversation between the participants went more or less like this:

– We would love to know more about Omeka in our lab, but it is so hard to find time for it…
– Oh, we use it a lot here; maybe we can help you!
– Really? Thank you, that would be great!

DH labs function like mechanic workshops for cars that never stop moving. But these cars are digital, and they do not stop accelerating. DH Labs are collective ventures: We need partners and must learn from each other. That is what drove our meeting in Lisbon and drives the excitement and constant search for external collaborators in domestic events, like in the case of the IEG’s monthly event, 60 minutes of DH, for example.

There is a flipside to that. The time to catch on to the novelties is rarely available, which creates constant gaps of knowledge that lead, in turn, to the anxiety and sensation of delay that digital historians know so well. Once again, need and precariousness. The need for time, space, and funding to surpass institutional barriers and collaborate with external researchers. The precariousness of institutional structures and research agendas that do not acknowledge the need for such inter-labs partnerships.

What is a Digital History lab? In our return to the IEG, the question has stuck in our minds. The fact that we are both foreigners here and have a set date to leave only increases the perception that this issue is global. Maybe every DH researcher has similar questions and possibly different answers, which might travel around the world from lab to lab. Nevertheless, our stay in Lisbon has shown us that the possibility of interacting with peers can only increase the quality of the reflections regarding what we do, how we do it, who we are, and who we could be.


Cite this article as: Ian Marino and Demival Vasques Filho, "What is a Digital History Lab? Reflections from a trip to Lisbon," in Digital Humanities Lab, 20/04/2023, https://dhlab.hypotheses.org/3925.

Featured image: photo by Demival Vasques Filho, all rights reserved.

  1. We would like to thank to all the researchers of the DH labs that were part of this experience: the IEG’s Digital Historical Research Unit, the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, the Digital Humanities Lab, and the Center of Digital Humanities-Unicamp. Particularly, we would like to thank the researchers Agatha Bloch, Anita Lucchesi, and Joana Paulino. Finally, an especial appreciation to Daniel Alves, who received us at the Nova University’s Digital Humanities Lab. []
  2. Barbara Göbel and Christoph Müller, “Transformação digital, arquivos e assimetrias do conhecimento,” in Desigualdades interdependentes e geopolítica do conhecimento: negociações, fluxos, assimetrias, ed. Eloísa Martín and Barbara Göbel (7Letras, 2018), 132–47. []
  3. Urszula Pawlicka-Deger, “The Laboratory Turn: Exploring Discourses, Landscapes, and Models of Humanities Labs,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 014, no. 3 (September 25, 2020), http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/14/3/000466/000466.html. []
  4. Daniel Alves, “As Humanidades Digitais como uma comunidade de práticas dentro do formalismo académico: dos exemplos internacionais ao caso português,” Ler História, no. 69 (December 30, 2016): 91–103, https://doi.org/10.4000/lerhistoria.2496. []
  5. Jane Winters, “Digital History,” in Debating New Approaches to History, ed. Marek Tamm and Peter Burke (New York ; London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 277–300. []
  6. Mateus Henrique de Faria Pereira and Valdei Lopes de Araujo, “Updatism: Pandemic and Historicities in the Never-Ending 2020,” Journal of Foreign Languages and Cultures 5, no. 2 (December 28, 2021): 090–102, https://doi.org/10.53397/hunnu.jflc.202102009. []

Workshop in Villa Vigoni

by Jaap Geraerts

There’s a wonderful phrase in Dutch: “het nuttige met het aangename verenigen,” which means something like “to unite that which is useful (nuttig) with that which is pleasant (aangenaam).”  Although in general academia tends to be firmly tilted towards the former, occasionally it does happen that the coveted combination of utility and pleasantness is achieved. The week I spent at Villa Vigoni in Menaggio, Italy, together with a number of colleagues in late February/early March 2023, is a particularly great example thereof. „Workshop in Villa Vigoni“ weiterlesen

60 Minutes of DH: eScriptorium for Handwritten Text Recognition in Humanities Research

by Sofie Sonnenstatter

In January, the DH Lab launched its series of (online) events “60 Minutes of DH” with a webinar on the automatic transcription tool eScriptorium.

The monthly events, planned as one-hour long afternoon sessions, are mainly intended for academic staff at the IEG and focus on joint discussions of tools, methods and literature from the field of Digital Humanities, as well as insights into the international project landscape. The goal is to encourage and support researchers when it comes to digital solutions supporting their history- and religion-related research. For this kick-off, however, the invitation was extended to a wider audience and was met with overwhelming interest by researchers from all over Europe.

„60 Minutes of DH: eScriptorium for Handwritten Text Recognition in Humanities Research“ weiterlesen

RESILIENCE – A Research Infrastructure for Religious Studies

by Sofie Sonnenstatter

The IEG is involved in RESILIENCE, a research infrastructure project for Religious Studies and related disciplines, involving twelve partner institutions from ten European countries.

The acronym stands for “REligious Studies Infrastructure: tooLs, Experts, conNections and CEnters in Europe” and the goal is a pan-European research infrastructure (RI) which provides access to sources, research results, expertise and tools for researchers and individuals interested in religion-related topics.

Digital Humanities have been transforming research in Europe and RESILIENCE aims for driving forward the digital turn in Religious Studies by stimulating the applicating of innovative methodological approaches in this field. Digital data and services designed for the needs of transdisciplinary research related to religions will be made available within a single ecosystem accessible for researchers as well as non-academics worldwide. „RESILIENCE – A Research Infrastructure for Religious Studies“ weiterlesen

Calling for data publication workshops in historical research

by Fabian Cremer

This September, an online workshop on the publication of research data in the fields of History, which we offered for the first time, exceeded our expectations. The overwhelming interest, the engaging participants and the smooth flow of the event led us to a better understanding and (three) notable thoughts we would like to share. „Calling for data publication workshops in historical research“ weiterlesen

ConedaKOR-as-a-Service. Über Kontext, Komplexität und Komplikationen

Von Fabian Cremer und Thorsten Wübbena

tl;dr

Der DARIAH-DE-Workshop zu ConedaKOR – einem graphbasierten Datenbanksystem zur Verwaltung und Präsentation von Objektsammlungen – führte neben neuen Entwicklungen der schnittstellenstarken und modular aufgebauten Software über die Anwendungsfälle in der Kunstgeschichte und Maya-Forschung zu grundsätzlichen Fragen in der Software- und Infrastrukturentwicklung für die Forschung:
1. Komplexe Software ist nur für komplexe Projekte sinnvoll.
2. Die Abwicklung der Infrastruktur wird zur Pflicht.
3. Die Voraussetzungen für Software-as-a-Service in der Forschung fehlen noch.
„ConedaKOR-as-a-Service. Über Kontext, Komplexität und Komplikationen“ weiterlesen

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