Digital Humanities Laboratories: Communities of/in practice

I’m organising and chairing a panel discussion “Digital Humanities Laboratories: Communities of/in practice” together with Dr Christopher Thomson (University of Canterbury) at the DHA2021, Australasian Association for Digital Humanities Conference “Ka Renarena Te Taukaea | Creating Communities” host by Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand (22-25 November, 2021). You can find out more about the conference programme here

Here, you can register for the conference and join our panel discussion that will be held on Tuesday, 23rd November 2021 at 6.00 pm New Zealand Daylight Time.

The goal of this panel is to discuss the role of laboratories in producing digital knowledge, building the digital humanities community and contributing to work towards greater racial and gender equity and diversity in the field. This conversation is the topic of my forthcoming book collection edited together with Christopher Thomson (Digital Humanities Laboratories: Perspectives on Knowledge, Infrastructure and Culture, Routledge, 2022). We invited therefore five speakers who are also contributors to that volume: Jacquelyne Thoni Howard (Newcomb Institute of Tulane University, US), Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel), James Smithies (King’s College London, UK), Tyne Daile Sumner (University of Melbourne, Australia), Brandon Walsh (University of Virginia Library, US).

Please see the full description of the panel discussion and abstracts on the conference website here.

New article in DSH

I’m excited that my new article “Infrastructuring digital humanities: On relational infrastructure and global reconfiguration of the field” has been published in Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (17 September 2021, Oxford University Press). It is open access so you can read and download it for free here.

Abstract:

How do the power dynamics of actors in digital knowledge production define the contours of global science and humanities? Where are scholars now in their efforts to improve a networked, global academic system based on the values of equal access to resources, inclusive participation, and the diversity of epistemologies? This article intervenes in these questions by discussing social dimensions of global knowledge infrastructure—connection, standardization, and access—to understand the specification and materialization of global digital humanities (DH). As digital practices expand across the world, the DH community struggles to ensure inclusive participation and equal opportunities in developing the field. This article shows that discrepancies in global DH lie at the root of existing infrastructure inequalities. Drawing on science and technology studies, it then argues that in order to overcome these imbalances, the academic community can seek the ‘infrastructuring’ of DH. Infrastructuring is an analytical concept that shifts attention from ‘structure’ to ‘process’ of co-creation in the vein of participatory design that foregrounds public engagement, shared interest, and long-term relationships with stakeholders to create networks from which equal opportunities and new forms of connections can emerge. This would involve building an inclusive network of unique nodes of local communities on top of the global knowledge infrastructure.

Interrogating Global Traces of Infrastructure

I’m pleased to announce the second workshop in the Digital Humanities & Critical Infrastructure Studies Workshop Series, “Interrogating Global Traces of Infrastructure”. The event is organised by King’s Digital Lab, King’s College Department of Digital Humanities, and Critical Infrastructures Studies Initiative (cistudies.org). The workshop brings together leading thinkers in Digital Humanities, Social Sciences, Digital Media, and Information Studies to discuss practices of interrogating global topographies of knowledge, data, and IT infrastructures and their influence on local social, economic, and research conditions. The meeting will take place on 18 November 2021 on the Microsoft Teams platform. Please register now through the Eventbrite.

The first workshop in June 2021 explored the fragility and faultiness of infrastructures that require scholarly intervention at individual, social, and planetary scales. However, interventions at local levels require an awareness of the relationship of infrastructure to global political and economic dynamics. A good example is Google’s plan to build a new underwater cable between the U.S. and Argentina to augment the company’s existing cable investments in the region and call it the Firmina cable (named after Brazilian abolitionist and author Maria Firmina dos Reis). Every day brings new reminders about how we are all part of a larger political and economic infrastructural system. The Covid-19 pandemic has explicitly shown how the concepts of globality and locality are two sides of the same coin. It recalls the famous words by Susan Leigh Star that “One person’s infrastructure is another’s topic or difficulty.”

In this second workshop, we seek to discuss the global dimensions of infrastructure – scale, flow, accessibility, durability, and transparency – and their impact on localized socio-technical practices. This complex topic touches on many aspects of Critical Infrastructure Studies as a practice, including platformisation, global supply chains, public infrastructures, distributed labor, automatization, cloud computing, environment, and the politics of archives. These pressing issues are nontrivial methodologically. Some of the difficulties of studying infrastructure from a global perspective are suggested by the following questions: How can we reveal the global traces of infrastructures in our daily work? How can local case studies be scaled up? What does it mean to study infrastructures at a distance? What is the best practice to obtain and process large quantities of data? How can we identify the “infrastructural endpoints” – the geographical, social, and economic points of disintegration of the global socio-technical system? And, perhaps most important: How can we contest something that happens at a global scale? What can scholars as individuals do to interrogate and envision better global infrastructures?

This workshop is part of my MSCA research project and I’m excited to be the lead organiser of this event. We have a wonderful line-up of speakers! Please check the full program on CIStudies.org and my research website dhinfra.org.

On the Method of the “STS of Documents” in Digital Humanities

I’ve published a new blog post ‘On the Method of the “STS of Documents” in Digital Humanities‘ on my research website dhinfra.org. In that post, I outline my ongoing ethnographic research at King’s Digital Lab and study of documents produced by the lab. Based on the analysis of 40 ‘Feasibility documents’, I have aimed to understand how they inform the lab management work and how they contribute to structuring the digital research process. To this end, I apply the method of the ‘STS of documents’ and analyse Feasibility documents in a manner similar to STS-based studies of scientific labs’ protocols and kits. The outcome of my analysis will be published in the Convergence special issue ‘Critical Technical Practice(s) in Digital Research‘. In the forthcoming article, I intend to show that documents can be studied as ethnographic objects that can help to reveal critical and socio-technical practices entangled with operational methods and local requirements. In the blog post, in turn, I reflect on the lab management and workflow by referring to a research project conducted in collaboration with King’s Digital Lab. You can find the essay here.

Infrastructural Interventions

I’m excited to announce that the registration for the “Infrastructural Interventions” (21-22 June 2021) workshop is open on Eventbrite. Get a ticket now!

This is the first event in the Digital Humanities & Critical Infrastructure Studies Workshop Series organised by King’s Digital Lab, King’s College Department of Digital Humanities, and Critical Infrastructures Studies Initiative (cistudies.org). The event brings together leading thinkers in Digital Humanities to critically interrogate the socio-technical dimensions of infrastructure. Check out the great lineup of speakers (Alan Liu, James Smithies, Laura Mandell, Matthew K. Gold, Susan Brown, Lauren F. Klein, Paola Ricaurte Quijano, Jonathan Gray, David M. Berry), abstracts and the program at the CIStudies website here.

In this workshop, DH theorists will interrogate the nature and fragility of infrastructure at individual, social, and planetary scales, and attempt to reconfigure their nature from social justice, feminist and decolonial perspectives. The following questions will guide us through the discussion: How, precisely, did our contemporary digital infrastructure evolve? How are different actors challenging, contesting and creating alternatives to official data infrastructures? How can DH infrastructure be informed by an analysis of power—and even actively challenge existing power imbalances? How might DH infrastructure reject the hierarchical and other divisions that currently structure DH work? How can digital humanists reimagine and rebuild the world differently through infrastructure?

This workshop is part of my MSCA research project (dhinfra.org) and I’m thrilled to be the lead organiser of this wonderful event!

Infrastructure as the Origin of Inequities

I have recently participated in the Global Digital Humanities Symposium organised by Michigan State University, US. You can find the abstract for my talk “Infrastructure as the Origin of Inequities: A Case of Global Digital Humanities” below and slides presentation on my research blog dhinfra.org. More details can be found on the MSU Global DH website here.

Infrastructure as the Origin of Inequities: A Case of Global Digital Humanities

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an exceptional time that forced society to shift everyday life to online spaces and create provisional forms of doing and acting. It has prompted a narrative of a compressed and connected world in a Zoom meeting. The pandemic outbreak, however, has also disclosed long-standing and deep structural inequities that run along demographic, geopolitical, and infrastructure fault lines. I argue that this is a good time to reconsider some of the pressing questions: How do the power dynamics of actors of knowledge production (e.g., information infrastructures, digital libraries, and publishers) define and materialize the contours of global science and humanities? Where are we now in our efforts to improve a networked global science and education based on values of equal access to resources, inclusive participation, and the diversity of epistemologies?

In this presentation, I aim to reflect on global dimensions of knowledge infrastructure to understand the specification and realization of global digital humanities – the branch of digital humanities (DH) focused on the global development of the field and representation of the DH community. I propose to look at the social side of the aspects of infrastructure – connection, standardization, and access – to comprehend the global configuration of DH. Along with the expansion across the world, DH communities face issues of unequal participation and opportunities in developing the field. I aim to show that discrepancies in the global development of DH lie at the root of existing infrastructure inequalities. Drawing on the field of science and technology studies, I argue that in order to overcome these imbalances, the community can seek to practice “infrastructuring” global DH; this means to build an inclusive network of unique nodes of local communities on the top of the geopolitical system of knowledge infrastructure.

Laboratory ethnography during a pandemic

On my research blog dhinfra.org, you can find my new post “Laboratory ethnography during a pandemic: On temporality, instability and co-production“. I reflect on methodological and ethical challenges of doing an ethnography during these difficult times. Drawing on my ethnographic study at King’s Digital Lab, I have produced the following principles for approaching a laboratory ethnography during a pandemic: permanent temporality, planned spontaneity, a mixture of work and home, and instability of environment. These preliminary concepts reveal the strangeness of the contemporary moment that makes it difficult to apply standard ethnographic methods. The strangeness of these aspects, unsettling now, might however become an intrinsic part of an emerging new type of “post-pandemic” ethnography we don’t know yet. I also argue that a pandemic situation can help to disclose knowledge about the community and workplace that otherwise would remain hidden and unnoticed. Critical situations can say a lot about labs’ culture and community. This is the time for sharpening a sensibility for things that are exposed: care, trust, and collectivity. Further, I pose the following questions: How do workplaces re-prioritize their work in light of challenges? What is the most important goal for a lab during the crisis? What does a lab do to reconcile individual concerns and management requirements to “keep the lab going”? How is a “lab culture” evinced in strategies adopted in the face of an emergency? These set of questions might become part of the methodological guidance for the ethnography of laboratories in unstable times. You can find the essay here.

“DH Lab” book

I am excited to share that my book “Digital Humanities and Laboratories: Perspectives on Knowledge, Infrastructure and Culture”, I am editing together with Dr Christopher Thomson (University of Canterbury), has been accepted by Routledge. The collection will be published as one of research titles in the Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities series.  

The book on “lab studies” in digital humanities (DH) aims to explore the connections between DH, labs, technology, knowledge, and culture. Following the rich tradition of laboratory studies in science and technology studies (STS), we propose to discuss the concept of DH labs from a broad range of perspectives: epistemological, infrastructural, technological, socio-cultural, and critical. The purpose is to make the discourse of the 1970s/1980s a starting point for reflections on how to interrogate the organisational structures of DH, and what can be offered to STS in terms of analyzing a lab from a new, critical perspective. 

This collection will also reflect on the ways labs contribute to digital research and pedagogy as they emerge globally amid varied cultural and scientific traditions. It’s been particularly important to us to bring together a global range of authors to ensure a diversity of perspectives. Our contributors come from various institutions from Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, Taiwan, the UK, and the US. They include established scholars in the DH, heads of DH labs, practitioners from the GLAM sector, and scholars working at the intersection of DH, the history of science, cultural heritage studies, and software engineering. 

This is wonderful news and I am very much looking forward to working on this publication!

dhinfra.org

I’ve recently launched a research blog dhinfra.org related to my ongoing Marie Skłodowska-Curie project. I’ll share there my activities and outputs of this research and also publish posts about digital humanities infrastructure, scholarly knowledge production, and methodological approaches to the study of infrastructure.

What is happening behind the text?

I have joined King’s Digital Lab (KDL) as a Marie Curie Research Fellow to conduct an ethnographic study of digital humanists at work, combined with a critical analysis of local infrastructure. KDL is a unique lab that is made up of Research Software Engineers (RSEs) who work on technical research solutions for conducting digital research in the humanities and social sciences. What a RSE-based digital humanities lab can tell us about humanities knowledge production?

As this is my research problem, I don’t know the answer yet. What I suspect is that in order to understand how DH knowledge is created, one must get into the substrate of DH work – the technical infrastructure layer of producing and providing devices, software, and tools. By starting ethnographic work from the underlying substance of DH work we might be able to comprehend how the production layer determines the process of reasoning and also how it embodies critical insights into the socio-technical world. 

You can find out more about my research in my blog post “What is happening behind the text?” published at King’s Digital Lab website. I reflect on the importance and methodological challenges of the study of knowledge production in the digital/humanities and the method of going behind the text to map the complexities of knowledge creation.