Building the Humanities Lab: Scholarly Practices in Virtual Research

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Charles Van den Heuvel

    AlfaLab - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), Virtual Knowledge Studio for Humanities and Social Sciences

  2. 2. Smiljana Antonijevic Ubois

    AlfaLab - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), Virtual Knowledge Studio for Humanities and Social Sciences

  3. 3. Tobias Blanke

    King's College London

  4. 4. David Bodenhamer

    The Polis Center at IUPUI

  5. 5. Fotis Jannidis

    Julius-Maximilians Universität Würzburg (Julius Maximilian University of Wurzburg)

  6. 6. Bethany Nowviskie

    Scholars' Lab - University of Virginia

  7. 7. Geoffrey Rockwell

    University of Alberta

  8. 8. Joris Van Zundert

    AlfaLab - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Huygens ING) - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

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1. Subject
Our Cultural Commonwealth
, a report of
the American Council of Learned Societies'
Commission on Cyber Infrastructure for
Humanities and Social Sciences, (ACLS 2006)
mentioned the relative "conservative culture
of scholarship" in the humanities and social
sciences (as compared to the natural sciences)
as one of the explanations why researchers in
these knowledge domains might be hesitant
in using the web and other digital resources
for their research.
Before pointing to these
researchers however, we may want to question
first of all the infrastructures and tools offered
to those researchers. Tools and services will
only be taken up if they truly
in their daily work. Infrastructures and tools
offered to humanities scholars should support
concepts and approaches specific to scholarly
practices in humanities research, and, to
that end, the ACLS commission advocates
“working in new ways” by “tools that facilitate
collaboration; an infrastructure for authorship
that supports remixing, re-contextualization,
and commentary—in sum, tools that turn access
insight and interpretation
. [emphasis in
original]” (ACLS, p. 16).
Recently we have seen an increase of
virtual laboratories, which use virtual research
environments (VREs) to facilitate collaboration
among researchers and to promote innovative
use of tools and sources in humanities
Therefore, although traditionally
operating as sites of knowledge production in
the natural sciences, laboratories have started
to develop into loci of scholarly practice in
the humanities too. This shift has also been
reflected in funding agencies’ support to online
laboratory settings; their (re-) allocation of
financial resources is fed by expectations that
more researchers will become involved in digital
and computational humanities, and that the use
of information and communication technologies
(ICTs) in humanities research will lead to new
research questions, methodologies, and ways of
collaborating. However, it is not evident that
the lab analogy can be transmigrated seamlessly
from a science field into the humanities.
Thus far, there has been little critical reflection
on such lab initiatives, although the use of
VREs in the humanities certainly requires and
merits scholars’ attention. Now that a number
of such large scale initiatives have developed,
there is an opportunity to reflect on what
these VREs have achieved and to evaluate
their strengths and weaknesses for humanities
research, as well as to explore ways in which
they should further develop. Therefore this

panel addresses theoretical, epistemological,
hermeneutical and strategic questions emerging
from the use of VREs in digital and
computational humanities in general, and in
humanities research of text and image in
particular. It brings together representatives of
scholarly institutions developing virtual labs,
infrastructures, and tools to advance the study
of text and image in humanities research. The
panel focuses on humanities labs promoting
new scholarly practices in VREs, and within
this broader framework it concentrates on the
following specific themes:
the benefits, challenges and obstacles of
research practices emerging from humanities
research in virtual research environments.
the specificities of generating, analyzing and
sharing linguistic and visual data in online
laboratory settings.
the advantages and barriers of scholarly
collaboration across disciplinary and
geographic spans.
the main features of institutional and funding
policies needed for further development of
digital humanities labs.
technical models potentially driving future
development of local initiatives.
2. Organization of the panel
The research and development team of AlfaLab
—a digital humanities initiative of the Royal
Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
(KNAW)— is the initiator and organizer of
this panel. Panel members include humanities
researchers from KNAW; Digital Research
and Scholarship and Scholarly Communication
Institute at the University of Virginia Library;
POLIS and Virtual Center on the Spatial
and the
Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR).
The panelists are engaged in the study and
development of six different humanities labs
dealing with text and image analyses, which
grants this panel a unique opportunity to
comparatively explore various strategies in
building and using humanities labs, and
to reflect on both theoretical and practical
concerns of that process. In addition, the panel
will critically evaluate —from the researchers'
perspective— the focal themes listed above, and
it will address actions that might be taken to
improve the use of VREs in humanities research.
The panel session will be organized in the
following way:
The panel chair will introduce the main
topic, discussion questions, and the panelists;
duration: 3 minutes;
Each of the panelists will give a short
presentation (6 minutes), followed by
questions from the audience (4 minutes);
duration: 60 minutes;
The themes and questions raised in the
presentations will be further discussed in an
open forum between the panelists and the
audience; duration: 25 minutes;
The panel chair will briefly reflect on future
plans, provide contact information, and close
the panel.
Dr. Tobias Blanke, King's College London
discussing DARIAH
Dr. David Bodenhamer, Director Polis Center
discussing the Virtual Center on the Spatial
Prof. Dr. Fotis Janidis: University of
Wuerzburg (Germany) discussing TextGRID
Dr. Bethany Nowviskie, Director Digital
Research and Scholarship and Associate
Director Scholarly Communication Institute
at the University of Virginia Library -
discussing NINES
Dr. Geoffrey Rockwell, University of Alberta
Joris van Zundert (MA): Department of
Software R&D at the Huygens Institute, Royal
Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences -
project leader AlfaLab, discussing AlfaLab
3. Moderators:
Dr. Charles van den Heuvel (panel chair)
Dr. Smiljana Antonijevic Virtual Knowledge
Studio (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts
and Sciences)

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None