Global Perspectives on Critical Infrastructure and the Digital Humanities Lab

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Matthew Nathan Hannah

    Purdue University

  2. 2. Sarah Connell

    Northeastern University, United States of America

  3. 3. Maya Dodd

    FLAME University, India

  4. 4. Tunde Ope-Davies (Opeibi)

    University of Lagos

  5. 5. Nadezhda Povroznik

    Perm State University, Russia

  6. 6. Brad Rittenhouse

    Georgia Technical University, United States of America

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As Digital Humanities has evolved globally, the infrastructural demands for lab spaces have become of paramount importance. This panel applies a critical lens to the question of infrastructure for building and sustaining the DH lab. Each panelist represents a lab space with particular challenges and opportunities, and we hope to delineate key differences and similarities in the design, management, and mission of the DH lab as a theoretical and practical matter. Theorizing our labor as lab designers, managers, and directors requires an orientation toward infrastructure—a humanities infrastructure—which is an essential component of the digital humanities lab. This panel attends to various components of material and cyberinfrastructure which impact our lab spaces directly. Each panelist analyzes their space within very different contexts, but we hope to generate synergies across national, conceptual, and disciplinary boundaries, exposing both the tensions and similarities among our various spaces.

We see our particular cluster of infrastructural concerns as reflective of what Alan Liu, Urszula Pawlicka-Deger, and James Smithies (2021) articulate as the burgeoning field of “critical infrastructure studies,” which has “emerged as a framework for linking thought on the complex relations between society and its material structure.“ For those of us developing DH labs, such a theoretical orientation provides important optics for assessing the DH lab model we have inherited. In this sense, “critical” refers both to the indispensable systems we rely on to maintain labs and, at the same time, the evaluative and reflexive perspective we hope to develop through dialogue with one another and with conference attendees. In our experience, the DH infrastructures we support reflect Sheila Anderson’s (2013) call to “view infrastructure as a material and experiential presence that is embedded in the practices and experience of research,” and each panelist theorizes this presence within and across the spaces represented on this panel.

Such attention to the material infrastructure animates our own work on the presence and persistence of the Digital Humanities lab as a physical space and social hub. In this account, the DH lab represents both unique infrastructural formations and deformations within the broader network of university resources and staff and, at the same time, an aggregate of inter- and multidisciplinary research, teaching, outreach, and collaboration. The particular nexus between the social and the material, which energizes the field of critical infrastructure studies, also vivifies our own thinking about the present—and future—of the DH lab. And as we confront the infrastructural instabilities of the post-COVID academy, we must critically assess and respond to worsening austerity.

Sarah Connell (Northeastern University)

Critical Infrastructures for Conscientious Work: A Case Study

Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks currently comprises 41 faculty members, seven graduate Fellows, two faculty co-directors, and one half-time staff position. Most of the large-scale coordination of the NULab falls to the staff role, but, as these numbers suggest, much of the local organization and day-to-day work of the NULab is done by the graduate Fellows. This paper will share strategies for building effective infrastructures in labs that rely primarily on graduate labor—and will also discuss some challenges that remain. Lab infrastructures and their labor models are a pressing concern in DH, as indicated by the fact that the “laboratory turn” and invisible labor have been the focus of two recent special issues in
Digital Humanities Quarterly
(Graban et. al., 2019; Oiva and Pawlicka-Deger, 2020). Critical attention to infrastructures can mitigate the exploitative aspects of graduate labor while ensuring that the lab itself runs smoothly. The NULab focuses considerable effort on training and documentation, following a model of social knowledge creation in which Fellows are equal partners in planning and decision-making. There are challenges associated with this model that even the best-designed infrastructures cannot eliminate: for instance, Fellows are always positioned as students first and employees second, which means that lab operations sometimes need to be recalibrated. This paper will share the specific tactics the NULab has developed, consider how these might be adapted in other contexts, and take up some of the questions that large-scale reliance on graduate labor raise for the digital humanities as a field.

Maya Dodd (FLAME University)

“What’s Missing?” : On Critical Digital Infrastructures in India

While it has been noted that infrastructures are central to the practice of digital humanities, it is also true that limits to the digital make infrastructures for DH labs in India particularly fragile. As anthropologist Akhil Gupta (2018) states, infrastructures “are a process [not a thing] that is characterized by multiple temporalities [and] open futures.” Affording DH/dh project work in India is often a function of both imagination and infrastructure. The structural exclusion of the non-English speaking is a defining impediment to DH labs in India, and we see how this frames institutional possibilities of curation and distribution. Mostly, extant usage of digital tools rests on the overall systemic conception of access, via English. The need to develop infrastructures across several Indian languages and to examine the need for open access resources (such as virtual labs) might offer some possibilities to combat existent shortages. For DH labs to scale up in India, an exploration of what is yet possible would also need to contend with historical barriers that stand out here. To name some, 1. The barrier to accessing higher education in languages beyond English that structures the research ecosystem, 2. The fact that access to an indigenous publishing system with reach and inter-operable legitimacy and use is absent, and 3. The historical impediments for both students and faculty to global access, funding and exposure (due to expense). Since neither connectivity nor robust funding can be assumed, even in the formal education settings of Indian Universities, to imagine DH labs, tools and resources in India also necessitates the consideration of offiine techniques. In India, digital affordances need to be imagined beyond known DH lab infrastructures of the global North.

Matthew N. Hannah (Purdue University)

Building Towards a Humanities Infrastructure

Building a sustainable infrastructure for Digital Humanities at a predominantly STEM university presents unique critical challenges in retaining an emphasis on transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research while, at the same time, securing space for a humanities that is potentially undervalued. In building a space, one must consider the critical mission of the lab in advancing and supporting both digital scholarship in general and humanities scholarship in particular. As James Smithies (2017) points out, the humanities have already developed extensive and global infrastructure: “There is strong reason to argue that the humanities already have a larger cyberinfrastructure than the science and technology communities, one that is more global, more connected, and more complex in both technical and epistemological terms.” But how might this humanities infrastructure develop vis-a-vis existing STEM infrastructure in the development of Digital Humanities? Are there potential overlaps between the two and what are the potential drawbacks to redeploying STEM resources for humanities projects? This paper maps the disciplinary topography of existing infrastructure at a predominately STEM institution and provides strategies for leveraging such resources for explicitly DH spaces and projects. Despite the paucity of material resources for DH within certain zones of the university, the presence of neutral spaces within the Libraries and School of Information Studies have enabled fruitful transdisciplinary collaborations, which have extended to the development of unique mixed-use spaces.

Tunde Ope-Davies (Opeibi) (University of Lagos)

The Role of Infrastructure and the Future of DH Labs in Emerging Spaces

As the growth of Digital Humanities (DH) continues to generate greater excitement among scholars across the globe, the provision and sustenance of critical infrastructure to drive and escalate this momentum appears to constitute some concerning component. It has thus become necessary to establish a more pragmatic approach between theoretical optimism and practical reality in order to reassess the challenges confronting DH Labs especially in emerging communities of practice. This presentation therefore examines the existing and inescapable systemic tension among the various interacting variables in this space such as the availability of material infrastructure, institutional support, human capital resources, capacity building initiatives, affordable relevant technologies and social forces which potentially impact the growth of DH initiatives in these emerging spaces, with more focus on Nigeria and the sub-region. The paper thus speaks to the key role of critical infrastructure in promoting and sustaining DH Labs that may [in]-directly influence the potential transformative power of DH beyond the fields of humanities.

Brad Rittenhouse (Georgia Technical University)

Diversity and Sustainability through Infrastructure

Laboratories are often culturally gendered and racialized spaces associated with competitive and exhibitionist performances of technical “expertise,” assigned uninterrogated value as sites of production and innovation, and operate with clique membership. These constructs serve as barriers to a range of potential lab participants who may not recognize themselves or their interests in the generic image of a lab. The tech world has traditionally been set up by white men in ways that ensure (mostly) white men succeed. Moya Bailey (2011) details this problem in DH, noting that the field tends toward whiteness and maleness, requiring structural change beyond the “add and stir” method of adding diversity. In the presentation, Rittenhouse will speak about his experiences using lab infrastructure and other strategies to increase DEI in a research and service lab setting. The presentation is based on experience as a lab manager of a grant-funded DH makerspace at an R1 technical institute, a setting which at times can exhibit many of the aforementioned DEI shortcomings. Rittenhouse will present institutional diversity numbers, which fall short of national and local demographics in many areas, and detail strategies to nearly double diversity figures in most major categories over the past five years. These efforts include intentionality in funding and supporting projects from diverse researchers, incorporating inclusive language and practices into hiring and recruitment efforts, and planning events and outreach focusing on issues of diversity to sincerely and meaningfully transform the community of a lab to one that is more inclusive, equitable and, ultimately, sustainable.

Nadezhda Povroznik (Perm State University)

Growing DH Center: From Zero to Shared Infrastructure

The Center for Digital Humanities at Perm University was established in 2016 based on the Laboratory of Historical and Political Informatics and its rich background. Various projects implemented in the Laboratory, including history-oriented systems (Kornienko, Gagarina, and Povroznik, 2021), could benefit from digital infrastructures for optimization of research tasks and processes. The Center's activities have not been related to investing in the development of digital infrastructure for a long time, since most of the projects have been grounded on open services or free platforms for educational organizations or cultural heritage institutions. For example, SketchFab is such a platform that has been used by the Center for publishing 3D models of digitized objects from the collection of the Museum of History. The specificity of the Сenter has become the growing interdisciplinarity of projects. In 2020, the Сenter became part of the ARTEST project. One of the tasks of the project is to create a virtual laboratory, a shared space for co-creation activities during the courses of Master Programs in Digital Humanities. Another contemporary trend is convergence and networking with the other labs and centers within the university. The Perm University develops
Priority 2030,
a Strategic Academic Leadership Program and the shared digital infrastructure for the humanities and “hard” sciences is under discussion. During the panel, the issues of the acceptance, adaptation, and choosing the appropriate models of the digital infrastructure for the DH center’s growth will be discussed.


Anderson, S. (2013). What are research infrastructures?
International Journal of Humanities & Arts Computing: A Journal of Digital Humanities
7 (1/2): 4–23. doi:10.3366/ijhac.2013.0078.

ARTEST project. Virtual Platform. URL:

(accessed 20 April 2022).

Bailey, M. (2011). All the digital humanists are white, all the nerds are men, but some of us are brave.”
Journal of Digital Humanities
1(1). ve-by-moya-z-bailey/ (accessed December 6, 2021).

Graban, T., Marty, P., Romano, A., and Vandegrift, M. (eds.) (2019). Invisible work in digital humanities.
Digital Humanities Quarterly
.. 13.2. 2019.

Gupta, A. (2018). The future in ruins.
The Promise of Infrastructure
. Anand, N., Gupta, A., and Appel, H. (eds.). Durham: Duke University Press.

Kornienko S., Gagarina D., Povroznik N. (2021). Historical information systems: Theory and practice. HSE Publishing House.

Liu, A., Pawlicka-Deger, U., and Smithies, J. (2021). CFP: Critical Infrastructure Studies, (accessed 20 April 2022).

Oiva, M. and Pawlicka-Deger, U. (2020). Lab and slack: Situated research practices in digital humanities.”
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Smithies, J. (2017).
The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern
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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website:

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO