The Digital Humanities Observatory: Building a National Collaboratory

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Susan Schreibman

    Digital Humanities Observatory - Royal Irish Academy

  2. 2. Jennifer Edmond

    Trinity College Dublin

  3. 3. Dot Porter

    Digital Humanities Observatory - Royal Irish Academy

  4. 4. Shawn Day

    Digital Humanities Observatory - Royal Irish Academy

  5. 5. Don Gourley

    Digital Humanities Observatory - Royal Irish Academy

Work text
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The Digital Humanities Observatory (DHO) was established
to support digital humanities research in
Ireland, and to manage and coordinate the increasingly
complex e-resources created in the arts and humanities
throughout the island. The DHO, founded in 2008, has
in its first year begun to implement a plan of support focusing
on three main issues: encouraging collaboration;
providing for the management, access, and preservation
of project data; and promulgating shared standards and
technology for project development.
The DHO sits solidly in the family of recent international
initiatives seeking collaboration, sharing, and preservation,
that signal a shift in perspective in the digital humanities
environment from a project based (digital silo)
approach to one in which the scholarly resources we
create are linked, interoperable, reusable, and preserved.
Collectively, we have entered a new phase of human and
technical infrastructure development. An overview of
just a few events from the past few years will serve to
put the establishment of the DHO in perspective.
In April 2007 The National Endowment for the Humanities
sponsored a meeting gathering some 60 representatives from US digital humanities centres and institutes,
and funding agencies that support their work, to discuss
short- and long-term priorities and to encourage collaborative
opportunities. The result of this meeting was
centerNet, “an international network of digital humanities
centers formed for cooperative and collaborative action
that will benefit digital humanities and allied fields
in general and centers as humanities cyberinfrastructure
in particular.”
In February 2008 the Mellon Foundation-backed initiative,
Project Bamboo, began a series of workshops to lay
the groundwork for the building of an international infrastructure
(technical, social, and institutional) to tackle
the question, “How can we advance arts and humanities
research through the development of shared technology
services?” Unlike the NEH-sponsored meeting that led
to the development of centerNet, which drew attendees
solely from established digital humanities centers and
institutes, the Bamboo Project participants are pulled
additionally from humanities departments, IT support,
libraries, and administration from each attending organization.
These groups are not the traditional practitioners
of digital humanities, and Project Bamboo represents a
distinct opening up or “popularization” of the field within
academia. (
At the same time Project Bamboo was launched, the EUfunded
Interedition: An Interoperable Supranational
Infrastructure for Digital Editions (funded as a COST
Action February 2008-April 2012) was launched “to
promote the interoperability of the tools and methodology
… for digital scholarly editing and research.” Interedition
and projects like it have the potential to serve
both established digital humanities practitioners, such
as those represented by centerNet, and those new to the
field, such as participants in Project Bamboo. (http://
Slightly later in the year, in September 2008, the Council
on Library and Information Resources published a white
paper, “No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries
for the 21st Century,” which sets forth recommendations
for collaboration between and among faculty, librarians,
and IT professionals.
Conceived in 2004 and with the official kick-off meeting
in October 2008, DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure
for the Arts and Humanities), a network of fourteen
partners in ten European countries, is working to develop
infrastructure to support the preservation of cultural
heritage in Europe and improve access to research material
for the humanities. Currently in a preparation phase,
the project will begin in 2010. (
Despite the momentum in international collaborative
ventures, only a month prior to the April 2007 meeting,
the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council withdrew
funding for the Arts and Humanities Data Service
(AHDS) from March 2008, despite the fact that the 12
year old network of digital humanities centres of expertise
was one of the oldest and most well-respected national
infrastructures in the world (press release: http://
The withdrawal of funding from the AHDS came just
as researchers in Ireland were in the final phases of conceiving
the DHO. While those writing the grant realized
that they did not want to foster the model prevalent in the
early to mid-1990s of the when digital humanities was
coalescing as a discipline, i.e. the lone scholar model
modified to encompass a small team of postgraduates
and technical staff, frequently employed by a digital
humanities centre. A model moe in keeping with other
international initiatives previously cited was needed:
one that reaches across national boarders to encourage
shared infrastructures, frameworks, and ontologies. Thus
the Digital Humanities Observatory, a national digital
humanities centre based in Dublin, Ireland, was founded
in 2008 as a response to international developments and
to a national need for digital humanities infrastructure
in Ireland.
The Digital Humanities Observatory
The DHO was created as part of a larger national infrastructure
entitled Humanities Servicing Irish Society
(HSIS). HSIS is comprised of five of the six Universities
in the Republic of Ireland (National University of
Ireland, Galway; National University of Ireland, Maynooth;
Trinity College Dublin; University College
Cork; University College Dublin), the two Universities
in the North of Ireland (Queens University, Belfast and
University of Ulster), and several institutions of higher
education in the Republic (College of Art and Design,
Dundalk Institute of Technology, St Patrick’s Teacher
Training College, Royal Irish Academy).
These institutions came together as a result of a funding
call from the Higher Education Authority under
the Programme of Research in Third Level Institutions
(PRTLI). HSIS was awarded €28,000,000 in August
2007 to build a joint national platform for the coordination
and dissemination of humanities research, teaching
and training at an all-island level. This is probably the
single largest award to the humanities in the world to
date. Of that €28,000,000, some €18,000-20,0000 is for
capital funding. A majority of the remainder, however,
is being invested in digital humanities projects, training, and development.
The DHO is the centrepiece of the HSIS collaborative.
It was founded to be a collaborator on national digital
humanities initiatives, a centre of excellence, forward
looking but cognisant of past humanities and digital humanities
practice, and positioned to become a player in
international initiatives.
These extremely ambitious goals are being carried out
against a backdrop of changing expectations in the roles
of digital humanities centres; changing expectations
about the resources we create and the nature and rewards
for those intellectual products; and a realization that their
long-term viability and reusability must be designed for
in the very earliest stages of project conception.
To fulfil these goals, the DHO is developing three distinct
but integrated technical infrastructures. The first of
these is a Portal, which is the public face of the DHO.
Built on the content management system, Drupal, it not
only provides information about the DHO, its activities
and its partners, but features community spaces allowing
the Irish academic community, as well as those interested
in the work produced by that community, to stay
The second deliverable is a database entitled Digital Research
and Projects in Ireland (DRAPIer). This projects
and methods database (modeled on the UK’s ICT Methods
Database), also implemented in Drupal, provides
a publicly-accessible framework for the discovery of
digital humanities project in Ireland. Administratively,
DRAPIer has equally important functionally. It allows
us to identify projects at risk and to intervene before the
content is lost to the academic community. It provides a
national snapshot of the depth and breath of digital humanities
research in Ireland, funding sources, and methods
The third deliverable is an access and preservation repository
based on Fedora. This repository will provide
public access to digital humanities resources created by
the HSIS partners. This infrastructure, currently under
development, is possibly the most ambitious IT deliverable
of the initiative. Some of the resources created
by HSIS partners will reside directly in the DHO’s Fedora
instance, others will be federated in other Fedora
instances maintained by DHO project partners. The interoperability
of these frameworks is based on shared
content modeling within Fedora.
By creating resources in which the underlying data share
some level of interoperability, based on common content
modeling, shared ontologies, named authority lists, and
metadata standards, the DHO expects to provide a level
access to a variety of heterogeneous resources having
both an eye to the future in their long-term preservation,
as well as an eye to the past, in providing access a wealth
of Irish cultural heritage, and well as the research of Irish
scholars, to a wider audience.
Making primary resources of Irish studies, as well as
the research of Irish scholarship more widely available
is particularly important for disciplinary studies areas
typically labeled as ‘minority’. It can be extremely difficult
for postgraduate students outside of Ireland or the
handful of Irish studies centres outside Ireland to obtain
access to the materials they need, further discouraging
research in these areas. Digital publication has the ability
to change this, leveling the playing field between
area studies and more resourced areas such as British or
American Literature.
Our panel will consist of four presentations on the political,
cultural and technical aspects of the foundation and
work of the Digital Humanities Observatory. We envision
this presentation being of value to other countries
and regional areas wishing to implement a similar multiinstitutional
centre. Edmond is on the DHO Consultative
Committee and was one of the authors of the PRTLI
proposal. She will describe the needs behind the DHO
and the thoughts behind its initial foundations. Schreibman
will introduce the DHO as it is today, and describe
its place in the political and cultural landscape of Ireland
and introduce some of the projects that have benefited
from its support. Porter will discuss the development of
the controlled vocabulary that supports DRAPIer and the
standards that support the access and preservation repository.
Day will demonstrate the Portal and DRAPIer, and
will discuss how these deliverables in particular serve
the growing community of digital humanities scholars
in Ireland.
Digital Humanities Centers Summit: Notes from the
NEH-hosted summit meeting of digital humanities centers
and funders, April 12-13, 2007<https://apps.lis.uiuc.
ummit>Accessed 14 November 2008
centerNet <>
Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) <http://
aspx> Project Bamboo <>
Interedition: An Interoperable Supranational Infrastructure
for Digital Editions <>
Council on Library and Information Resources, “No
Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the
21st Century,” August 2008 <
Scholarly Communication Institute 6: Humanities Research
Centers. University of Virginia, July 13-15, 2008.
Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities
Digital Humanities Observatory (DHO) <http://www.>
Humanities Serving Irish Society (HSIS) <http://www.> ICT Methods Database <>

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

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