Tracing the Development of Digital Humanities in Australia

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Paul Arthur

    Edith Cowan University

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The field of digital humanities has expanded rapidly over the past decade, with new centres, associations and activities proliferating worldwide, including in Australia and New Zealand. Digital research in the humanities is linking scholars and practitioners across Australasia, Asia-Pacific and globally. In Australia, government policies for research funding and infrastructure, including most recently the
2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap, have acknowledged the importance of digital humanities as a collaborative framework that connects the arts and sciences and is bringing together researchers and information technology experts with collecting institutions and the public to address complex social and cultural challenges in new ways.

This paper traces the development of digital humanities in Australia, with reference to major projects and events leading to the founding of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH). It discusses national exemplar projects, as well as significant activities and initiatives that formed a basis for the Australian field. It outlines the history of the establishment of aaDH as a regional association, reflecting on its directions over the past decade, and describes the parallel development of large-scale infrastructure that has supported the field’s further growth. Looking back, it becomes clear that many projects and activities were pointing in the same direction without necessarily being linked directly, but as they progressed and connected with each other, the dispersed and disparate work across disciplines, institutions and sectors began to cohere with a common purpose—and from this confluence the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) was formed.
A range of large-scale digital projects and events provided the key context and impetus for the development of the digital humanities field in Australia. Projects discussed in this paper include those of the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing at the University of Newcastle; the Archaeological Computing Laboratory (later Arts eResearch) at the University of Sydney; the eScholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne (and its predecessors); the Consortium for Research and Information Outreach (later Centre for Digital Humanities) at the Australian National University;
Design and Art Australia Online;
Paradisec; the
Australian Dictionary of Biography; and the
Trove digitisation and aggregation project of the National Library of Australia. As is the case in many parts of the world, such institutional activities tend to be associated with particular research centres or groups, and are typically collaborative enterprises. There were many centres, teams, projects and individuals that played a part in the long-term development of digital humanities in Australia prior to the establishment of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities. The intention is to provide a representative sample.

The paper highlights the role of foundational projects and events for the development of the digital humanities field in Australia, and in this context, it traces activities of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities as a peak body representing the interests of researchers and connecting them with an international community. aaDH has been active for almost a decade and is now expanding its engagement with the next generation of scholar-practitioners in universities and the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector in Australasia. Meanwhile, since the association’s establishment, the field has expanded exponentially to become a major mode of connection between research communities operating in very different national contexts, serving as a means of global linkage, promoting and opening up possibilities for a higher degree of international collaboration. In Australia, as in other parts of the world, libraries have played a pivotal role in supporting the evolution of digital humanities as a field and set of activities that spans academia and GLAM. National and state digitisation programs led by collecting institutions are increasing researcher and public access to a wealth of otherwise hidden resources.
Institutional projects have helped to determine priorities and interests for the field as a whole and to foster communities of practice. In historical and disciplinary terms, many can be linked directly back to the humanities computing tradition that predated and provided the foundation for digital humanities as it is now known. Leading projects have facilitated cooperation across geographical, cultural and disciplinary boundaries and integrated data in ways that enhance capacity, scale and accessibility. Through these characteristics they have been able to stimulate, generate and support new kinds of research activity. Smaller-scale projects can be equally innovative, and in the Australian context they have also contributed to the expansion of the digital humanities field over time. However, the aim here is to highlight a selection of the most visible and active projects that can be regarded as iconic exemplars. They are large-scale collaborative initiatives that have been influential in the field, and through their high profile and long reach, they have played a significant role in raising awareness of new digital approaches and possibilities.
Linking the examples discussed in this paper is a common theme: they all have the goal of capturing, preserving, building upon and articulating the richness of Australian culture and history for current and future generations. Digital humanities points to a future in which researchers will be able to utilize comprehensive global data from many different sources and countries, and across languages, to form diverse and inclusive infrastructures and methods for data sharing and analysis, to further advance knowledge and understanding and to develop new skills in the broad fields that the humanities and social sciences represent worldwide.


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