No Job for Techies: Collaborative Modeling as an intellectual activity of the analyst and scholar in the development of formal representations of scholarly materials.

  1. 1. John Bradley

    King's College London

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This paper deals presents some thinking about the nature
of the workthat are involved in the development
of digital resources for the humanities; and the participants
in that work. It has become almost a truism among
many in the digital humanities (DH) that digital resource
building is, of necessity, a kind of collaborative activity.
The scholar who is sponsoring the resource brings to the
table the materials that s/he wishes to work with, and
contributes the issues that these materials raise that are
of scholarly importance. However, s/he is not going to
be in the position to grapple his/herself with the myriad
technical matters that arise from using the technology
to represent them. Instead, as this truism goes, s/he
will need technical support to help him/her implement
his/her vision and present it. In this view of things, the
partnership is based on the scholar being responsible for
the content, and the technologist who is given the job of
representing the vision of the scholar. This view of the
resulting partnership is not equal in nature (indeed, the
term ‘techie’, which I hear surprisingly often applied to
the technical person in this kind of partnership, confirms
this), and it is based on the scholar as faculty and the
technician as staff. It is widespread and influences much
of what has been written about the collaboration models
that currently exist. See, for example Zorich 2007-8, or
Michel et al. 2003, in which there is both frequent reference
to “faculty” and “technician”, and where the main
interest in actual intellectual collaboration is not between
the scholar and his technical support, but the different
one which might be developed between academics from
different disciplines (such as between History and a Fine
Arts department, or, interestingly, between a humanities
department and computer science).
The Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s
College London (CCH) operates differently. The first
sign of this is that CCH is set up as a full academic department
within the School of Humanities. Thus, it has a combined teaching and research mission not unlike other
academic departments – although in the case of CCH its
research is based around the Digital Humanities rather
than any conventional humanities discipline. Indeed,
CCH has been able to take creative advantage of the UK
academic context which does not divide its staff quite so
clearly into faculty and staff.
Resources developed at CCH are, of course, still meant
to express the scholarly interpretive inputs of their scholarly
partners, but the work to achieve this is carried out
with extended intellectual collaboration between us and
our discipline partners. Resources that emerge from this
process are something like John Unsworth’s Thematic
Research Collections (Unsworth 2000) – objects defined
by Carole L. Palmer as ‘digital aggregations of primary
sources and related materials that support research […]’
(Palmer 2004, p. 348), even if some of them, for example
the several prosopographies in which we have been involved,
cannot be properly described as ‘digital aggregations
of primary sources’.
Another key difference is in how we name, and therefore
consider, our technical staff. We view our key contributors
(both in the context of XML and TEI, or in the context
of database design) not at technicians, but as analysts,
with significant intellectual input to the projects
they work on. The work that emerges from the scholar/
analyst partnership shares something with the kind of
software design process described by the Scandinavian
Design School (see Greenbaum and Kyng 1991 for an
extensive introduction), who are interested in what they
describe as ‘the sociological and anthropological area of
system design’ (Sissen 1998 p. 11). One of the design
strategies they have identified they call Collaborative (or
Participatory) Design.
For the CCH Analyst the work centers on the central task
of modelling the data (largely in the sense of McCarty’s
view of modelling ( McCarty 2004)). In our resourcedevelopment
projects we try to develop a digital representation
of some significant part of the scholar’s intellectual
model by formalising it. By expressing some part
of the interpretative model in sufficiently formal terms,
the computer – and therefore the digital tools that we
develop to present the materials to end users – can better
exploit it to provide an enriched kind of interaction. This
formal model is wrapped up tightly with the resource
objects that the project delivers, and formally represents
some significant aspects of the scholar’s interpretation
of his/her materials. The modelling task is not so much
one of simply applying an existing model (such as, say,
Dublin Core or even TEI or CIDOC, although these are,
of course, often used as building blocks) to materials of
interest to our scholar-partners, but to develop a model
that specifically represents the interpretative framework
that the scholars themselves are developing.
Furthermore, the resulting model does not emerge solely
from the scholar speaking about what is to go into it and
the analyst writing it down. Instead, the model develops
as a bilateral collaborative activity. The scholar, of
course, brings a deep knowledge of the subject, and in
particular an understanding of where the thorny bits lie.
The analyst, in turn, brings an understanding of formal
methods of modelling and combines this with an experience
of dealing with complex humanities material that
has arisen from other projects in which s/he has participated.
S/he also acts to clarify structures (naming, attributes
and relationships) that are essential to the model.
Out of this comes new understanding for both the scholar
and analyst partners. As Finken (1998) says:
Cooperative Design has […] a central and continual discourse
about egalitarity [sic]. This presupposes that users and designers
enter a work setting of mutual learning, where they are equal
partners; the users are said to be skilled experts, the designers are
technological experts. (p 6)
The amount of work, and exchanging of issues and ideas
in both direction shows that the model is a joint intellectual
product. Our partners sometimes tell us that the
resulting model has ideas sufficiently intertwined from
both the partners that it is not possible to separate them.
Since modelling is both an intellectual activity, and a
collaborative one, at CCH we have found it important
to recognise the work of the analyst as am intellectual
activity that should usefully be considered as research
or at least research-like. Therefore, as with scholarly research
output, the analyst’s work also benefits from the
sharing of it with other professionals. As Finken says
about developers:
The practitioners are not unambiguous developers, designers
and/or technological experts; they are scientific designers, which
implies that they make a living by doing research. This means,
that the scientific designers test different methods, techniques
or theoretical hypothesis during a period of time, and then later
write about their experiences. So besides doing system design,
the designers also address a community of researchers, who also
have interests in the scientific side of system design. (Finken
1998, p. 8)
How, then, could the academy foster an environment
where such intellectual activity can occur? First, it
should provide an environment that sustains these kinds
of intellectual partnerships, and where a kind of peer
relationship between the designer and the scholar is
supported and acknowledged. Second, it should recognise that the work of the analyst contains elements of
research in its own right, and that the analyst needs to be
recognised as a researcher in broadly the same way as
the academic is. In other words, the analyst may not be
faculty, but they are not support staff either.
CCH’s role as an academic department within Humanities,
and the role of its staff analysts and developers as,
at least in part, academic individuals has meant that CCH
is particularly well placed to explore some of these issues.
For example, all CCH staff are encouraged to do
research or research-like work that can result in traditional
outputs such as conference papers or articles.
However, both CCH and the School of Humanities at
KCL are still struggling with some the implications of
this. What, exactly, is meant by research for the modelling
analyst? How can research time be found for the
analyst, and what are the appropriate research outputs
for these individuals? How does this work fit into the
teaching mandate for CCH?
My presentation will draw on examples from our experience
to illustrate how the analyst role, even though technical
in orientation, participates in the intellectual and
academic development of digital resources, and how this
technical work can be made more evidently into an intellectual
one with the potential to appear as research. In
this way, the analyst’s contribution shares, in some ways
at least, many of the aspects of the scholarly output of
our projects’ discipline-based partners.
Finken, Sisse (1998). Truth Is a Thing of This World:
A Foucaultian Analysis of the Discoursive Construction
and Constitution of Cooperative Design. Available
online through
summary?doi= Accessed 7 November
Greenbaum, Joan and Morten Kyng (eds) (1991). Design
at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Palmer, Carole L. (2004). “Thematic Research Collections”.
In Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemens and John
Unsworth (eds), A Companion to Digital Humanities.
Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 348-365. Also
online at
(chapter 24). Accessed 7 November 2008.
McCarty, Willard (2004). “Modeling: A Study in Words
and Meanings”. In Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemens and
John Unsworth (eds), A Companion to Digital Humanities.
Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 254-270.
Also online at
(chapter 19). Accessed 7 November 2008.
Mitchell, William J., Alan S. Inouye and Marjory S. Blumenthal
(eds) (2003). Beyond Productivity: Information
Technology, Innovation, and Creativity. A report for the
National Research Council of the National Academics.
Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press. Pp.
Unsworth, John. (2000). Thematic Research Collections.
Paper presented at the Modern Language Association
Annual Conference, December 28, Washington,
DC. Available online at
MLA.00/. Accessed 7 November 2008.
Zorich, Diane M. (2007, 2008). A Survey of Digital Humanities
Centers in the United States. Council on Library
and Information Resources. Online at http://www.
rept-2008_05_22-for-distribution.pdf. Accessed 7
November 2008.

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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