Methodology as Community: Fostering Collaboration Beyond Scholarly Societies

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Quinn Dombrowski

    Stanford University

  2. 2. Peter Haslinger

    Herder-Institute Marburg - Justus-Liebig-University Giessen

  3. 3. Antonina Puchkovskaia

    International DH Lab - ITMO University

  4. 4. Seth Bernstein

    Higher School of Economics - Moscow State University

  5. 5. Katherine Hill Reischl

    Princeton University

  6. 6. Thomas Keenan

    Princeton University

  7. 7. Natalia Ermolaev

    Princeton University

  8. 8. Yuliya Ilchuk

    Stanford University

Work text
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Literature and history, writ large, are fields with prominent voices in the digital humanities community. Art history, film studies, archaeology, and anthropology form recognizable disciplinary clusters within the international discourse of digital humanities as well. Since the mid-20th century, “area studies” have offered their own interdisciplinary organizing principle for drawing together scholars who work with a variety of materials and approaches. While on one hand, this arrangement would appear to be naturally conducive to international collaboration, geopolitical tensions and restrictions have at times formed a barrier between area studies scholars in the United States, and their colleagues working in and around the “areas” in question. This has been especially true in the field of Slavic and East European studies, which have been knit together in the United States through two major professional organizations that have -- through a combination of circumstance, necessity, and then habit -- cultivated a distinct and somewhat insular scholarly community in Slavic studies.
The fall of the Iron Curtain, the fluctuations in the perceived threat of Russia to the United States, and the spread of the Internet as a medium for communication have provided scholars worldwide with opportunities to engage with Slavic area studies through a global and collaborative lens in ways that were not conceivable earlier in the history of the field. While many U.S. scholars have taken advantage of the possibility to travel to Slavic and East European countries, the scholarly networks of citation and discourse remain centered within the communities formed by the U.S.-based professional organizations.
The emergence of digital humanities tools and methodologies has provided an opportunity for rethinking the collaborative landscape for Slavic and East European studies. Much as in the humanities as a whole, the percentage of scholars in the field actively using digital tools and methodologies is fairly small. For Slavic and East European studies, however, any effort to develop a community around digital humanities is compounded by the comparatively small overall size of the field. Indeed, while there have been efforts to run a digital humanities interest group through one of the major professional organizations, the work of sustaining the group has fallen on one or two people, as there is not enough of a critical mass to spread around the necessary but time-consuming work of cultivating and growing the group. Rather than working within existing scholarly organizational frameworks, some U.S.-based scholars have turned towards international collaboration to further their engagement with digital tools and methodologies. This panel brings together Slavists and East Europeanists from the United States, Western Europe, and Russia whose research, teaching, and infrastructure development is shaped by engagement with colleagues who share similar materials and methods despite widely varying national and institutional contexts. In addition to presenting highlights of their own work, panel participants will reflect on the ways in which digital humanities provides a different organizing principle for their scholarly networks and community.

Cultural Heritage and Critical Multiperspectivity: Building Research Infrastructures on Eastern Europe

Due to the constantly increasing number of digitally available sources, those working in the fields of History and Cultural Studies are faced with a significant challenge, namely, to develop new practices and procedures around the verification of sources and the provision of digital material. Of central importance here are questions relating to the provenance, validity, and critical analysis of sources. These matters are particularly pertinent in the case of East Europe, where transnational conflicts around shared historical and cultural heritage have given rise to a special need for research-based information, digital source criticism, and questions of research ethics.
As a leading European research institute on the history of Eastern Europe, we continue to develop our shared research infrastructure in collaboration with other partners, and we need to keep these goals in mind. This presentation aims at addressing the challenges and opportunities of building up a multi-national infrastructure for a digital and critical documentation of cultural heritage in Eastern Europe. This process involves not only developing research software and a standardized vocabulary, but also mapping out multi-perspective approaches relating to the exegesis of digital sources within metadata structures and, last but not least, providing dialogue-based formats for reflecting on historical sources in the digital age.

Being an Englishman in New York, or How to Launch an International DH Lab in St. Petersburg

DHlab, the international digital humanities lab launched in at our technical university in St. Petersburg (Russia) in October 2018, is dedicated to exploring how technology facilitates new possibilities in understanding society and global culture. This is a collaboration between our institution and a private university in the United States, and intends to draw in partners from DH communities all over the world. In this presentation, we will discuss our priorities when starting a humanities-focused initiative at a technical university. These include 1) the importance of humanistic disciplines in the discourse of Information Technologies, Computer Science and Engineering; 2) motivating women in science; 3) applying STEM methods to Arts and Humanities research problems; 4) managing different approaches while working on digital humanities projects; 5) involving students of different majors and interests in interdisciplinary projects; and 6) highlighting digital humanities among wide audience using social networks. We will share our experience in training the next generation of DH scholars, developing innovative DH projects, contributing to creating useful software, providing women within Humanities and STEM with equal opportunities to conduct interdisciplinary research etc.
We will also discuss one of our most significant projects, a web application that maps historical and cultural heritage data about key landmarks of St. Petersburg, Russia. With input from scholars of history, library science, cultural studies and information technologies, the project team has conducted semantic analysis on a large, multilingual textual corpus that includes memoirs, documentaries and periodicals, and uses Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) to encode information about people, relationships, and events, and Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) to identify locations. All landmarks are being mapped onto an interactive city map of St. Petersburg with a user-friendly interface to facilitate easy navigation and filtering.

Edges of Slavic Studies: Network Analysis of an Areas Studies Field from the Cold War to the Present

This presentation uses DH tools to turn a lens to the Slavic Studies professional community. In 2018, the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) the main North American-based international academic professional organization in the field, celebrates its 70 th anniversary. As part of the anniversary, the association published the programs for thirty-four of its conventions. These programs are a valuable guide not only to individual contributions but to the institutional networks embedded in the Slavic Studies field. This paper uses network analysis to analyze the shifting intellectual motivations and professional ties in Slavic Studies.
Before the fall of the USSR, Slavic Studies was not only an academic field but a front in the Cold War. US government funding motivated by fear of communism also produced works in the humanities with no immediate political value and created a new field of area studies (Engerman 2009). Network analysis can assess Engerman’s qualitative research and go beyond it. After the Cold War ended, Slavic Studies undertook a “post-mortem” of the USSR. How did the constellation of intellectual and professional networks shift? After the financial crisis of 2007-08 that brought cuts in research spending, how did Slavic Studies change? What institutions remained in the field and with what institutional concerns? Similarly, network analysis can help understand early academic reactions to Russia’s more aggressive stance in the world since 2011.
This study can also contribute to understanding how digital humanities is growing in fields outside of Western Europe and North America. By isolating the networks in panels whose papers use relevant keywords (e.g., “digital,” “dh,” “computational”) the paper will ask how the impact of digital humanities has and has not impacted the Slavic field.

International DH Collaboration as Pedagogy

Pedagogy has long been a major topic of interest in the DH community. An opportunity for engaging students in DH that has not been addressed is through involvement in international partnerships. In this presentation, we discuss our institution’s emerging Slavic DH Working Group, our decision to prioritize collaboration with international partners, and our efforts to include both graduate and undergraduate students in our work. As an alternative - or supplement - to the curricular or project-based learning models that are most common in many DH programs, involvement in international partnerships provides not only skills, competencies and exposure to professional practice, but opportunities for cross-cultural knowledge exchange that are key for the advancement of both field-specific and DH scholarship.
The Slavic DH Working Group at our research university is the only one of its kind in the United States. Established in 2017 through the joint effort of faculty, graduate students, librarians and DH staff, the Slavic DH Working Group is a community of scholars at all levels, from various disciplines, and engaged in a variety of professional fields. Promoting the exploration of digital humanities in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the group meets monthly during the academic year for events, trainings, and mentorship . In this presentation, we will discuss our collaboration with a research institute in Germany whose focus is Eastern European history. In the summer of 2018, we took eight members of the Slavic DH Working Group - including two graduate students and two undergraduates - to Germany for a 5-day DH workshop called “Digital Mapping Eastern Europe.” Besides our US group, the workshop brought in early-career scholars from Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Israel. We will discuss how the format of the workshop allowed the graduate students to make significant strides in their dissertation work. The workshop was a unique opportunity for what Geoffrey Rockwell and Stefan Sinclair call “acculturation” (Rockwell and Sinclair, 2012) - not just academic professionalization, but broader exposure to the culture of a field that includes different types of jobs, and in various national and international contexts. We will also discuss the opportunities this experience afforded the undergraduate participants, and the kind of both collaborative and independent work that the workshop generated. By contrast to the more conventional contexts in which undergraduates learn DH - either in the classroom setting or as paid laborers on faculty-led DH projects - participation in the international exchange allowed students to become involved in the community as scholars in their own right.
We will suggest that international collaborations in DH are particularly beneficial for smaller fields like Slavic where use of digital methods are relatively new, and where formal and fruitful international exchange by groups of scholars can difficult to sustain. Bringing DH into the graduate and undergraduate Slavic Studies experience exposes students to new scholarly approaches while animating Russian and East European cultural heritage and collections for young scholars.

Conversational Versus Co-occurrence Models in Networking the Russian Novel

The Russian novel has been traditionally regarded as the novel of ideas, in which the conflicting views on the national identity and Russia’s relationship with the “other” are presented in the dramatized narrative. Especially after Mikhail Bakhitn’s pioneering ideas of dialogism and polyphony of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels, it became common to view the novel as a balanced dramatization of conflicts among polar opposites. In my ongoing research project on the network novel in the late imperial Russian culture, I approach Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s novels as models of an emerging liberal society. These narratives are not merely depictions of individual experiences manifested in text, but also represent complex societies whose imaginary social forms can be quantified and analyzed.
In British and American nineteenth-century novels, a shift occurred between the novel of domesticity and the network novel which exaggerated contrast within texts to expose the search for a resolution in the world outside. This study aims to examine a corpus of Russian novels to see whether they have the same clear dichotomy between a nuclear family type and a social panorama type.
This study takes the approach of comparing the conversational and with co-occurrence methods for collecting data from the novels. The conversational method is based on the participation of the characters in a “speech act,” defined as a continuous span of narrative time featuring a set of characters co-located in space and time, where they take turns speaking, are mutually aware of each other, and each character’s speech is intended for the other to hear. The co-occurrence method uses the automatic extraction of interactions based on the appearance of two characters in one sentence or short paragraph. This study compares networks created in Gephi using each method and argues that the co-occurrence of the characters in one scene does not yield significantly different results compared to measuring associations via speech acts. The relative simplicity of identifying speech acts, versus identifying all instances of speaking and non-speaking characters’ co-location in space and time, makes an approach based on speech acts even more attractive.
Examining the effectiveness of different methods for generating networks from novels has implications for technical developments that can further research in Russian literature. If speech act-based networks reliably capture the nodes and edges of the Russian realist novels, that presents an opportunity to develop algorithms that can identify speech acts with a reasonable degree of accuracy. This, in turn, has implications for corpus development, and ensuring that those corpora are formatted in machine-readable ways (e.g. encoded in UTF-8 and available as plain text files, rather than in proprietary formats). This talk will reflect on experiences, challenges, and successes in sharing corpora and tools with an international group of colleagues who use similar digital approaches in their research on Russian literature.

Rethinking Scholarly Networks Through the Lens of Digital Humanities

Scholarly societies are core social and community infrastructure in the humanities. Presenting at conferences sponsored by these societies is a crucial component for gaining visibility in a field, and bolsters the legitimacy of one’s candidacy for jobs, awards, and other forms of recognition. In North America, these societies are typically scoped nationally, and attending a major annual conference for a society is an expensive endeavor — a situation only compounded for scholars who work interdisciplinarily. The professional necessity of directing significant amounts of one’s travel budget towards these conferences, combined with the limits of their national scope, impede international collaboration, particularly for early-career scholars.
Digital humanities provides a different axis for finding and engaging with colleagues across national boundaries. Particularly for the text-centric scholarship commonly found in literature and history, building corpora is time-consuming and expensive endeavor. Once completed, such corpora can be a transformative resource for colleagues pursuing a wide range of research questions. For scholars whose work involves applying natural-language processing tools to languages other than modern English, there are resources like stopword lists, word embeddings, and pre- and post-processing scripts that can meaningfully be shared between projects.
Collaborative development of tools, resources, taxonomies, and infrastructure that are directly related to Slavic studies is itself a significant step forward for the field -- but in the long run, perhaps the most significant impact of DH-centered collaboration is the “downstream effects” of the relationships established between scholars. Scholarly networks are valuable not only for research collaboration, but also as a source of advice when dealing with institutional challenges, and connections and opportunities for one’s students.
This paper will draw together unifying themes from the presentations given by other panelists and consider the ways in which digital humanities could reshape the current insular, nationally-centered landscape of Slavic and East European area studies in the U.S., and foster the emergence of new international scholarly networks that have an impact beyond the field of Slavic studies itself. It will also reflect on the ways that existing disciplinary scholarly societies could take a more proactive role in breaking down the national boundaries that have emerged through their current structure, for instance, by fully engaging with digital tools and platforms with roots in the digital humanities / scholarly communications communities, such as Humanities Commons.

Engerman, D. (2009).
Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America's Soviet Experts. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Rockwell, G. and Sinclair, S. (2012). Acculturation and the Digital Humanities Community. In Hirsch, B. (ed),
Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Cambridge: UK, OpenBook Publishers.

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