The evolution of the digital, and its intersection with the traditional role of the humanities, has impacted academic and non-academic modes of communication, as well as research practices including collaboration, knowledge dissemination, and engagement. As the scholarly landscape evolves, so does the nature of the institutions, labs, centers, and other places and spaces of research, including those of digital humanities. Engaging with these transformations in knowledge creation, but also continuously expanding and evolving with them, is the Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory (ETCL) at the University of Victoria, Canada. This paper is based on the premise that there is a correlation between the developing knowledge landscape and the structure of an intellectual center, especially when it is committed to ‘open’ values (open access, source, data, knowledge, and others); the development of the former necessarily affects the structure of the latter, especially over time. The ETCL operates in both physical places and virtual spaces; on campus, the ETCL serves as an intellectual research center that facilitates on-campus DH community building and off-campus engagements and networking; it simultaneously operates in physical and virtual spaces through research, skills training, and community-oriented initiatives. While existing in both modes, however, we are conscious not to perpetuate the general criticism that often identifies enclosed places of knowledge production, especially in a university setting and located on campus, as mechanisms of exclusion of the public.
While ‘digital humanities’ has existed in some form or other under various titles such as ‘humanities computing’ for some decades now, Matthew Kirschenbaum in “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” identifies the 2001 debate about the title for A Companion to Digital Humanities (Schreibman, Siemens, and Unsworth 2004) as the inception of the term that amalgamated different modes of scholarly inquiry under ‘digital humanities’ (2010, 55). The ETCL, founded in 2004, falls among the earliest waves of digital humanities labs, and has evolved and expanded in multiple directions in the 14 years since its inception. Earlier this year, select current and past members of the lab came together to formally reflect upon the developments and infrastructural changes of the ETCL. The models that we considered to define the infrastructure of the lab, as well as the mission, mandate, and all ETCL-related work, tie to our values—namely our dedication to: community-driven scholarship that recognizes collaborative models of knowledge sharing; open practices in digital research, production, and dissemination; the intellectual development and well-being of our communities; shared mentorship, accountability, and support, across multiple disciplines, professions, and groups; and inclusive and ethical practices, as outlined in the DHSI Statement on Ethics and Inclusion. These values reflect the ETCL’s main direction over the last years — to understand and practice ‘open social scholarship,’ which builds on evolving modes of knowledge creation and communication, and seeks to create and disseminate research and research technologies to a broad audience of specialists and active non-specialists in ways that are accessible and significant to a broad audience. These are expressed in the three main constituents of the lab: Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Partnership, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), and the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute (C-SKI), that correspond to research, skills training, and community-oriented initiatives, respectively. In our paper, we consider the evolving landscape at the intersection of the digital and the humanities, specifically with reference to the lab place and space of the ETCL. Our research questions are the following: how does a DH lab that is primarily meant as a place and space for creating, enabling, and exploring open social scholarship, put into practice this goal? What type of lab infrastructure model, such as lab as incubator versus lab as branching tree structure, can best facilitate open social scholarship and support ETCL’s projects, present and future? In this paper, our engagement with DH lab infrastructure operates on two levels: 1) lab infrastructure in physical and virtual settings to correspond to and reflect the evolving knowledge landscape and 2) lab practices that engage open social scholarship in physical place and virtual space, across research, teaching and service.
The ETCL is a digital humanities research lab currently led by Dr. Ray Siemens as Director, Alyssa Arbuckle as Associate Director, Randa El Khatib as Assistant Director (Open Knowledge Initiatives), and Luis Meneses as Assistant Director (Technical Development). The lab serves as an intellectual centre for the activities of ~20 local faculty, staff, students, and visiting scholars. Through a series of highly collaborative relationships, the ETCL’s international community comprises over 300 researchers. The ETCL welcomes more than 800 students per year through their organization of the DHSI, and will be hosting its 19th annual training institute in the summer of 2019. The lab also supports the activities of the multidisciplinary INKE Partnership, which has involved over 42 researchers and consultants, 53 graduate research assistants, 4 staff members, 19 postdoctoral fellows, and 30 partners and associates. C-SKI actively engages issues related to networked open social scholarship. Representing, coordinating, and supporting the work of INKE, C-SKI activities include awareness raising, knowledge mobilization, training, public engagement, scholarly communication, and pertinent research and development on local, national, and international levels.
The two main models that are pertinent to the ETCL structure are lab as incubator and lab as tree — to reflect a structure that is at once expanding and dynamic, but that stands on solid ground to provide steady support for expansion. Lab as incubator reflects one of our central values: a nourishing environment. The incubator metaphor also reflects the idea that a lab should be a positive space for growth — in our case, one that has facilitated INKE, DHSI, and C-SKI to develop into their current forms. The second model — lab as tree — represents something living, that grows, and at once serves as foundation and support for new growth. A tree also depends on communication between all of its constituent parts, and more accurately reflects the sub-branches that grow out of, and are the fruits of, the separate branches. Additionally, the tree as a strategy to aid thinking exists in many disciplines, and is often used in computing.
In terms of practicing open social scholarship in the lab place and space, we launched a number of initiatives over recent years. With respect to place, the ETCL is in its third year of hosting the Open Knowledge Practicum Program, consisting of four-month fellowships that support projects proposed by university affiliates and members of the community to be carried out in the lab, which offers some local support. Fellows contribute to Wikipedia and publish their projects in online, public venues, and are also involved in the day-to-day lab life and events on and off campus. The practicum is meant to open ETCL doors to the rest of the university and the larger local community. A global community is also involved in the “place” of the lab annually at DHSI by spending two weeks on campus for the duration of the institute. Many attendees are awarded significant tuition scholarships by DHSI in order to offset the cost of participating in a training intensive. In addition, an open social scholarship course stream seeks to facilitate further knowledge development in this area; so far, DHSI has hosted ten courses in this stream annually, including courses related to open access, public humanities, feminist DH, accessibility in digital environments, queer DH, and other pertinent topics in the contemporary DH landscape. Other forms of community building include speaker series that span practical and theoretical topics related to digital scholarship in interdisciplinary settings, such as the Nuts & Bolts and the Digital Scholarship on Tap speaker series that are open to university and community members. The ‘space’ of the lab has been engaging open social scholarship in numerous ways as well. For example, the annual Open Scholarship Awards for emerging and established scholars in any institution globally recognize contributions to open scholarship through projects or publications. This award is also meant to more appropriately recognize work related to open scholarship in a present scholarly framework where many institutions are yet to formally acknowledge this type of scholarly work. Additionally, the ETCL has authored three bibliographies that engage with the topic of social knowledge creation and open social scholarship. A virtual space for Canadian humanities and social science researchers to connect is the Canadian HSS Commons, an INKE / ETCL project inspired by the Modern Language Association Humanities Commons platform. The Canadian HSS Commons provides a platform that encourages a culture of sharing, accessing, re-purposing, and developing scholarly data, tools, and resources, thereby aiming to provide an open platform for virtual collaboration for scholars working in different institutions.
Through its structure and initiatives the ETCL engages, facilitates, and promotes cross-community digital initiatives in local and virtual contexts by cultivating the practices and values of open scholarship.
Arbuckle, A., Belojevic, N., Hiebert, M., and Siemens, R. G., with Wong, S., Siemens, D.,
Christie, A., Saklofske, J., Sayers, J., and the INKE & ETCL Research Groups. (2014). Social knowledge creation: three annotated bibliographies.” Scholarly and Research Communication, 5(2): n.p.
Arbuckle, A., Belojevic, N., El Hajj, T., El Khatib, R., Seatter, L., and Siemens, R. G., with
Christie, A., Hiebert, M., Saklofske, J., Sayers, J., Siemens, D., Wong, S., and the INKE and ETCL Research Groups. (2017). An annotated bibliography of social knowledge creation.” In A. Arbuckle, A. Mauro, and D. Powell (eds), Social Knowledge Creation in the Humanities Volume I, Arizona: Iter Press, pp. 29–264.
Digital Humanities Summer Institute. 2016. DHSI statement of ethics and inclusion.
Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory. n.d. Open knowledge practicum program. Accessed
May 1, 2019. https://etcl.uvic.ca/okp/.
El Khatib, R., Seatter, L., El-Hajj, T., and Leibel,C., with Arbuckle, A., Siemens, R.G., and the ETCL Research Group. Under development. Open social scholarship annotated bibliography.
Kirschenbaum, M. 2010. What is digital humanities and what’s it doing in English
departments?” ADE Bulletin, 150: 55-61.
Schreibman, S., Siemens, R.G., and Unsworth, J. (eds). 2004. A companion to digital humanities. Oxford: Blackwell.
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