Contemporary history of Europe

Roundtable Navigating Paradoxes in Digital Humanities

As outlined in the call for papers, the field of digital humanities is marked by a shared aspiration to advocate and push for ethical, sustainable, and inclusive methodologies and approaches, articulated through manifestos, theoretical approaches, and concrete implementations within infrastructures, while it simultaneously grapples with a multitude of individual and collective paradoxes. They extend to various facets of DH, including accessibility and shareability of data, tool selection, team governanceand credit, challenges ofresponsibleopenness, research dissemination, development, business models, sustainability, and uses of digital infrastructures, etc.
To name but a few, here are some of the challenges at stake, pertaining respectively to infrastructural inadequacies, double bind, and apparent paradox: how to make platforms, databases, interactive repositories sustainable, while there are no dedicated fundings to maintenance and while their scientific relevance is jeopardized by short- and medium-term project-based funding schemes? How to open datasets, make them FAIR, and fully valorize interviewees’ involvement as an integral part of our research, while they are rightly increasingly protected by consent forms and data management plans? How to renegotiate the scientific criteria of open access platforms to make them more inclusive of epistemologies of the South and other forms of knowledge?
These issues not only pertain to research practices but are also deeply intertwined with the broader research ecosystem and environment, encompassing relationships with publishers, libraries, funders, and career paths. In the realm of GLAM and cultural digital heritage for example, some paradoxes are also to be discussed: some digital heritage collections were originally conceived without foresight into the future engagement with computational methods. ML computational tools and techniques are used on these collections that were hardly meant for such usage, pushing their boundaries but potentially amplifying bias. Moreover, datasets, grounded in existing metadata, face the dual challenge of both enriching and saturating context. How does one navigate the dilemma of further contextualizing datasets when they are already tethered to a predefined metadata standard like EAD? Furthermore, should and could the FAIR data principles be at the vanguard in shaping the entire digitization pipeline and workflow? This roundtable will foster a reflective dialogue that delves into the achievements and limitations intrinsic to our approaches in DH, to better grasp but also discuss the ways we may bypass and surpass them.
The composition of the roundtable offers various profiles and approaches, bringing together a librarian (Arjun Sanyal, Central University of Himachal Pradesh) and researchers (Simon Dumas Primbault - CNRS and EPFL, Maciej Maryl - Polish Academy of Sciences, Ian Milligan - University of Waterloo, Helle Strandgaard Jensen - Aarhus University, Jane Winters - University of London). The participants encompass a broad spectrum of expertise, ranging from colleagues deeply immersed in the intricacies of open science and research integrity within their institutions (Ian Milligan is Associate Vice-President, Research Oversight and Analysis at the
University of Waterloo, and the campus research integrity lead) to those operating at the European level (Maciej Maryl is the leader of OPERAS Innovation Lab, co-chair of DARIAH Digital Methods and Practices Observatory, a member of SSH Open Cluster Governing Board and DARIAH-PL Steering Board). The roundtable is adorned with the presence of colleagues developing and shaping research infrastructures (Ian Milligan was principal investigator of the Archives Unleashed project between 2017 and 2023; Maciej Maryl leads the OPERAS Innovation Lab), directors of laboratories specialized in digital humanities (Helle Strangaard Jensen is joint director at the Center for Digital History Aarhus; Maciej Maryl is the founding Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Science; Simon Dumas Primbault is coordinator of the OpenEdition Lab; Jane Winters is Director of the Digital Humanities Research Hub, School of Advanced Study) and colleagues dedicated to advancing knowledge in the field of DH, knowledge infrastructures and digital literacy (Simon Dumas Primbault holds the CNRS Junior Professorship in “Open Science in Human and Social Sciences” and was involved in a Unil/EPFL CROSS project - Collaborative Research On Science and Society; Jane Winters has (co-)led a range of digital projects and initiatives, including the new UK-Ireland Digital Humanities Association).
The collective intention is to draw insights from these researchers at the crossroads of theory and practice, seeking to unravel the paradoxes they grapple with. As we embark on this discussion moderated by Valérie Schafer, the aim is to capture the multifaceted nature of the participants’ experiences, marked by a European lens but also enriched by perspectives from beyond the continent (with scholars from India, France, UK, Denmark, Canada, Luxembourg, and Poland).
Discussions will first revolve around illustrating very concrete paradoxes, realities, that may challenge epistemic virtues, like recognition in the field of DH (and more generally in the academic field), limits of inclusiveness, existing asymmetries, epistemic (in)justice and social (in)equity, drawing from the practical experiences of these engaged researchers and librarians. It then aims to explore strategies for addressing and even creatively navigating or hacking these multifaceted constraints.

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