Digital history & historiography

User Required? On the Value of User Research in the Digital Humanities

Although computational tools play an increasingly important role in the humanities, adoption of tools by scholars does not always reach its potential. One approach to this problem is user research to uncover the needs of the users. However, it is uncertain whether such user requirements can be generalized to a wider group of humanities scholars, and whether users are able to explicate their requirements for methodological innovation. We ask what the role of user research is in the Digital Humanities by discussing gathered user requirements for two projects. We categorized the requirements as within- or out-of-scope of the projects’ goals, and found a tension between the specificity of humanities’ research methods, and generalizability for a broader applicable tool. With the out-of-scope requirements we are able to map the wider research workflow, showing DH tools will most likely take a spot in the wider workflow, and that it is infeasible to create a tool for the entire workflow that is generic enough for a larger user group. However, the within-scope requirements led to features that were sufficiently generic for the tool to be adopted, also for unintended purposes. These insights show user research has a clear benefit for DH projects.

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