Friday, 20 June 2014

Departments | Centres | Hubs | Networks: Mapping the Digital Humanities

By Amanda Malel Trevisanut

This blog has been adapted from a presentation given on 4 April 2014, at the Methods Models and Meanings Symposium, which was hosted by the Digital Humanities Research Incubator. While it attempts to map the institutional terrain of the digital humanities, it must be acknowledged that this paper is hardly exhaustive. The purpose, rather, is orient newcomers to the digital humanities, and to provide an all important starting point for thinking about how The University of Melbourne might position itself in relation to the burgeoning field.

To that end, it does well to acknowledge that there is more research to be done, and that this overview is Anglo-centric insofar as it focuses on English-speaking centres largely located in the US, the UK, and to a lesser extent, Australia and Canada. It is also worth noting that the digital humanities is a rapidly evolving constellation of departments, centres, hubs and networks, and insights that were relevant at the time the paper was written are likely to become outdated.

This paper is organised under four broad categories that represent the different types of digital humanities institutions that currently characterise the field: departments, centres, hubs and networks. The development of each category has accounted for various factors including axes of inter-disciplinary collaboration, teaching programs, publication outputs, and relationships with internal IT departments and with external stakeholders.


As suggested by the term “department”, this category encompasses those organisations that have been established for a considerable length of time, such as, such as the Department of Digital Humanities at Kings College, London, which has a long tradition of digital humanities research stretching back to the 1970s. Departments are characteristically embedded within their particular academic institution and the international field. They are significant sites of inter-disciplinary collaboration across traditional boundaries, including the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, libraries and IT. For instance, UCLA Center for Digital Humanities nurtures strong links between the Arts and Architecture, Social Sciences, Humanities, Information Studies, and its Theater, Film, and Television departments.

Departments are also characterised by teaching programs incorporating bachelor, masters and doctorate degrees. Summer schools, workshops and short coursework is also common, and the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities will also soon run an open access platform DHOER: Digital Humanities Open Educational Resources. Moreover, Kings College directs their digital expertise toward the provision of a commercial consultancy service.

Computer science and IT researchers assume a central role, which have allowed departments to pioneer new digital tools and methods. UCL has for instance, developed the Bentham Project, Textal and QRator, and metaLAB at Harvard University is launching new experimental modes of publication,  with three new releases in 2014. metaLAB is also is involved in documentary arts and media innovation, such as the creation of multilinear/multimedia documentaries modelled on databases.

Departments have developed productive and enduring collaborations with external stakeholders, particularly public museums, libraries, galleries and other types of archives and repositories. UCL is most prominent in this respect. UCL has capitalised on its location in central London, and has forged collaborative projects with institutions such as the British Museum and the British Library, and which reflect the mutual needs and agendas of all collaborators.

Departments have also harnessed communicative potential of online platforms including twitter, blogs, websites, open access journals. As well as facilitating real time global debate amongst peers, web platforms provide access to digital research projects associated with the department.


The key factor distinguishing centres from departments is their relative youth. That said, they have been around for long enough to establish a stable presence within their respective universities and the international field. For example, research conducted at The ANU Centre for Digital Humanities spans multiple disciplines including visual culture research and visual anthropology; collections-based research; social and environmental history; language, literary studies and linguistics. Its slate of teaching programs is increasing, with the recent incorporation of the second year course Hashtag Communities, into a BA. They also offer MA coursework in digital humanities, digital media methods and visual anthropology. Training and access to digital media resources are also available for grad students.

ANU is also exemplary insofar as IT has a prominent place within the centre, and there is a focus on the development of digital tools, such as OCCAMS (Online Cultural Collection and Management System). Some ANU research projects are in partnership with external organisations, for example AUSTLANG: the Australian Indigenous Languages Database is in partnership with AIATSIS; the PAMBU Collaboration is for the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau and the PNG Department of Agriculture and Livestock.

The web presence developed by centres also often utilise online platforms including websites, which aggregate portals to research projects and blogs. Notably, three scholars within Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln maintain individual blogs cultivating a real time link with the public and international colleagues. The Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities at the LOYOLA University of Chicago holds an annual colloquium and publishes an associated journal.


Hubs provide a physical or virtual space for collocating different research projects across the university, and for facilitating dialogue between researchers who share an interest in the digital humanities. Hubs serve as a node of activity, and functions to improve the visibility and viability of the digital humanities within a given university, thereby allowing scholars to build a profile for their research and providing them with new opportunities for inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Education is serviced based, for example, The Centre for Digital Scholarship at Brown Library University is resourced to provide digital tools, training and research support. Librarians and archivists produce a significant contingent of digital humanities scholarship, and university libraries are key sites for labs designed to optimise research practice. IT researchers and computer scientists are also important collaborators within hubs, working with humanities researchers to develop digital methodologies.

Hubs provide an important precursor to the development of formalised relationships between a university institution and external stakeholders, insofar as members are involved in research projects with cultural institutions. Hubs generally have websites which allows portal access to multiple digital projects via a single interface, for example the Digital Humanities Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. Conferences, symposia and regular seminars are regularly conducted to build the existing research community.


Networks are emerging communities of collaboration between humanities scholars with a shared interest in learning new digital methodologies, investigating digital technologies and using digital tools. These networks seek to connect with more experienced colleagues working within IT departments libraries, and across other disciplines in their academic institutions.

The internet is utilised as a powerful tool of collaboration and communication, helping to build a new research community and facilitate new opportunities for collaboration. For example, University of Toronto hasn’t secured funding so uses a blog as a mechanism for forging a cross-institutional digital humanities community. Seminars, reading groups and meetings are also key strategies for building a cohesive community with a significant profile.

Amanda Malel Trevisanut is an early career researcher with the School of Culture and Communication at The University of Melbourne. She currently works as a research assistant to the Digital Humanities Research Incubator, is a co-convener for THATCamp Pedagogy (Melbourne, Oct 10-11th, 2014). She has recently completed her PhD SBS Independent: Productive Diversity and Counter-Memory.

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