Digital Humanities Summer School at KU Leuven

By Julie Somers

In September, the three day ‘Digital Humanities Summer School’ at KU Leuven, Belgium, offered presentations on a variety of approaches to this field.  From ‘digital scholarly editing’ to ‘digital open scholarship’, the lectures provided insight into the simple and complex aspects of digital research.

Day one began with a very clear overview of the what and how of digital scholarly editing presented by Elena Pierazzo (King’s College London, UK). She began with a seemingly simple question; What is digital scholarly editing? Is it a change of medium? A new methodology? A new discipline? Her answer, ‘It depends.’ In the developing field of digital editions of manuscripts (classical, medieval or modern), the answer to this simple question quite often eludes simple definitions.

Against this backdrop, the first day of the program presented papers and projects that addressed the complications of digital scholarly editing. Caroline Mace (KU Leuven, Belgium) spoke to the need for digital tools that support an historical approach to manuscript traditions, providing ‘more than just images on the web’. She gave as an example Stemmaweb, an analysis and visualization tool developed with the Interedition project. Herman Brinkman (Huygens ING, The Netherlands) discussed the continuing problem of conflicted priorities of both user and editor when creating a digital edition. He presented a digital tool that offers a ‘compromise’ by creating a collaborative working environment on-line, eLaborate.  Franz Fischer (University of Cologne, Germany) discussed the changes from traditional to digital philology, where the digital edition can offer more than the print edition, as evidenced in the project, St. Patrick’s Confessio. At the end of the day another seemingly simple question was posed. Edward Vanhoutte (KANTL, Belgium) and Ron Van den Branden (KANTL, Belgium) asked ‘what is a letter?’ They presented the obstacles of defining elements of correspondence, including the envelope.

The second day presented a different aspect to Digital Humanities; open access, open learning, open content, open, open, open. Gary Hall (Coventry University, UK) presented the keynote to begin the days discussions with another question. His topic, ‘What are the Digital Post-Humanities?’ Hall suggests that it is a ‘mutation of those features that are already part of the humanities’ with a focus on making content openly available for new ways of research. Erik Duval (KU Leuven, Belgium) discussed the power of open data for building new and interesting projects, such as Live!Singapore and the rapidly developing open learning platform of MOOC’s. The focus on open access was reiterated by Cristobal Cobo (Oxford University, UK) who talked about projects that utilize open source (process or product), and open access (research papers) which can generate new ways of knowledge distribution, for example Hastac and figshare. The afternoon’s presentations turned again to the opportunity for open learning that MOOC’s provide, including information on the Leiden Coursera provided by Marja Verstelle (Leiden University, NL). This ‘re-imagined classroom’ was also discussed by Shaun Hides and Jonathan Shaw (Coventry University, UK) who envision open, hybrid and mobile ways of teaching and engaging students.

In all, the presentations showed the opportunities and obstacles that face digital scholarship, including the attempt to define this field. What is Digital Humanities? Or Digital Post Humanities? What is digital scholarly editing? What is a letter? Going back to Elena Pierazzo’s initial answer, ‘it depends.’ Yet, however you define it, it involves open collaboration between user and data.


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