MWW Embarks on a Grand Tour

By Stefan Höppner and Timo Steyer

DH methods play an important role in the research projects at MWW. The DARIAH project offers helpful tools to researchers in this area. To learn more about them, MWW researchers Stefan Höppner (Weimar) and Timo Steyer (Wolfenbüttel) embarked on their first “DARIAH-DE Grand Tour” in Göttingen in mid-February 2016. A travel report


Sharing expertise: Timo Steyer und Stefan Höppner (standing at the first poster presentation on the left) learn about the newest DH tools. Photo: Frank Fischer

DARIAH-DE develops Digital Humanities tools and subject-related services in the areas of research and teaching for cultural studies and humanities scholars who work in the digital domain. The German branch of the pan-European DARIAH-EU programme is building a digital research infrastructure for tools and research data, and is developing teaching and in-service training materials in the field of Digital Humanities (DH). In order to inform the research community about these services, the project invited DH researchers to the first “DARIAH-DE Grand Tour” event at the Göttingen State and University Library (SUB).

An invitation that Stefan Höppner, head of the MWW research project “Writers’ Libraries”, and fellow DH colleague Timo Steyer, who is currently building a digital research infrastructure for MWW in Wolfenbüttel, gladly accepted as it would provide them the chance to become better familiar with the applications developed by DARIAH and assess their applicability in their own work.

Both practice-oriented and targeted at DH newcomers

The event featured various research projects based on the motto “Getting to know DARIAH-DE – Sharing expertise – Gaining information – Asking questions”. With a strong practice-oriented focus, the conference was expressly targeted at newcomers to the DH field, which remains one of the fastest growing areas in the humanities.

The venue of the conference, the old St. Paul’s Church dating back to the 13th century, seemed to clash with the modern theme – but only at first glance. Originally the centre of a Dominican monastery, the church served as the premises of the Göttingen Gymnasium following the Reformation. It was there that the SUB took root in the 18th century, a library which has since become one of Germany’s leading institutions in the field of Digital Humanities.

Cluster Carousel and DH Slam

Following a welcoming speech by SUB director Wolfram Horstmann and the DH expert from the Royal Netherlands Academy of the Arts and Sciences Henk Harmsen, an overview of the components and services of DARIAH-DE were presented in a so-called “Cluster Carousel”. This was followed by a two-hour “DH Slam” featuring some 25 short presentations on concrete projects which either use DARIAH-DE services for research purposes or enhance the services of DARIAH-DE itself.

At the end of the day, Friederike Fless, president of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, held a lecture, titled “Digital Humanities: Challenges and Perspectives”. In her presentation, she addressed the enormous changes that DH generally brings to academic practice and provided examples from her own line of work, archaeology. In the evening, the participants were invited to a reception and buffet in the foyer of the old library building.

The second day was devoted solely to project presentations. A poster presentation by DARIAH-DE at ten different stations highlighted various research themes and current applications which they have developed. These covered a broad range of topics, beginning with the development and methods of quantitative analysis of humanities research data, licensing issues, and concepts for incorporating DH into university instruction. Most of these projects were briefly introduced the day before. Now the participants had the opportunity to take a closer look at the posters and discuss the project’s details with the respective researchers.

Adjusted to the needs of MWW

With regard to MWW projects, the most relevant aspects were those pertaining to scientific collections, infrastructure and the application of Big Data in the humanities. In the area of collection descriptions, MWW and DARIAH have had a longer relationship; in October 2015, they established a cooperative partnership. The DARIAH-designed scheme for describing the thematic and technical content of the collections was customised to meet the demands of the DH projects of the MWW Research Association and is now actively used for processing collection descriptions. These collection descriptions, currently under development, will be presented in a MWW virtual research environment.

In the area of infrastructure, DARIAH integrates heterogeneous data sets into its own repository and makes them available for mutual search queries. In view of the ever-increasing mass of data, one of the central questions is how to reasonably present large amounts of data and make them accessible to the research community in the long term. It’s a question which has also come up in the process of building an MWW virtual infrastructure and confirms that cooperation with DARIAH benefits both sides and should therefore be intensified in the future. In any case, the MWW colleagues were certainly inspired by the small “grand tour” to Göttingen.

Stefan Höppner heads the MWW research project  “Writers’ Libraries: Materiality – Orders of Knowledge – Performance” from his workplace in Weimar.

Timo Steyer is a research associate in the MWW project “Digital Humanities” in Wolfenbüttel.