Working with Digital Humanities: Sectoral Concerns and Cross-sectoral Collaborations

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Tue, 11/01/2016 - 15:42

Presentation at the International Digital Humanities Symposium, Linnaeus University, Växjö.


Working with Digital Humanities: Sectoral Concerns and 
Cross-sectoral Collaborations

Isto Huvila
Uppsala University

As an explicitly transdisciplinary idea, digital humanities 
provides opportunities to bring together people and interests 
across the sectors, from a variety of scholarly and practical 
disciplines, and from the society at large. It may not be crucial 
that everyone has an identical understanding what digital 
humanities is if the stakeholders have shared or compatible 
concerns, and practical respect each others priorities. This 
applies to research questions and practical interests as well as 
their projected significance. The compatibility of concerns and 
mutual understanding of each others priorities is not, however, 
something that would be given in a collaboration or dependency 
relation that crosses different disciplines and sectors. To give 
a few examples, problems may occur when developing and borrowing 
digital tools from across contexts to address research questions 
from the humanities disciplines, when the limits of digital 
approaches to address specific questions are negotiated within 
and between contexts, and increasingly, when digital humanities 
researchers are using data provided by and originally produced in 
other sectors and situations. Even if the digital humanities 
literature in general and, to a verying degree, individual 
research projects have emphasised the importance of being 
critical and sensitive to the implications of using borrowed and 
newly developed technologies and understanding the data, so far, 
there is relatively little empirical research on the implications 
of cross-sectoral collaborations. 

The aim of the presentation is to systematise observations on various problems relating to cross-sectoral collaborations in the context of digital humanities. It draws from an empirical study of archaeological documentation practices in Sweden and an analysis of the perspectives the stakeholders of archaeological 
information. Archaeology is an example of a discipline within which the cross-sectoral collaboration has always been significant and has increased in the post-war years due to the heritage legislation that mandates archaeological investigations before land use [1]. At the present, these investigations are producing unprecedented amounts of digital documentation data with a significant scholarly potential. In a large number of countries the majority of archaeological fieldwork is currently financed by land developers as an obligatory exercise regulated by the law. Even if the priorities and wordings vary from one country to another (e.g. [2]), the principal purpose of archaeological fieldwork is to produce an adequate documentation of an archaeological site for future research. In Sweden, the purpose is three-fold (in this particular order) as to document 
an archaeological site, take care of finds, to report and communicate (mediate) the results. Moreover, the documentation material and finds shall be preserved for the future, be scholarly interpreted and placed in a cultural historical context [4]. What is crucial, however, is that the fieldwork itself and where it is conducted is not initiated by a scholarly interest but a need or want to develop land. Further, the financing that is coming from the land developers has an inevitable influence on the priorities of conducting fieldwork, and an interest in a part of the results. 

According to the analysis of the empirical material, a major question for contemporary archaeological practices is how well the current information process is capable providing meaningful information for the different stakeholders and even more importantly, what are its implications to the usability and usefulness of the information, and collaborations between stakeholders in the different sectors. Are the matters of concern 
[3] of the other parties understood by the individual stakeholders and what are the consequences of understanding and not understanding them? Even if the principal conclusion of the analysis so far is that there is much to be done to help the different parties to understand each other and each others priorities in cross-sectoral collaborations, it is equally apparent that many of the significant issues are relatively common organisational and collaborative challenges documented in the literature. They are not specific to archaeology or even to digital humanities.


[1] Jean-Paul Demoule, "Rescue Archaeology: A European View", Annual Review of Anthropology  41 (2012), pp. 611--626.
[2] Kristiansen, Kristian, "Contract archaeology in Europe: an experiment in diversity", World Archaeology  41, 4 (2009), pp. 641--648.
[3] Latour, Bruno, "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern", Critical Inquiry  30, 2 (2004), pp. 225--248.
[4] Riksantikvarieämbetet, "Riksantikvarieämbetets föreskrifter och allmänna råd om uppdragsarkeologi" (2015).


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