Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Museums, Libraries, Archives and the Digital Humanities - get involved!

The short version: if you've got ideas on how museums, libraries and archives (i.e. GLAM) and the digital humanities can inspire and learn from each other, it's your lucky day! Go add your ideas about concrete actions the Association for Computers and the Humanities can take to bring the two communities together or suggestions for a top ten 'get started in museums and the digital humanities' list (whether conference papers, journal articles, blogs or blog posts, videos, etc) to: 'GLAM and Digital Humanities together FTW'.

Update, August 23, 2012: the document is shaping up to be largely about ‘what can be done’ - which issues are shared by GLAMs and DH, how can we reach people in each field, what kinds of activities and conversations would be beneficial, how do we explain the core concepts and benefits of each field to the other? This suggests there’d be a useful second stage in focusing on filling in the detail around each of the issues and ideas raised in this initial creative phase. In the meantime, keep adding suggestions and sharing issues at the intersection of digital humanities and memory institutions.

A note on nomenclature: the genesis of this particular conversation was among museumy people so the original title of the document reflects that; it also reflects the desire to be practical and start with a field we knew well. The acronym GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) neatly covers the field of cultural heritage and the arts, but I'm never quite sure how effective it is as a recognisable call-to-action.  There's also a lot we could learn from the field of public history, so if that's you, consider yourself invited to the party!

The longer version: in an earlier post from July's Digital Humanities conference in Hamburg I mentioned that a conversation over twitter about museums and digital humanities lead to a lunch with @ericdmj, @clairey_ross, @briancroxall, @amyeetx where we discussed simple ways to help digital humanists get a sense of what can be learnt from museums on topics like digital projects, audience outreach, education and public participation. It turns out the Digital Humanities community is also interested in working more closely with museums, as demonstrated by the votes for point 3 of the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH)'s 'Next Steps' document, "to explore relationships w/ DH-sympathetic orgs operating beyond the academy (Museum Computer Network, Nat'l Council on Public History, etc)". At the request of ACH's Bethany Nowviskie (@nowviskie) and Stéfan Sinclair (@sgsinclair), Eric D. M. Johnson and I had been tossing around some ideas for concrete next steps and working up to asking people working at the intersection of GLAM and DH for their input.

However, last night a conversation on twitter about DH and museums (prompted by Miriam Posner's tweet asking for input on a post 'What are some challenges to doing DH in the library?') suddenly took off so I seized the moment by throwing the outline of the document Eric and I had been tinkering with onto Google docs. It was getting late in the UK so I tweeted the link and left it so anyone could edit it. I came back the next morning to find lots of useful and interesting comments and additions and a whole list of people who are interested in continuing the conversation.  Even better, people have continued to add to it today and it's already a good resource.  If you weren't online at that particular time it's easy to miss it, so this post is partly to act as a more findable marker for the conversation about museums, libraries, archives and the digital humanities.

Explaining the digital humanities to GLAMs

This definition was added to the document overnight.  If you're a GLAM person, does it resonate with you or does it need tweaking?
"The broadest definition would be 1) using digital technologies to answer humanities research questions, 2) studying born digital objects as a humanist would have studied physical objects, and or 3) using digital tools to transform what scholarship is by making it more accessible on the open web."

How can you get involved?

Off the top of my head...

  • Add your name to the list of people interested in keeping up with the conversation
  • Read through the suggestions already posted; if you love an idea that's already there, say so!
  • Read and share the links already added to the document
  • Suggest specific events where GLAM and DH people can mingle and share ideas/presentations
  • Suggest specific events where a small travel bursary might help get conversations started
  • Offer to present on GLAMs and DH at an event
  • Add examples of digital projects that bridge the various worlds
  • Add examples of issues that bridge the various worlds
  • Write case studies that address some of the issues shared by GLAMs and DH
  • Spread the word via specialist mailing lists or personal contacts
  • Share links to conference papers, journal articles, videos, podcasts, books, blog posts, etc, that summarise some of the best ideas in ways that will resonate with other fields
  • Consider attending or starting something like Decoding Digital Humanities to discuss issues in DH. (If you're in or near Oxford and want to help me get one started, let me know!)
  • Something else I haven't thought of...

I'm super-excited about this because everyone wins when we have better links between museums and digital humanities. Personally, I've spent a decade working in various museums (and their associated libraries and archives) and my PhD is in Digital Humanities (or more realistically, Digital History), and my inner geek itches to find an efficient solution when I see each field asking some of the same questions, or asking questions the other field has been working to answer for a while.  This conversation has already started to help me discover useful synergies between GLAMs and DH, so I hope it helps you too.

Update, November 2012: as a result of discussions around this document/topic, the Museums Computer Group (MCG) and the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) worked together to create 5 bursaries from the ACH for tickets to the MCG's UK Museums on the Web conference.