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2. Selection of Survey Participants

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2.1 Defining a Digital Humanities Center

Because digital humanities centers are self-defined entities that exhibit a variety of characteristics and conduct a wide range of activities, it can be difficult to compare them in any meaningful fashion. To guide the selection of a pool of comparable survey participants from these highly variable organizations, a working definition of a DHC and selection criteria were developed.

The working definition was developed after examining several dozen organizations that define themselves as DHCs (or have been defined by others as such) and identifying their missions and the range of activities that fall under their purview. In crafting this definition, the following assumptions were made:

  • A “center” implies a central (physical or virtual, or both) area where a suite of activities is conducted by individuals dedicated to a common mission.
  • “Digital humanities” implies humanities-based research, teaching, and intellectual engagement conducted with digital technologies and resources. The use of these technologies may be prosaic (e.g., using new media to conduct humanities research or enhance teaching) or transformative (e.g., developing wholly new products and processes that transform existing knowledge and create new scholarship).

Working from these assumptions, and from knowledge of the vast array of activities undertaken by DHCs, the following working definition was developed:

A digital humanities center is an entity where new media and technologies are used for humanities-based research, teaching, and intellectual engagement and experimentation. The goals of the center are to further humanities scholarship, create new forms of knowledge, and explore technology’s impact on humanities-based disciplines. To accomplish these goals, a digital humanities center undertakes some or all of the following activities:

  • builds digital collections as scholarly or teaching resources;
  • creates tools for
    –authoring (i.e., creating multimedia products and applications with minimal technical knowledge or training)
    –building digital collections
    –analyzing humanities collections, data, or research processes
    –managing the research process;
  • uses digital collections and analytical tools to generate new intellectual products;
  • offers digital humanities training (in the form of workshops, courses, academic degree programs, postgraduate and faculty training, fellowships, and internships);
  • offers lectures, programs, conferences, or seminars on digital humanities topics for general or academic audiences;
  • has its own academic appointments and staffing (i.e., staff does not rely solely on faculty located in another academic department);
  • provides collegial support for, and collaboration with, members of other academic departments within the DHC’s home institution (e.g., offers free or fee-based consultation services; enters into collaborative projects with other campus departments);
  • provides collegial support for, and collaboration with, members of other academic departments, organizations, or projects outside the DHC’s home institution (e.g., offers free or fee-based consultation to outside groups; enters into collaborative projects with external groups);
  • conducts research in humanities and humanities computing (digital scholarship);
  • creates a zone of experimentation and innovation for humanists;
  • serves as an information portal for a particular humanities discipline;
  • serves as a repository for humanities-based digital collections (e.g., Web sites, electronic text projects, QuickTime movie clips);
  • provides technology solutions to humanities departments (e.g., serves an information technology (IT) role for humanities departments).

2.2 Identifying and Selecting Survey Participants

Dozens of survey candidates were identified from a variety of sources (see Appendix A). Several criteria were used to cull a usable sample from these candidates. Only U.S.-based DHCs were considered because of time and logistical constraints. In addition, the following groups were excluded from consideration:

  • Digital projects. While DHCs often develop and support digital projects, projects developed and supported by entrepreneurial individuals independent of the auspices of a center were excluded from consideration.
  • Libraries, academic departments, or other institutions that function solely as repositories for digital humanities collections.
  • Academic departments that offer a degree-granting program in digital humanities or related areas (such as digital media design or humanities informatics) but do not conduct any other activities (listed above) common to DHCs.
  • Digital libraries (collections of digital resources) or digital library research centers (organizations that develop methods for scanning, ingesting, or otherwise moving print materials to digital form).

Although all these organizations, departments, and projects may be critical components of a humanities center, their singular focus excludes them from being considered a DHC under the working definition developed above.

The remaining candidates were assessed using the working definition as a guideline. Organizations whose missions and goals were consistent with this definition and whose activities included four or more of the most frequent activities conducted by DHCs were selected as survey candidates. These organizations were contacted and asked to participate in the survey. Thirty-two organizations agreed to take part (see Appendix B).


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