Close this search box.
Close this search box.

next section in this report >> |   previous section >> |   report contents >>

4.1 General Background

4.1.1 Physical and Virtual Locations

All the DHCs in the survey have physical and virtual locations, but some centers are more rooted to the “brick and mortar” than others because of the nature of their activities, operations, and governance. Consortia and membership-based centers (such as the Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching [MERLOT] or the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory [HASTAC]), by contrast, operate largely through virtual space because their members are geographically dispersed and can gain access to primary resources only in this manner. These centers’ facilities are used largely by the administrative and technical staff who manage the centers rather than by the members or partners.

University-based centers do not have the issue of dispersed memberships who need access to common resources because the centers’ primary partners (researchers, staff, and students) are located within physical proximity of each other. While activities take place in both the physical and virtual locations, the physical site is more than an administrative office or server location: it is the hub of the center’s activities.

4.1.2 Research Domains

Some DHCs address the full range of humanities disciplines, while others focus on one or more humanities discipline(s) that form the core of their scholarly or pedagogical pursuits (e.g., design and culture in Islamic societies). The research domains of the surveyed centers can be categorized as follows:

The humanities (and beyond): Centers whose research domains encompass all of the humanities (and frequently the interstitial areas between the humanities), the social and natural sciences, the arts, and technology. Many are interested in crossing the boundaries between these areas to address what one center characterized as “the big human questions.”

Discipline-specific: Centers that focus on particular disciplines within the humanities or social sciences, or both, such as history, English, literature, art history, or architecture.

Humanities pedagogy: Centers concerned with teaching and instructional methods for learning in the humanities. These centers may have a specific disciplinary focus (e.g., teaching languages or history) or may explore aspects of pedagogy in digital environments (e.g., writing and literacy in new media environments).

Experimentation: Centers that explore new methods of creativity or that challenge existing notions about cultural products in a digital arena. These centers develop and nurture experimental or experiential activities in such areas as digital art and performance, the changing nature of literacy in a networked culture, or re-envisioning the book in a digital environment.

Although DHCs may emphasize one domain, it is the nature of the humanities enterprise that nearly all venture into other areas at some point. A center with a discipline-specific domain, for example, may incorporate pedagogical components into its projects (e.g., using technology to teach history). Conversely, a center whose focus is multimedia literacy may explore this area within the context of an undergraduate course in classics.

4.1.3 Founding Dates

The oldest center in the survey was founded in 1978, the newest in 2005. The mean year of founding for the sample is 1992; the median and mode are 1999. However, founding dates are misleading because they are based on different definitions of what activity marks a center’s inception. Some DHCs mark their founding date as the year they received research center status at their university (i.e., the equivalent of their “incorporation”). Others use the date of the first digital humanities project that set them on the trajectory toward becoming a full-fledged center. The date for the oldest center in the survey reflects its founding as a traditional humanities center that has now undertaken digital humanities initiatives.

4.1.4 Founding History

Digital humanities centers arise from a variety of circumstances. Frequently, a single event launches a larger process that results in the formation of a center. One such event has been characterized as the “key discussion.” Whether in the guise of a formal meeting or a casual conversation, many centers were formed because a faculty member discussed the idea with a receptive dean, a provost, or an outside funder who offered startup monies.

Grants have also been an impetus for the creation of centers, albeit indirectly. Many digital projects initially funded by grants developed beyond their original intent, generating other projects and activities. Eventually, a decision was made to organize all these activities under one formal structure (a “center”) for greater strategic management.

Some centers emerged from a campus-wide humanities or pedagogy initiative. These initiatives came from the highest administrative levels of the university (often the office of the president), and included a DHC as one component of a broader strategy to promote the humanities on campus.

Still other DHCs had their origins in computing service units within a university. Over time, campus IT centers or humanities computing facilities may have found themselves moving from a role as purveyors of technology services to incubators and managers of digital humanities projects. In time, their original purpose is subsumed by these other activities, and a restructuring occurs that acknowledges and sanctions their new role as a DHC.

The academic entrepreneur also plays a role in the startup of centers. HASTAC emerged in this way, as did the Perseus Digital Library. Equally important are the efforts of the prolific digital humanities scholar who initially organizes a center to meet his or her immediate needs but that, given the collaborative nature of digital humanities, organically grows to encompass the digital scholarship and research of others.

However, the reality behind the founding of DHCs is more complex than these circumstances imply. A grant, a strategic discussion, or an entrepreneurial individual may be a stimulus, but the process from idea to implementation is protracted and often occurs in an unstructured way rather than through any long-range planning. It is fueled and sustained through continual fund-raising, wider efforts to solicit buy-in around campus, and greater reaches that move the idea in a stepwise progression from project (singular activity) to program (long-term activity) to center (multiple activities).

4.1.5 Mission Statements

Convention dictates that mission statements should be short, jargon-free, and understandable by a lay reader. They also should address three questions:

  1. What is the organization’s purpose?
  2. How does it achieve this purpose?
  3. What principles or values guide its work?

DHC mission statements do not always adhere to these guidelines; instead, they represent an eclectic mix of content, form, and varying levels of clarity. They all address the purpose of their organization (Question 1), and most include descriptions of how they accomplish their work (Question 2). The principles or beliefs that guide DHCs (Question 3) are less frequently and less clearly expressed.

When one examines the mission statements in detail, a wide range of purposes (Question 1) is evident. DHCs want to do the following:

  • create global communities of scholars, students, professionals, and the public engaged in humanities questions;
  • share experience, resources, and dialogue;
  • challenge or rethink traditional assumptions about learning, literacy, or print media;
  • promote and advance disciplines, civic engagement, interdisciplinary research, creative uses of technology, and public understanding of humanities issues;
  • explore the way digital technologies are changing scholarship, particularly in work processes and products;
  • harness digital technologies for scholarship, teaching, and public service;
  • provide funding, infrastructure, and technical assistance needed for digital humanities to thrive;
  • become environments for experimentation (e.g., incubators or think tanks) that develop scholarly or pedagogical work and foster emerging fields;
  • gain efficiencies by leveraging infrastructure and expertise;
  • create tools, digital content, standards, research approaches and methodologies, learning and development environments, projects, and globally networked resources;
  • bridge gaps between humanities, art, and scientific disciplines; pedagogy and technology; and technical innovation and humanities concerns;
  • democratize and revitalize disciplines for diverse audiences; and
  • collaborate across disciplinary “divides” (e.g., humanists, artists, and social scientists with computer scientists and engineers).

The centers achieve these goals (Question 2) through the following activities:

  • providing resources (funding, staffing, tools, space, access to experts, publishing outlets) and support services (technical, grant-writing, administrative);
  • offering opportunities for dialog (forums, lectures, presentations, events, conferences) and learning (courses, workshops, online training);
  • developing and managing projects and research agendas;
  • offering collaborative, partnership, and community-building opportunities;
  • creating services, applications, networks, digital collections, and primary source materials;
  • assessing technologies;
  • conducting outreach to faculty, researchers, students, teachers, and the general public;
  • consulting for the academy, industry, business and educational communities;
  • serving as an intermediary for dispersed humanities activities; and
  • preserving digital materials.

The principles and values that guide the centers’ efforts (Question 3) were identified as follows:

The enduring value of the humanities, particularly faith in humanistic traditions and in the importance of the liberal arts; belief that the humanities have a vital contribution to make in the contemporary world; and honoring the rich legacy of culture.

Collaboration and cross-disciplinarity, particularly the importance of transcending divisions between the arts, sciences, and humanities; between the academy, industry, and culture; between practitioners and theorists; and the value of interdisciplinary research.

Openness, in the form of the free flow of ideas; transparency in work and practice; a progressive intellectual property system; and greater access to source material for the study of the humanities.

Civic and social responsibility, particularly, developing a citizenry of critical thinkers; presenting a democratic understanding of the past; emphasizing the importance of historical, visual, and multimedia literacy; reaching out to the general public; working with poorly resourced partners (e.g., organizations in developing nations); and understanding the social and political consequences of digital technology.

Questioning sacred cows by rethinking traditions and challenging assumptions, and according equal value to both theory and practice in digital humanities.

4.1.6 Constituencies

DHCs serve six major categories of constituents:

  1. members of the university community, such as faculty, students (undergraduate and graduate), postdoctoral and faculty fellows, and administrators;
  2. the broader research and scholarly community outside of the DHC’s university or parent institution, such as visiting researchers or international scholars;
  3. the education community, including K-12 teachers and students, as well as university instructors; this community often is divided further by discipline (history, science, and English teachers) or grade level (middle and high school teachers);
  4. disciplines, professions, and professional interests, such as communities defined by discipline (classicists, linguists, historians), profession (artists, writers, or librarians), or mixed groups of professionals (e.g., architects, urban planners, designers and others interested in the built environment) brought together by a common interest;
  5. corporate entities, such as cultural heritage institutions, research centers, international standards organizations, and business and industry; and
  6. general public and community groups.

Some DHCs describe their respective constituencies broadly by their content focus (e.g., anyone who uses historical maps) or need (e.g., digital humanities practitioners who lack traditional support systems). Others (e.g., those interested in exploring the discourse in electronic literature) apply broader, more cerebral descriptions because they have found their constituency to be so diverse that it defies standard categorization.

4.2 Governance

Thirty of the DHCs surveyed are governed within a university infrastructure, and two are independent organizations. An important distinction exists between how a center is governed and how it operates. Two of the university-governed centers operate as membership DHCs, i.e., they run a large digital repository of content for a special community of members who have a common interest in the resources of the repository. The members help in the operation of the center (e.g., by contributing content, serving on committees and editorial boards that vet resources, or managing projects). However, these centers are largely governed by universities, not by the membership. Other centers are under the leadership of their founders; they operate in a university environment and receive in-kind support in the form of infrastructure, but are overseen by their founders with little apparent governance by university administration. With the exception of one independently governed DHC, all the centers surveyed are not-for-profit entities, or are housed within a larger nonprofit organization (e.g., a university).

4.2.1 Reporting Structure/Place on Organizational Chart

The directors of DHCs under university governance most often report to an academic or administrative dean of a school, college, or division at the university. The next most frequent “direct report” is to a university vice president or provost, followed by the chair or faculty of the department in which a center is physically located. One center is unusual in that its director has no formal reporting line but instead several staff report informally to various deans, a primary funder, and the university president. Another reports to the university’s chief information officer. Of the two DHCs that are independent organizations, one director reports to a board of trustees, and the other to the center’s funders.

In reality, most DHCs often have primary, secondary, and unofficial reporting lines. They may, for example, officially report to their department chair and indirectly report to the dean of their college. Those who report to a dean may also have a special reporting arrangement with the provost. Some centers split reporting between academic and administrative deans because the work of the center has financial or programmatic ties to both groups. A surprising number of centers have, in addition to their formal reporting requirements, loose or nominal arrangements of courtesy reporting to campus administrators and departments.

For centers operating in a university environment, the location of the center on the university’s organizational chart is often determined by the circumstances of its origin. If a center was created within an academic department, it is usually located with that department on an organizational chart. If its genesis was among partnering faculty located in different departments, the center may be placed at a higher level, within a college or school or division. Multicampus units may fall under the chancellor’s office of the university system or the office of the president on the campus where the DHC physically resides.

Seven centers have been relocated on their university’s organizational chart at some point in their history. Sometimes the change was brought about by the center’s own growth: as the center grew, it began encroaching too heavily upon the resources of its original home unit (an academic department, for example), and thus was moved under the administration of another, larger-resourced area of the university. In a few cases, centers were moved as part of university-wide restructuring.

Centers located in universities are referred to under many different administrative categories by their parent organization. They may be labeled a “program,” an “independent unit,” or a “unit” within a particular department; a “research program,” an “independent research center,” or an “organized research unit” within a particular school; a “research center/program/lab” or “center” at the university; or a “multicampus unit” in a state university system. Interestingly, some DHCs can be located neither from a search of their university’s Web home page nor on the pages of the site that list university departments, units, and programs. Digital humanities centers that do appear on such lists usually are labeled as “research centers” or “research programs.”

4.2.2 Ancillary Groups Involved in Governance

In addition to being subject to governance of individuals, departments, or schools, DHCs are often subject to oversight by ancillary groups. These groups provide assistance in the form of advice or review, oversight of budgets and programs, or disciplinary expertise.

Ancillary governing groups go by many names (e.g., advisory councils, steering committees, administrative boards) but perform duties in the following areas:

  • providing advice on planning, policy decisions, and ad hoc issues;
  • serving on grant-selection and review committees;
  • fund-raising;
  • representing DHC programs around campus;
  • reviewing programs, budgets, and progress on projects;
  • providing feedback from faculty;
  • clarifying the DHC’s mission and activities; and
  • brainstorming ideas, projects, and research areas.

The groups may be convened on an ad hoc basis (the norm) or at regular intervals. Members may be formally appointed to serve by a dean or provost or informally selected by the DHC director and staff. For official appointments, a DHC director may make recommendations to the senior official who is responsible for the appointments.

Individuals who serve on these groups are often selected on the basis of their involvement in the center (e.g., past partners, members, current staff). However, it is equally common to find members with no prior center affiliation. Such individuals are selected because they have the disciplinary expertise, financial acumen, or administrative experience that the center lacks.

Terms of service for members of these groups tend to be open ended. Only seven DHCs have term limits-ranging from one to five years-for their committees. Members generally serve until they choose to resign.

4.3 Administration

Unlike governance, administration focuses on the day-to-day operations of an organization. These operations are conducted by a center director and staff rather than overseeing groups. In the case of consortia or membership-based DHCs, members also may assist in these administrative duties.

4.3.1 Staffing

Determining DHC staffing levels is an inexact undertaking. While the number of staff at a center may range from 2 to 51 individuals, DHCs count their staff in different ways. Some include undergraduate and graduate students, especially when these individuals are responsible for large portions of a center’s work. Others include only full-time staff, and still others count faculty who are only loosely affiliated with the center. The numbers also fluctuate greatly from year to year because many positions are funded by soft money.

Staff positions are found in the following areas:

Business and Administration
-Office managers, administrative assistants
-Business managers, accountants, chief financial officers
-Development officer and grant administrators
-Communications and publicity staff

Center Management
-Directors, codirectors, and associate, assistant and executive directors
-Project managers and coordinators

Content Production
-Producers, production assistants
-Content developers, writers
-Creative directors, content directors
-Film, video, and audio managers

Education and Outreach
-Coordinators of educational and professional development programs
-Directors of educational partnerships and planning
-Directors of assessment, outreach, and marketing of educational programs and services
-Directors of academic programs
-Education technology coordinators (crossover with IT positions)
-Education consultants

Facilities Management
-Building and operations managers and staff

Information Technology
-Coordinators of academic technology, Internet development
-Chief technology officers, technology directors
-Systems programmers, software engineers, database administrators, information architects
-Web site developers, Webmasters, Web application developers
-Providers of instructional support or client services; managers of new media labs, technology “evangelists”

Library, Archives, and Information Science
-Traditional and digital librarians
-Metadata specialists and catalogers
-Audio and digital archivists
-Digital media producers

Research and Scholarship
-Scholars, curators, visiting researchers and professors, research associates
-Directors or coordinators of research projects or fellowships programs

-Editors, managing editors, Web editors, copyeditors, review editors

-Student assistants assigned to various roles as needed

Staff positions are funded in a variety of ways. Graduate student labor may be supported by an assistantship from the student’s academic department, or may be a “joint share” between the center and the department. At state universities, staff members often are state employees and are paid through state budget lines. Some center staff members are funded entirely by other departments, projects, grants, or special discretionary funds provided by university administration. For centers located within an academic department, staff members may be shared by agreement between the department chair and the center director.

A small number of center staff work from remote locations. One DHC’s entire programming team is distributed around the United States and Eastern Europe. Another center has staff members located in countries where it has its international programs.

4.3.2 Reporting Structures

DHCs reporting structures are determined largely by the number of staff and the range of programming. Such structures are of two major types. Centers with relatively small staffs and a more singular program focus have a less formal structure, with staff reporting directly to the center director or assistant director.

Centers with midsize to large staffs and diverse programming have a hierarchical reporting structure in which lower-level staff report to middle- or upper-level staff who, in turn, report to the director. Staff in the middle reporting layer may be divided by service area (e.g., network services report to a chief technology officer), by function (e.g., programmers report to a head programmer), by project area (e.g., project staff report to a project manager), or by an incremental series of reporting levels (e.g., teams report to team leaders, team leaders report to an assistant director, and the assistant director reports to a director). Some centers have codirectors who share management duties and provide coverage for one another during travel periods or sabbaticals. A significant amount of “dotted-line” reporting also takes place between directors and the chair or faculty of academic departments participating in DHC projects.

However, even the most rigid reporting structures have some measure of fluidity. For example, staff may sidestep their direct-report levels if they have an administrative issue, or they may have opportunities (such as staff meetings) where they report directly to upper management. One DHC characterized its reporting structure as a “soft hierarchy” because the official university reporting lines were not rigidly applied by the center.

4.3.3 Shared Appointments

Academic Faculty
Ninety-two percent of university-based centers have staff with faculty appointments in other academic departments. These appointments may be in traditional humanities departments, the social sciences, engineering departments, and the arts. (For a full list of departments affiliated with centers in this survey, see Appendix D.) Most of these appointments include teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities within the faculty members’ respective departments.

Of 47 joint positions identified, 88 percent are fully funded by the academic department (not the center). The academic department usually offers joint appointees some form of compensation for the extra duties they assume on behalf of the centers. The most frequent form of compensation is release time from teaching. Release time may be apportioned by percentage (i.e., 50 percent teaching, 50 percent center work) or by courseload reductions that vary from one course every second year to one course every semester. Other forms of compensation include summer compensation, overload compensation, and stipends. Compensation arrangements are negotiated individually and can vary within departments. Center directors, for example, may receive more release time than other joint appointees at a center.

Presumably, those departments that offer some form of compensation to joint appointees do so because they value the appointees’ work at the center. However, not all departments are so generous: a few allow teaching-release time only if the joint appointee can compensate the department for his or her unavailability (which can sometimes be done using center or grant funds). One center turns the tables even further, by requiring its staff (who are center funded) to give their teaching monies to the center to offset the loss of their time on center activities.

A small number of joint appointees receive no allowances whatsoever for their dual department/center duties. These individuals agree to the extra workloads because they believe their scholarly interests and the interests of the center are best served by their involvement. Compensation comes in the form of the intangible rewards they receive for teaching, research, and scholarship.

Joint center/academic department appointments are often specified in contracts that may be reconsidered at various intervals. Tenure-track faculty, for example, may request that their contracts reflect more teaching and less center work as they approach their tenure-decision year. Similarly, a center and academic departments may alter their entire compensation formula for faculty as the center’s offerings gain traction and additional faculty time is required by the center.

Administrative Faculty
Although rarer than academic faculty appointments, shared appointments also occur between the centers and various administrative departments and research centers. Administrative faculty, such as deans or library directors, may have full or provisional affiliations with centers. Senior scholars and research scientists (the latter often from campus computing centers) may also have joint arrangements. Because these individuals usually do not have teaching responsibilities, course-release time does not figure into the equation. Instead, these positions are supported by the administrative department or research center, or by a cost share between the center and the department/research center.

4.4 Operations

A center’s operations include the activities it undertakes, the decision-making processes it undergoes, and the measures it uses to assess its work. An understanding of center operations clarifies how the center is run and managed, and the issues it encounters as it strives to implement its agenda.

4.4.1 Activities

Digital humanities centers undertake the following range of activities.

Centers develop and host events such as lectures, conferences, seminars, or performances for the purposes of fostering collegial relationships and promoting discourse. Events may address humanities themes or technological developments. Although some events (such as conferences) are intended for a specific professional community, many are open to entire university communities and often the general public as well.

Product Development
The products developed by DHCs range from traditional materials, such as print publications, to less-tangible items, such as virtual environments. To gain insight into the wide range of products DHCs offer, it is useful to organize them by function:

  • Teaching materials and resources, such as online repositories of learning materials, teacher “toolboxes,” and online tutorials on various technology topics;
  • Digital workspaces, such as wikis, blogs, and virtual environments used for teaching, creating art, or exploring virtual worlds. These workspaces use Web 2.0 tools that are developed by others but are offered by the centers to users for their project needs;
  • Publications, such as online newsletters and e-journals, white papers and articles, textbooks, and guides on topics such as scanning, text encoding, and best practices for digital projects;
  • Tools, such as plug-ins, conversion tools, authoring and organizations tools, media annotation tools, and desktop versions of digital libraries; and
  • Miscellaneous products, such as exhibits (physical and virtual), documentary videos, podcasts, and Webcasts.

Programs are long-term efforts that incorporate many singular activities for the purposes of a larger objective, such as the creation of a digital library, a collaboration, or a professional development curriculum. DHCs programs include :

  • Development and incentive programs, such as workshops and seminars for teachers on how to bring scholarship, technology, and learning methods into the classroom; rewards programs that acknowledge individuals and groups whose contributions have furthered a disciplinary area or enhanced the work of a center; and seed grants to assist in the startup of digital humanities projects;
  • Digital humanities research projects-projects that use innovative technologies and approaches in humanities research, such as 3-D modeling projects like the Digital Roman Forum;
  • Compilations for research and teaching, such as the Willa Cather Archive and the Walt Whitman Archive;
  • Projects that explore technology for humanities teaching and learning, such as the Visual Knowledge Project and the Learning Design Studio; and
  • Academic programs that offer degrees, honors programs, research fellowships, and residency programs (See Section 4.4.2).

Although DHCs do not define themselves as service organizations, a review of their offerings suggests that service plays a large role in their operations. These services include :

  • Consultation to the academic, cultural, nonprofit, government, and corporate communities on issues as diverse as digitization, project management, and learning initiatives;
  • Facilities management for new media and language learning laboratories, classrooms, and help desks;
  • Technical infrastructure support for digitization in the field, building and maintaining hardware and software infrastructure for online communities, and designing and implementing digital laboratory environments;
  • Web and Internet support such as hosting, storage space, site mirroring, and Web site development;
  • Preservation assistance, such as archiving inactive projects, workspaces, or images; and developing migration plans,
  • Management and administration services, such as project planning, brokering services, administrative support (office assistance and grant administration), and providing administrative “homes” to related groups;
  • Educational and pedagogical services, such as assessments of curricula, teaching, and educational programming; staff development in humanities instructional methods; and course and curriculum design;
  • Technical assistance, such as metadata encoding, digital resource design, statistical analysis, hardware/software support, media digitization, and prototyping new technologies;
  • Training on the use of various multimedia, center-developed resources and materials and instructional technologies; and
  • Digital humanities expertise and advice on national trends, best practices, and academic and peer review for digital humanities projects.

4.4.2 Teaching and Other Pedagogical Activities

Digital humanities centers strongly believe they have an obligation to nurture and train the next generation of digital humanities researchers, scholars, and professionals. Since the primary route for such training occurs in colleges and universities, pedagogical activities at this level are critical. Courses, degree programs, internships, graduate assistantships, and fellowships constitute the building blocks of a larger effort to train individuals in digital humanities scholarship.

Academic Programs
Four of the DHCs surveyed offer degrees in some aspect of digital humanities, but only one is a full degree-granting program (awarding B.F.A. and Ph.D. degrees in digital arts and experimental media). Two other centers offer certificate or equivalent programs (in humanities computing) that must be taken in conjunction with a regular graduate program, and one center offers an undergraduate cross-campus honors program (in multimedia scholarship), taken in conjunction with a regular undergraduate disciplinary major.

The apparent paucity of degree-granting programs among DHCs is largely a function of sampling bias: degree-granting programs that did not conduct any of the other activities outlined in this study’s definition of a digital humanities center (see Section 2.1) were excluded from the survey. In addition, universities traditionally allow academic departments (not research centers) to grant degrees. A few centers are working around this limitation by assisting academic departments with interdepartmental degree programs or by developing a certificate program in conjunction with an academic department.

Center faculty and staff develop and teach a prodigious number of courses in digital humanities topics. Some staff members are involved in developing courses for their university’s new digital humanities degree programs, since they cannot offer such programs themselves. Others develop and teach courses on humanities computing in a specific discipline, such as multimedia writing in an English department, or archaeological geometrics in a classics department. Still others are working to incorporate informatics training into the general undergraduate curriculum by integrating multimedia authoring skills into required undergraduate courses.

Academic departments increasingly recognize the importance of digital humanities to the skill set of their graduate students and are now including one or more courses on humanities computing in their graduate degree requirements. Courses on digital history theory and practice, digital scholarship, and digital technology for humanities research were among those cited as required for graduate student

training in humanities disciplines ranging from history to American studies to archaeology to architecture.

Centers are also developing faculty training programs on integrating digital resources and technology into teaching and learning. These programs tend to be informal workshops or one-on-one training.

Forty-one percent of DHCs offer internships to undergraduate or graduate students, or both. Most are formal opportunities that include academic credit and/or pay, require a certain number of work hours, and assign the intern to a particular project or researcher (the latter in a mentor relationship). Informal internships are those in which the DHC hires a student in a role that they define as “intern-like” (i.e., the student learns about digital humanities on the job) but that has no formal program guidelines or selection processes.

Graduate Assistantships
Although fewer DHCs (19 percent) offer graduate assistantships than internships, this probably reflects the tradition of assistantships being awarded through academic departments and not research centers. (The centers that do offer assistantships usually base them in academic departments.) However, even when a center does not offer its own graduate assistantships, it often is populated with graduate students who are supported by assistantships from other academic departments. These departments agree to such an arrangement because it gives their students an opportunity to receive digital humanities training that the department cannot provide.

Fifty-six percent of DHCs offer fellowship opportunities to individuals at the graduate, postdoctoral, or mid- to senior-faculty level, or to those in other professions conducting work in the digital humanities. Fellowship periods may range from a few days to three years. The fellowships may be used to support dissertation research, project development, teaching, and participation in collaborative projects. Compensation varies widely, and may include monetary support, access to technology and technical support, travel monies, teaching-release time, research assistants, housing offsets, and administrative and grant writing support. While most fellowships are restricted to graduate students, postdocs, or other academics, a small but growing number are being made available to nonacademic professionals, such as librarians or artists who collaborate with digital humanities scholars.

Some DHCs do not offer fellowships but instead host “fellows” funded by other departments or institutions. These individuals choose to use their fellowship monies at the center because it offers them resources relevant to their particular fellowship projects.

Other Learning/Training Opportunities
Centers also offer learning opportunities distinct from the traditional offerings of internships, assistantships, and fellowships. Most of these opportunities are in the form of workshops and training programs held within a university community or taken on the road for K-12 educational communities. One nationwide competitive workshop offers early career (pretenure) scholars an opportunity to present their work for critical evaluation by senior scholars in the digital humanities.

Other opportunities include independent study courses for graduate and undergraduate students, residencies for artists and writers, and one-on-one tutoring and consultation with faculty and researchers. Some DHCs are creating learning opportunities outside of academia that may be nurturing the next generation of digital humanities scholars much earlier than ever before: in one instance, by offering internships to students at a local science-and-technology high school; in another, by bringing inner-city students to the center to learn about innovative uses of technology.

4.4.3 Decision Making

Deciding what projects and programs to develop is a key function of DHC management. Some centers make these decisions through a formal process that has a competitive selection-and-evaluation component. However, most decision making is informal, based on perceived needs, qualitative criteria, and local circumstances.

Informal Decision Making
Project and program ideas come to the attention of centers in ways that reflect a mix of opportunism, interest, and serendipity. A center may be approached by a faculty member or researcher, or a project may arise from within the center as a natural outgrowth of an existing project or a staff member’s interests. Centers also actively solicit projects that come to their attention, or make strategic solicitations in which they identify grant opportunities, faculty who could benefit from their services, or courses that are ripe for a center’s offerings. Politics may also enter the picture when a center is urged to consider a project by its university administration or a foundation.

The review process for informally assessed projects includes considerations of mission, staffing, budget, and potential. The following are some of the specific criteria cited by survey respondents:

  • Project “fit”: Does the project mesh with the center’s mission? Does it further the center’s research agenda? Does it offer synergies with other center projects? Do the project’s needs (e.g., technology, expertise) meet the center’s offerings?
  • Center resources: Does the center have the necessary resources, such as funding, space, and technologies, to undertake the project?
  • Project potential: Does the project enable digital scholarship? How does it do so (e.g., through the creation of a tool or an archive)? Does it have the potential to build connections to other projects and researchers?
  • Bona fides of the principal investigator (PI): Does the PI bring the necessary knowledge and skills to the table? Does he or she have a record of success and a good reputation?
  • Funding potential: Does the project have funding or funding potential?

Digital humanities centers get answers to these and other questions through extensive discussions with the project’s PI. Final decisions are usually made by the DHC director or by consensus of core center staff. When a decision is made to proceed and funding is not available, initial efforts are spent procuring funding from diverse sources, including private donors, university discretionary funds, center funds, grants, and foundations. Most centers offer grant-writing support, and some even create prototypes to demonstrate the project’s potential to funders. While centers rarely provide full funding from their own coffers, one DHC undertakes what it termed “speculative investing,” agreeing to spend money up-front to develop a pilot project with the assumption that doing so will help deliver larger sums of money to sustain the project further.

Like funding, staffing for new projects comes from mixed sources. A center may assign its own staff to the project, or use its connections to pool the services of others, such as students, faculty, or computing center staff. Projects may also come with existing staff. In the end, staffing levels depend on resources at hand-both human and financial.

Formal Decision Making
Formal decision making is conducted on two types of programs: grants and fellowships. DHC grant programs are funded by a center’s parent university or by foundations that give the center funds to offer “regrants” for special projects (such as seed grants to help projects get started or grants to develop conferences or seminars). Fellowships are usually foundation funded, although some centers report funding contributions from alumni or endowment funds.

Applying for either program is a competitive process, with centers issuing official announcements calling for applications. Selection committees then review the applications, applying certain criteria to their selection process. For grants and digital humanities fellowships, these criteria include assessments of the following:

  • quality of proposal (in definition, organization, clarity, scope); and
  • quality of candidate
    -likelihood of success
    -technology needs
    -research merit

Less official, but no less important, considerations are:

  • Does the applicant have agency in the project? Will he or she be an active participant and not expect the center to do the work?
  • Why does the project need the center?
  • Does the project fill a gap in the center’s own research agenda?

4.4.4 Measuring Success

DHCs use qualitative and quantitative criteria to measure the success of their programs. The information they compile is used to gauge how well the center is addressing its mission and mandate, to produce evidence of a successful track record for grant agencies and fund-raising, to justify student technology fees, and to raise their social capital within its parent institution.

Success is measured both for projects and for the overall offerings of the center. Grant-funded projects receive more stringent assessments because funding agencies require evaluations at various points in a project’s life cycle. Projects that are not funded by grants are generally assessed less frequently and less formally.

Criteria Used to Assess Individual Projects
Qualitative Criteria
—Did the project achieve its goals as specified in proposals and work plans? Is it on time, within budget, and doing what it set out to do?
—Was the project able to get external funding after the initial development period?
—Is the project being cited? Do others perceive it in a positive light?
—Is education being enhanced? Are the outputs being used to teach others?
—Is the project moving the broader digital humanities agenda forward? Is the project becoming a model for future work?
—Are partners pleased with the outcome?
—Can the project be leveraged into another project?
—Is the project or its resources being used in institutional initiatives?
—What are the project’s spin-offs (e.g., tools, collaborations, contracts)?

Quantitative Criteria
—Results of surveys, user feedback, focus groups (especially for K-12 projects or products), entry/exit interviews
—Event attendance figures
—Number of applications or proposals received
—Number of publications arising from a project
—Amount of data captured or markup undertaken
—Number of program participants
—For online projects:
-Number of site visits and unique visits
-Geographic distribution of users
-Number and length of page views
-Number of downloads (for tools, products, etc.)
-Number of daily users

Criteria Used to Assess the Overall Success of the Center
Qualitative Criteria
—The caliber of students, researchers, and faculty applying to the center
—The success of students who work at the center (e.g., their job offers, achievement of tenure)
—Are people actively seeking out the center for its offerings?

Quantitative Criteria
—Number of rewards received by center faculty, researchers, staff, and students
—Time to degree (for centers that offer academic programs)
—Course enrollment for center-developed classes
—Lab-usage statistics
—Member participation (for consortia)

Centers generally evaluate themselves, although a few are evaluated by independent review committees at their universities. Centers also conduct evaluations for grant-funded projects according to criteria required by each grant agency. Representatives of such centers feel these required evaluations are useful for measuring the success of individual programs; however, they cannot use these evaluations to measure success across all their programs because each funding agency has its own evaluation criteria.

4.4.5 How DHC Resources Are Used

Digital humanities centers often do not know the full extent of how their resources are used because they do not, or cannot, track this information in a consistent manner. Instead, they characterize use of their resources by communities. Scholars and researchers, for example, use the resources for research, publication, and scholarly engagement. Undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows rely on them for research and training in areas not normally offered by their own academic programs. The university community takes advantage of DHC resources for courses, training, technology-enabled teaching facilities, and expertise in humanities computing, and often embeds DHC resources or services into broader university programs.

Teachers not only use the resources for developing K-12 curricula but also rely on them for professional development opportunities. College- and university-level instructors value DHC resources for teaching undergraduates about the use of technology in the humanities, and are using technology-based approaches to teach writing, fine arts, and history.

Members of the artistic community (particularly visual and performing artists and writers) incorporate DHC resources into their work, or use centers as places to develop and demonstrate their creative output. Professional communities of librarians, architects, urban planners, and software developers also participate in DHC programs for research. Cultural heritage organizations increasingly partner with centers on projects that require the use of their object collections.

While the groups cited above constitute the majority of DHC users, a significant number of centers consider the general public and local, regional, and statewide citizenry among their user base. As centers develop more community resources and actively engage interested members of the public in their research collection and community history projects, this user base continues to grow. But it is difficult to know how the general public is using Web-based projects.

4.4.6 Monitoring Usage

Usage is a key measure of success, but is extremely difficult to gauge for most DHC products and projects. Although some centers take care to collect usage information for each of their products and projects, such vigilance is not the norm. Centers often cite time or resource constraints as limiting their ability to monitor usage.

When usage is monitored, it is done most frequently on Web projects or events because usage statistics can be easily collected on these activities. Centers that develop community-based digital resources often monitor the amount of new material added to the resource by users, and then use this as a measure of growth and community engagement. Digital humanities centers that teach courses or monitor lab facilities may also monitor enrollment or facilities usage.

Usage figures made available during DHC interviews were impressive: for some Web resources, millions of visits per year; for registered resources, tens of thousands of registered users; and for courses and facilities usage, dozens of classes, with some centers reporting total yearly enrollment figures in the thousands. It is futile to compare usage statistics across centers because monitoring mechanisms are so variable. However, these numbers are useful for internal center assessments because they provide evidence of activity and help centers in their decision making.

4.4.7 Preservation Plans

As DHCs develop and accumulate digital content, preservation is receiving greater attention. While a few centers report that they have no preservation plan (or shift the responsibility for preservation to content owners or principal investigators), most do acknowledge their obligation to preserve the process and results of their digital scholarship, and they are addressing the issue in various ways. The centers most concerned about the issue are entering into agreements with preservation partners—institutions with expertise and experience in digital preservation. Libraries and statewide digital library initiatives (such as the California Digital Library) currently are the partners of choice. Some DHCs are investigating open-source repository solutions such as DSpace, while others are considering commercial vendors to outsource their hosting and archiving responsibilities. One DHC is working with several preservation partners, each of which was chosen for its interest in a particular digital resource of the center.

DHCs are also implementing a number of strategies to preserve their digital resources locally until they can identify a preservation partner or develop a more robust internal preservation plan. Some of these strategies include the following:

  • educating partners, students, faculty, and researchers that preservation must be considered in project design and development;
  • running “live” applications as long as possible;
  • implementing a LOCKSS (“Lots of copies keep stuff safe”) approach of distributing static copies of digital resources as widely as possible;
  • establishing mirror sites;
  • keeping archival versions on the center’s intranet;
  • making model outputs of the resource available in multiple, ubiquitous forms;
  • migrating the resource to new hardware and software as older platforms become obsolete;
  • offering licensed users a full copy of the resource in the event that the center becomes defunct or is unable to maintain the resource;
  • separating production versions of resources from research versions, and placing production versions and services into a digital repository; and
  • bundling past projects and data into current projects.

A few centers have incorporated digital preservation into their research agendas. Two centers that participated in this survey are working with partners to develop tools and technologies for archiving virtual worlds. One center is using its students’ digital projects as a test bed in a collaborative project to develop archival methods for digital and experimental art. Still another is creating a digital repository for one of its oldest and most successful resources, and is hiring a digital archivist to extend this effort and make it scalable for the center’s other resources.

4.4.8 Intellectual Property

Digital humanities centers are unanimous in their efforts to make their work transparent while respecting the intellectual property (IP) rights of others, a perspective borne out of their research and teaching mission. Most have some semblance of IP policy embedded within Web site usage statements or in their licenses or user agreements. A few are working to formalize these policies and to raise their profile among center staff and users.

Nearly all DHCs allow the researchers and scholars who contribute to the center’s activities, or who develop digital products while working at the center, to retain the IP rights in their work. However, these individuals and center staff are responsible for procuring rights to content created by others (referred to as “third-party IP”) that they use in their research. The centers require all those who create content under their auspices to grant them a royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual license to use the content for noncommercial purposes.

Beyond these efforts, the methods used to address IP scenarios range from none (“It has not been a problem”) to a “case-by-case” handling of issues as they arise to a pre-emptive approach that uses legal instruments (e.g., release forms, partner agreements, and product licenses) to clarify IP issues in various contexts. One DHC with an active publication program has created a separate nonprofit arm to keep the ownership of copyrights clear and to maintain control over products (e.g., textbooks, documentaries, and Web resources) that generate sales and royalties. A few other DHCs are considering a similar model as rights issues become more difficult to handle internally.

As DHCs strive to make their work more accessible, they are incorporating open-source or partial rights schemes for their products (e.g., Creative Commons license). Some are moving away from, or avoiding, the commercial applications and partnerships they had pursued earlier because they found them to be too restrictive for research, teaching, and public use.

Paradoxically, DHCs are turning toward commercial applications to protect the IP rights of the third-party content used in so many of their programs and projects. Digital rights management (DRM) technologies such as watermarking, restrictions on full-text downloading of copyrighted works, and complex password-protection schemes are being used to safeguard against potential infringements. Digital humanities centers using DRM mechanisms feel they are important to their content-contributing partners, who can enter agreements with some level of assurance that the centers are behaving responsibly.

Digital humanities centers are also implementing IP-education programs for faculty, researchers, staff, and other users of their materials. One center outlines IP issues and policies in its fellowship guidelines; another is incorporating copyright law, fair use discussions, and academic standards policies in the courses it offers. A few university-based centers are working with their law schools to teach students about the IP issues they need to consider as they create and develop their work at the centers.

4.5 Sustainability

Discussions of sustainability were far-reaching, and included questions about planning strategies, current and past business models, funding sources, and challenges that threaten sustainability. The purpose of this line of inquiry is to identify resources available, efforts undertaken, and plans in place that allow DHCs to operate for the long term.

4.5.1 Planning Efforts

For centers that did not arise from an administrative mandate, the biggest hurdle in early formation was outlining a “proof of concept” about why they were needed. Written proposals, official meetings, and applications for in-house startup funds or challenge grants provided opportunities for explaining the rationales, but very few centers undertook needs assessments or feasibility studies, which are standard planning tools used by startup organizations. Rather, the centers demonstrated need by identifying a confluence of circumstances that argued for centralization of activities in a “center.”

Planning efforts turned more formal once the centers were established. Twelve centers have a long-range planning document, such as a strategic plan or business plan, that they use for managing their growth and sustainability. Others hold yearly retreats, self-study assessments, or university-mandated assessments, and report that they use the information from these activities for long-term planning. The centers that reported no formal long-range planning documents or activities are acutely aware that they need to turn their attention to these activities, and cite time constraints as the primary reason why they have not yet done so.

4.5.2 Funding Sources

Centers receive funding and support from myriad sources: corporations; foundations; federal endowments; government and state agencies; universities; private donations and gifts; monies from consulting, licensing, sales, and royalties; and income from their own endowments.

Business and industry provide startup funds, hardware, and conference sponsorship, as well as in-kind assistance such as the use of broadband technology or nodes on corporate mainframes. Supporters in this category include well-known vendors from the software and hardware industry (e.g., Apple, SUN, IBM) and less obvious sponsors from the automobile, pharmaceutical, and publishing industries.

Foundation support usually takes the form of grants for specific center projects, although startup, maintenance, and bridging funds are not uncommon. Foundations also support fellowships, training programs, seminars, matching gifts, and publications. Foundation support comes from philanthropies with large endowments as well as from small, family-run trusts targeted to local community activities.

Challenge grants from U.S. federal endowments and funding agencies have helped many centers get their start. These agencies are also crucial supporters of meetings and conferences, residency programs, development of new media facilities, tool creation, and individual digital projects. At the time this survey was conducted, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Digital Humanities Initiative was getting under way, and many centers mentioned their intent to apply to this program for digital humanities startup funds, challenge grants, workshops, and collaboration grants.

Other federal and state agencies are also important funding sources for DHCs. Various programs in the U.S. Department of Education have supported centers with pedagogical interests, and other, less obvious federal agencies (e.g., the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, and the Small Business Administration) have funded various center projects. Among state agencies, the major funding sources are arts and humanities councils that fund center projects associated with state communities. There are also larger state programs, such as the California Lottery Fund, that contribute general funds for higher education that get funneled down to centers in state university systems.

Because the majority of DHCs are located within universities, it is not surprising that universities are a key source of funding. Support comes directly in the form of annual budget lines, or less directly in the form of funding provided by individual schools or departments working with the centers (e.g., the School of Engineering, the Department of English). In addition to baseline operating funds or startup funds, universities frequently subsidize staff salaries, student support, and infrastructure (such as office space or technology). They may also provide centers with funds generated from the university’s student technology fees.

An assortment of special interest groups and other revenue sources also contribute to center funding. Specialty groups (e.g., the American Quilt Alliance), professional associations (e.g., the Modern Languages Association), private donations and gifts, conference and event fees, consulting income, and royalties from sales and subscriptions play a role in DHC budgets. Although these sources contribute relatively small percentages to a center’s annual income, in lean years (between grants or during budget cuts), they are often critical in easing cash flow problems.

Centers could only guess as to what percentage of their funding was received from various sources. Because their responses were ballpark estimates and because the centers used different baseline parameters to develop them, the funding could not be compared in any meaningful fashion. It is, however, certain that universities, followed by grants and foundations, are the most frequently cited funding sources for centers.

4.5.3 Business Models

Business models were discussed in the very narrow sense of finances, resources, and programs used by a center to maintain its operations. The models for university-based DHCs are complex, revealing a mixed calculus of support involving university budget lines and/or in-kind services and infrastructure, combined with some or all of the following: grants, consulting or licensing income, royalties, endowment income, faculty support, corporate support, student labor, and donations. The few centers that depart from this model include a membership-based DHC that relies on academic partners’ fees and huge investments of volunteer labor from partner-members in addition to its “home” university’s staff and infrastructure support; a membership DHC funded entirely by a philanthropy; and an independent center funded by grants and foundation support, endowment income, capital campaigns, and a formal gift program.

These business models are not unusual for what are essentially nonprofit research organizations. Perhaps more interesting than the models themselves are the novel efforts under way by centers to secure resources and expand the models. Some centers, for example, are negotiating unique arrangements with their parent university that leverage the centers’ contributions to university-wide teaching endeavors. One DHC was able to secure funds from student tuition fees based on its involvement in creating a cross-campus undergraduate program. Another center negotiated full-time faculty commitment to the center (from an original formula of 50:50 split time) by offering the faculty’s academic departments a guaranteed number of seats for their students in the center’s most popular courses.

Other novel efforts to expand existing business models include, for one center, the establishment of a European office to provide a base for expanding and diversifying the funding pool. Another center has embarked on a pilot project with its university’s academic technology department to identify ways to coordinate staff, efforts, and resources more effectively.

Twenty-one centers (66 percent) report that their current business models differ from earlier versions. When examined more closely, however, many of these changes are in degree rather than kind (e.g., fewer grants than in the past, more student labor, or more university funding). A truly substantial change in the model often occurs when a center matures and moves off its startup funds, which are running out, to the more diversified models that now exist.

Some centers change their operational models because they are not satisfactorily moving the center toward its programmatic goals, and these changes subsequently alter the business model. In one instance, a center operating as a seed grant or an incubator program decided to develop, and raise funds for, its own programs after determining that incubated projects would lie fallow once they left the center. Another DHC changed its university status from that of a research center to a research laboratory, a distinction that results in a more precarious funding model (the center must now raise grants for all programming) but that fits better with the center’s mission and intent as a place for collaboration and experimentation.

Other business models change with growth or with downsizing. One membership-based DHC expanded its offerings beyond its original university system to a wider array of academic partners, forcing a reconsideration of both funding and governance. Another center originally served the broad academic community under a cost-center (i.e., fee for service) model, but was scaled back by its parent university during a period of fiscal crisis, and now serves only the university and operates within its funding structure.

4.5.4 Sustainability Challenges

Unstable funding is the primary issue threatening the sustainability of centers. Survey respondents noted that the entire U.S. funding system is shortsighted, citing its emphasis on projects, its tendency to be influenced by trends and interests of the moment, and the drastic funding fluctuations that can occur from one year to the next in state, local, and federal budgets. A funding infrastructure that focuses on the short term makes long-term sustainability difficult to achieve.

Instability of infrastructure was another concern, especially in a university context. University-based centers want a sustained commitment from their parent institutions that does not waver in times of fiscal crises, during changes in campus administration, or with the retirement or resignation of a center founder. This support needs to include direct budget lines as well as in-kind assistance.

Many centers are considering endowments as a way to overcome unstable funding and infrastructure. (Currently, only 22 percent of the centers surveyed have endowments, and they are generally modest.) Endowment income could decrease reliance on grants, help bridge the periods between grants, and protect against the vicissitudes of state and federal funding. Unfortunately, endowments are difficult for centers to develop. Universities often block the effort during their capital campaigns. Challenge grants designed to jump-start endowment fund-raising lose traction as the grant becomes one of many overseen by university development offices. And soliciting private endowment contributions requires concerted fund-raising efforts that most centers are unable to sustain.

Staffing presents another concern. Universities pay below-market salaries, making it difficult to recruit and retain technical staff (such as Web developers or programmers) and entry-level administrative staff. There is also a shortage of Ph.D.s with the necessary humanities computing backgrounds to fill senior staff positions. When a center is fortunate enough to find appropriately trained Ph.D.s to fill its positions, they are frequently lured away by better offers within a few years’ time.

As centers grow and mature, the importance of smooth management transitions is becoming apparent. In the absence of a transition plan, the departure of a center’s founder or senior staff (through retirement, illness, or job offers) can jeopardize a center’s position. A few centers that have gone through such events recall them as periods of great stress and uncertainty, with threats of closure, changes in oversight, and a paralysis in activities. Other centers whose leaders are slated to retire in the next few years expressed great apprehension about their future because they lack a transition plan.

Sustainability issues also surface with daily operations. Overextended work agendas, the amount of storage needed to accommodate the growing number and size of digital projects, and concerns about the future of individual projects are among the specific issues cited.

4.6 Partnerships

To explore the extent of collaborations, DHCs were asked how their partnerships are structured, whom they choose to partner with (and why), failed partnership experiences, and their ideas about the elements of a successful partnership.

4.6.1 Types of Partners and Partnerships

Digital humanities centers partner with individuals and groups in just about every community imaginable. Examples include the following:

  • higher education (university schools, centers, departments, and faculty and students)
  • K-12 teachers and schools
  • funding organizations
  • industry
  • cultural heritage organizations
  • community groups
  • federal, state, and local municipalities
  • professional associations
  • nonacademic professionals (e.g., multimedia producers, artists, writers)
  • nongovernmental organizations
  • broadcast and print media (television, radio, newspaper)
  • publishers
  • general public

Sixty-three percent of the DHCs have international partnerships, and another 16 percent report having such partnerships “peripherally” through a faculty member or researcher’s project. Eighty-one percent of centers both actively seek out partners and are approached by others who wish to partner with them. Centers seek out partners whose research interests them, who have a common mission, and who have skills or technologies they need. Centers are sought out by others for their programs, expertise, and data sets, or because of a vaguely articulated sense that the center is “the right place to do this.”

The structure of DHC partnerships exists on a spectrum ranging from informal (“handshake agreements”) to highly formal (contracts), with a broad array of practices in between. The most informal partnerships generally emerge from personal and professional relationships between the partner and center staff, and proceed solely on the basis of good faith by all parties. Such partnerships are developed through conversations and informal written communications. Partnerships at this level most often occur between the center and faculty, colleagues, and cultural heritage institutions.

The next level of partnership is more formal and includes some type of written agreement. This agreement is a preemptive way to minimize misunderstandings among potential partners, and is not intended as legally binding. Work plans, memoranda of understanding, or requests for proposals are examples of such agreements, and they are used to outline the goals, scope of work, intent, and obligations of the parties. Fellowships are also included here, with the application, guidelines, and fellowship award letters outlining the expectations of both the center and the fellowship recipient. An increasing number of centers are using written agreements for all partnerships, regardless of prior knowledge or relationship with the potential partner.

A special type of partnership exists for those who contribute to online resources created or managed by a center. These partnerships involve membership or contributor agreements that outline specific actions required (e.g., crediting contributions, securing permissions for use of third-party IP) or prohibited (e.g., libelous, defamatory, or obscene behaviors). The agreements are equal parts “social contract” and “rules of the road,” emphasizing that contributors are working toward a greater good and outlining expected behaviors. Use of the resource implies consent to the agreement terms, and failure to adhere to these terms results in the member/contributor’s having his access rights revoked and/or content contribution deleted. Partnerships at this level generally include members of the educational and academic communities and related professionals groups, as well as the general public (members of which are often invited to contribute to community-based online resources). Although there may be a prior relationship with some of these partners, the numbers are often so large as to preclude such a relationship with all of them.

The most formal level of partnership is a legally binding, contractual relationship. Frequently undertaken with partners in industry, vendors and subcontractors, academic partners in fee-based initiatives, or international organizations, these contracts are vetted at the highest levels of the center or its parent organization. They outline the formalities of the project, as well as legal guarantees such as obligations, fees, warranties, indemnities, and forms of redress. Grant partners are included as a formal level of partnership because the grant process and award enforce formality and conformity with federal, state, or local (e.g., university) requirements. Partnerships that require a contractual relationship involve significant financial interests or technologies, or are international projects that have an inherent complexity born of their international nature.

4.6.2 Unsuccessful Partnerships

Seventy-eight percent of centers reported partnerships that were, in some measure, unsuccessful. Centers were reluctant to describe any of these partnerships as outright failures, characterizing them instead as “difficult” or “less involved” than others. However, they identified many circumstances that can or did lead to unsuccessful partnership experiences, ranging from external factors (e.g., loss of funding) to complex organizational and social issues (e.g., mismatched expectations, lack of institutional support, or staff changes). The following were some of the key issues cited:

Staff Issues
—personality problems (e.g., an overbearing PI) or clashes among staff members
—staff departures, particularly the departure of a PI or a key project “evangelist” whose energy and enthusiasm provided much of the project momentum
—new management that does not have the same vision or motivation as the original management
—a partner liaison who is the wrong person for the job (i.e., lacks the collaborative, hands-on skills required for digital humanities projects)

Partner Lapses or Flaws
—failure to meet obligations or pull their own weight
—insincerity or dishonesty about motives
—an overextended workload that makes it impossible to pay adequate attention to the collaboration
—hoarding intellectual capital; giving nothing away without compensation
—delivering substandard work
—lack of entrepreneurial experience and an inability to think creatively about the project
—waning interest in the project

Communication Issues
—partner’s failure to communicate about why it is not meeting its obligations
—not enough face-to-face meetings, resulting in misunderstandings and mismatched efforts
—leaders agree to things that their staff cannot deliver

Mismatched Expectations
—different perceptions about time and pace of work (e.g., how long it takes to get things done, what “ASAP” means to both partners)
—different expectations about workloads
—disagreements about who is the lead PI and who gets credit for various accomplishments
—misunderstandings about the limits imposed on international partners by their national funding agencies (e.g., an international partner’s funds can be used only for students, but the partnership requires professional staff)
—trying to do too much with too few resources

External Factors
—lack of funding options, loss of funding
— project needs exceed current technologies
— project proves uninteresting and not worth pursuing further
—lack of support by the partner’s parent institution
—the “price of admission” (e.g., overhead, bureaucratic oversight) proves too high
—lack of time to adequately pursue the project
—language barriers
— cultural distinctions (with international partners)

4.6.3 Elements of a Successful Partnership

Having acquired many years of experience with various partners, DHCs have clear opinions about the characteristics needed to ensure a successful partnership.

Trust as a Baseline Assumption
Partners must operate on the assumption of trust. Ideally, that trust will have been earned from a preexisting relationship between the partners, but even in the absence of such experience, partners must agree to trust one another in order to proceed. Trust must permeate the partnership, so that staff can delegate and conduct work with the knowledge that it will be completed to their satisfaction.

Characteristics of a Good Partner
Partners must have personal attributes that foster trust and collaboration. Creativity, enthusiasm, vigilance, collegiality, competence, and responsibility are highly valued, as are a good reputation, a lack of ego (or the ability to keep it in check), insight into the concerns of others, and transparency in word and deed.

Readiness to Partner
Partners must understand that a DHC partnership is a collaboration. As such, it requires that all parties work on project tasks, support each other and, at times, make allowances for one another. If partners are part of a larger organization, they must garner the support and approval of their parent organization. They must also be capable of working outside their professional boundaries and organizational systems, and bring tangible offerings to the table.

Shared Values
Partners must have the same vision and goals for the project. They must hold a common intellectual stake in the project and in its success.

Available Infrastructure
Partners must have access to physical space. They need stable staffing and good faculty, students, and researchers. The also need appropriate content and technologies to do the job.

Project Preliminaries
Prior to entering a partnership, the parties should conduct a degree of due diligence by looking at their respective performance records and honestly presenting each other with their strengths and weaknesses. As they move closer to partnering, they must identify focused research questions that resonate with all partners. To address these questions concretely, they need a work plan that identifies timetables and budgets, roles and responsibilities, and realistic expectations. Decision-making processes and communication mechanisms must be outlined in advance. All these activities have to be documented, ideally in a written agreement that is signed by all partners and reviewed at regular intervals.

Caring for the Collaboration
A DHC collaboration is often not the central activity of its partners: all parties are involved in other activities, including those that are mission critical to their own organizations. Because of this reality, DHC collaborations must be constantly nurtured and managed. Someone in the partnership must assume the role of a “prodder”—a person who keeps the project moving forward with enthusiasm and constant attention to the project’s status and activities. The collaboration’s progress must be reviewed frequently to assure that goals remain aligned and that efforts are not straying from the original intent and focus. Regularly scheduled meetings are essential to strengthen personal relationships, defuse tensions, and prevent misunderstandings.

Skip to content