Dans la foulée de l’information que nous avions publiée au sujet de la création du Master Digital Humanities à University College, London, nous avons posé quelques questions à l’équipe de direction, composée de Claire Warwick, Melissa Terrass et Simon Mahony. Claire Warwick, Directrice du Centre de D.H., nous a répondu par mail.
What are the contextual circumstances that have permitted or facilitated UCL to decide the creation of the D.H. Center ? Could you answer that question taking into consideration the academic situation in the field in the United-Kingdom, and in the local academic environment ?
The idea for UCLDH came about after the then Head of the Department of Computer Science, Professor Anthony Finkelstein heard a talk about DH at Cambridge University, given by Willard McCarty of KCL. Inspired by this talk he contacted me, and we decided to set up a meeting at UCL to see whether other people were interested. Over 100 people attended the meeting from every Faculty of the university including Life Sciences, Engineering Science and Built Environment. As a result of this impressive level of interest we were encouraged by the Vice Provost Research, Professor David Price and the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Professor Henry Woudhuysen, to start a centre. We were successful in being awarded a grant from the UCL Provost’s Development Fund, which is used to support the establishment of new, interdisciplinary research and teaching initiatives. This will fund UCLDH for its first two years.
UCLDH was particularly timely in the UCL context since a series of research Grand Challenges had recently been established. These are intended to create interdisciplinary networks of scholars to address global problems: Global Health, Human Wellbeing, Intercultural Interactions and Sustainable Cities. Several interdisciplinary research institutes have been established to facilitate this work and UCLDH fits well within this model. UCL is also unique in world top 10 universities in having a Department of Information Studies, world leading Computer Science and humanities research, as well as museums, libraries, galleries and archives both at UCL and close to us in central London. This creates a very fertile mixture of materials, influences and ideas with which we can work.
We feel that this combination of factors makes us unique not just in the UK, but in the world. But it certainly drives our distinctive approach to DH. We believe that excellent DH research can only come about when the project is challenging both for computer scientists or engineers and to humanities scholars and we aim to create new knowledge in both parts of this equation. This distinguishes us from more traditional approaches to DH, where computing was generally in the service of humanities research, rather than an equal partner with it.
How do you argue the necessity of a MA degree : is it the very responsibility of the D.H. Centres to assume this kinds of courses ? Is this part of a strategy that aims to foster an interdisciplinary field? Is the aim to supply to the technological gaps in the Humanities disciplines?
As a university UCL believes that leading researchers in all disciplines should teach and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of potential scholars. Thus we feel that students should be able to benefit from UCLDH’s unique interdisciplinary approach and not just academic researchers. So it seemed obvious to develop a teaching programme that is highly interdisciplinary and allows students to call on the very diverse subject areas in which UCL has expertise. Students may indeed be from a humanities background, seeking more technical content, but we also envisage that some of them will be technical people who might like to work in a humanities or cultural heritage context.
In my understanding of the D.H. Master, the “main courses” (4 core modules) express the essential place of producing and managing digital resources and digital edition in research or in professional practices (notably, cultural heritage). How have you designed the architecture of the MA, composed by these “main courses” and so many choices with the optional modules?
We discussed the skills that students ought to have to be considered a digital humanist and these formed the core courses. For the options we looked at all the possible courses that UCL departments offer which we felt would be of interest to DH students, and approached the relevant academics to ask if they would allow their module to be included in the MA/MSc. Almost all of them were happy to do so.
In your opinion, which fields do you expect the students come from? How do you figure out their disciplinary origin? How do you figure out their academic or professional objectives?
See above. We don’t mind what fields people come from. We get information about their backgrounds and objectives from the application forms that they send and also from interviews, if we feel that they have potential to study the course. If they are awarded a place at UCL we will of course discuss their chosen path with students when they begin their course, and as it progresses.
Could we design a general strategic schema where the D.H. Centers integrate earlier the academic degrees, creating a PhD first, then Masters, then?
No, not really. There is no generic schema, and not all universities will want to operate in the same way.
In addition, do you think that Digital Humanists have to think about the place assigned to the digital culture in the lowest degrees, in terms of renewing pedagogy and courses do you think it is rather a discipline which deals with graduate degrees or higher
No I think DH should definitely be integrated into undergraduate teaching, and I am sure that will come with time. Indeed we have a DH module suggested for a planned interdisciplinary BA/BSc Undergraduate degree.
As the Staff, all of you belong to Information Studies faculty – although each of you have undertaken research and teaching in other disciplines – (that is not common in the French academic culture). Is it an “accident” or do your think that Information studies have a specific vocation to set up interdisciplinary Digital Humanities?
Not all of us are in DIS. There are several DH people in other departments, notably Computer Science. Also people who do DH are to be found in many other UCL departments, such as archaeology, anthropology, fine art, architecture, engineering etc. We are really a network whose base just happens to be in DIS. But Information Studies is a very good base for DH because it is a naturally collaborative and interdisciplinary area. People in IS often work across boundaries of disciplines and collaborate with others in different subjects, so we are a good place for people who want to make links with others. As you may know several US iSchools also do DH.
How do you regard the relationships with the other disciplines : do you invite students in literature or in art history, for instance, to follow the master as a complementary or as an alternative degree?
I’m not sure what this means. If it means can they take modules from DH then yes we plan to allow that in future if people from their primary subject would like to do this. Otherwise we are happy to collaborate with anyone in any discipline if we can think of a productive way to work together.