DH09: Funding the Digital Humanities

in DigiLib BLog
June 25th, 2009

Last session of the conference, and a good thing, because I’m just about burned out on the intense blogging for hours on end. The sadness over this exciting, inspiring, fun conference ending will set in in a few hours.

Claire Warwick makes an announcement about the poster competition: the award for outstanding poster goes to “Bringing Southern Oral Histories Online” by Natasha Smith and her group from UNC Chapel Hill! Congratulations!

Next up, Harold Short and Julia Flanders, presidents of ALLC and ACH respectively. They thank the organizers, it’s truly been a fantastic conference. Harold invites us to London in July 2010 for DH10! Kings College London will be hosting. KCL is situated right on the Thames, is culturally partnered with BL, BM, Tate, Globe, National Theatre, National Gallery, Guildhall School of Music & Drama… what’s not to like? Conf co-hosted by Centre for Computing in the Humanities and the Centre for e-Research; conference itself takes place on the Strand campus of KCL. Affordable student accommodations at $55/night! (Holy cats, that’s fantastic for the center of London!) All roads lead to DH10, 7-11 July. And check out the website.

The conference after that, Digital Humanities 2011, will be at 2011, with local hosts Glen Worthey and Matt Jockers.

Neil Fraistat presents the last dance: “we have the best chance of keeping you the longest if we put the money at the end.” Each panelist speaks for up to 7min, discussing an actual grantee or a few important challenges that their grantees have tackled, or identify what they see as the 2-3 most important challenges to the field at present. When presentations are done, floor will open for general discussion.

First up, Brett Bobbley from Office of Digital Humanities, at the National Endowment for the Humanities. They give grants. To people like us. To start off, the Start-Up Grant program. One thing that’s cool about it is that it’s seed money for innovation. High-risk, high-reward model: if you have an interesting, innovative project, they give you money to get your act together. Some projects will fail! And failure is ok, this is the high-risk part. Failure is the new success. But other projects will succeed, and this is exciting because it’ll help them go for the big grants.

Another program: institutes program. Is about methodological training. If your campus is really good at something in the digital humanities, host a summer institute and train people on it. Text encoding, HPC, gaming, tool building, GIS, what’s next? You tell NEH, they’ll throw money at it.

More/other funding for international collaboration. DH is so collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, they don’t want you doing your project alone. Many granting programs for this; check out the ODH website for more information.


Next is Helen Cullyer from the Scholarly Communications Program, Mellon Foundation. It’s clear that what digital humanists need is integrated environments for doing digital scholarship. Interoperability, tools and research use cases are all good. Mellon supports the creation of such environments on two scales: huge (Project Bamboo) and more specific disciplinary projects. An example of the latter is Integrating Digital Papyrology project. Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait.

Ready? OK. It was funded because: it’s driven by scholarly needs; it incorporates existing electronic resources into an interoperable environments; software developed for it can be used in other projects; it has a standards-based approach; its approach to building a digital environment is broken down into stages; and finally, it is using resources and tools developed and sustained by a number of funding agencies and institutions, of which Mellon is just one.


On with Rachel Frick, National Leadership Grants, Institute of Museum and Library Services. IMLS established in 1996, is an independent federal agency, and is primary support source of federal support for 123K libraries and 17.5K museums, with a $270M annual budget. They give projects $40K all the way up to $1M for projects in categories such as research, demonstration projects, advancing digital resources, library and museum collaborations, collaborative planning grants. Annual deadline is Feb. 1, awards announced in September. They’re also interested in education for digital stewardship, digital preservation and curation; they preach collaboration, are looking for other ways to collaborate with other funding agencies and with scholars; and are keenly interested in sustainability, open access and institutional repositories.


Up comes Murielle Gagnon, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC, pron. “shirk”). One of the challenges for SSHRC is that they fund both the social sciences and the humanities, and they have a limited budget. So what to do with limited funding? Offer a limited scope of what they can do, and they’ve actually been able to achieve quite flashy results with their scholars, whom they need as champions for SSHRC.

Strategic research themes: image, text, sound and tech; environment and sustainability; north; aboriginal research; culture, citizenship and identities; management, business, finance. They have a partnership strategy and an international strategy.

In DH, they’re funding in three programs:

- Image, Text, Sound and Technology (ITST) program — seed grants;

- Research/Creation (not limited to technology, directed at profs in arts, perf arts, literature departments, $250K over three years to really go in depth in a research project in which practice informs theory); and

- the Digging into Data Challenge (new, with the NEH).

Ultimate message from SSHRC: keep applying, but keep fighting [for more funds from both governments and the private sector, for DH projects]!


Next: Stephen Griffin, Division of Information and Intelligent Systems, National Science Foundation. Some ideas for us to contemplate, to give us a sense of the NSF culture. Is there something in our species that draws us to stories? One NSF PI (Lou Lancaster?) is investigating. It’s this sort of thinking where masses of digital information have an advantage.

They want us to discern new things, and enable new knowledge and wisdom. [vz: I am partial to that wording.]

Human expression takes many forms, and what’s on the internet was originally focused on text, and still is, but expanding in more directions now. Humanities present much bigger computational challenges than the sciences. You can run a computer forever along a parameter space; but you can use it in more interesting ways. This summer, a US group over at the Sorbonne is looking at some scrolls that Napoleon brought back from Herculaeum, which were superheated but not burned. They’ll take ~20 micron slices and then digitally “unroll” the text and read it. That’s a computationally hard thing to do: we can unroll stuff with no problem; the problem is discriminating between the medium and whatever was used to write with. They’re thinking of using a particle accelerator to see whether they can elecromagnetically distinguish between the two.

[How cool.]

NSF funds things according to how loud the people wanting the funding are. Seriously, go to the higher-up NSF people and talk incessantly about yourselves. [vz: Good to know!]

Final note: be creative. Think in directions that people haven’t thought in for a long time.


Penultimate presenter is Dr. Christoph Kummel, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). (German Research Foundation, Library Svcs Division) Three important challenges to the field, according to them: information infrastructure; standardization; internationalization; methodological innovation; getting “passengers” where they want to go when they don’t necessarily know it themselves.


Finally, we hear from Prof. Shearer West, Arts and Humanities Research Council. Quickly about what AHRC does: baby of the UK Research Councils; look after humanities and arts in particular.

They’re into funding sandpits: lock a group of five people into a hotel for five days; whoever comes out alive, gets 3M GBP to innovate and research.

Digital Economy is another focus of theirs. Sorry, I didn’t catch what that’s all about, but here’s a link.

Sustainability, open access, impact, interdisciplinarity, collaboration, open innovation very important. Humanities can be a too-small voice in these systems, and they want to find a way to get the Humanities’ voice loud and clear so that they can stand up to their scientific collaborators.


Discussion time! As has become my convention for these posts, I won’t blog this but instead participate in it live. Hope you enjoyed this series, and please do add to it, whether information or questions/comments.

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