Virtual Knowledge Net: Europeanization of Scientific Communication in the Digital Age

Virtual Knowledge Net: Europeanization of Scientific Communication in the Digital Age

H-Soz-Kult Editorial Board, History Department, Humboldt University, Berlin
Vom - Bis
18.03.2015 - 20.03.2015
Christine Strotmann, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

From 18-20 March 2015 the editors of H-Soz-Kult invited scholars from across Europe and the United States to Humboldt University, Berlin to discuss “Virtual Knowledge Net: Europeanization of Scientific Communication in the Digital Age”. The workshop was funded by the KOMSOS-Initiative at Humboldt University which aims to enable scholars of the University to collaborate with international partners. The workshop’s aims were to discuss national structures in the Digital Humanities and in the next step to establish possibilities for co-operations between the projects represented. In three panels the broad field of the Digital Humanities was addressed from different angles: Firstly “Scholarly Communication and Virtual Knowledge Production”; followed by “Europeanization/ Internationalization of Research Infrastructures”; and finally “Changing Research Methodologies”.

Michael Wildt (Berlin) opened the workshop as the spokesperson of Clio-online e.V., an association which, as he explained, aims at fostering Digital Humanities especially amongst historians. He was very positive about the effect of the usage of Digital Humanities on the development of knowledge. His greetings were followed by RÜDIGER HOHLS’ (Berlin) introduction in which he gave a short overview about the history of H-Soz-Kult and its technical development since its foundation in 1996. His colleague at H-Soz-Kult, CLAUDIA PRINZ (Berlin), followed by describing the current situation of the forum, focussing on how work like that of H-Soz-Kult might have changed academic and international collaborations. She asserted that it had helped to forge strong transatlantic ties and that H-Soz-Kult helped to open up the academic communities’ communication for junior researchers. With 250,000 visits per month and 15-20 items of information sent out to its over 20,000 subscribers six times a week, she argued that networking has become a lot easier for younger scholars than before the advent of online projects like H-Soz-Kult, and raised the question whether this somewhat democratised academia.

MATTHIAS MIDDELL (Leipzig) who investigates academic journals and their usage in the digital age presented some of his findings on competition between online content and printed journals. He claimed that e-journals are usually successful if they deliver additional information to printed journals and are more than even competition to the latter. In a short overview of journal publishing in the germane- and francophone markets, he described how since the 1960 and 1970s editing was handed over to the authors themselves increasingly and how now with digital opportunities the publishers will have to change their business models. However, he warned of underestimating editing costs, a flaw, he argued, that is inherent in Open Access ideology. The ensuing discussion focussed on how blogs and other formats can challenge and change academic discussions.

The following day started with the panel “Scholarly Communication and Virtual Knowledge Production”. TORSTEN KAHLERT (Berlin) in his introduction to the panel raised the question of whether access to huge amounts of information will change or is changing scholarly work. ENRICO NATALE (Berne) of argued that Open Access was still faced with opposition from historians worldwide. He stated that they seem to feel threatened by it. For the Swiss case he described how the national research foundation FNS has made Open Access an obligation for subsidised monographs. He described how publishers opposed the measure, but also how professors spoke of a “digital ghetto”. Natale stated that in Switzerland and elsewhere the stance academics will take is yet unclear and underlined that statement by hinting at the lack of reviews of online projects.

DANNY MILLUM (London) of the UK-based “Reviews in History” described how devices may have changed and sped up the process, but how the process of reviewing itself has not changed much. He explained how one of the major challenges was to explain to reviewers and authors that even online an indefinite right to reply was not feasible. Also he explained that the democratisation of the reviewing process was not always looked upon favourably: Often professors are not happy with postgraduate students writing reviews. As to questions raised by Enrico Natale, he explained that it was still difficult to find digital resources for reviewing and that the majority of reviews on “Reviews in History” were still on monographs.

Next up was ILJA NIEUWLAND (Den Haag), who shared some insights into building up a project. He described how an envisioned scientific digital project gradually merged into a community platform. Nieuwland argued that how a project would be received could not always be foreseen and hence creators had to be innovative and use databases that allowed for flexibility.

The second panel, Panel “Changing Research Methodologies” under the auspices of the chair, Daniel Burckhardt (Berlin) focussed on the discussion between the scholars Frédéric Clavert (Paris), Martin Gasteiner (Vienna) and Kiran Klaus Patel (Maastricht/London).

FRÉDÉRIC CLAVERT in his introduction claimed how Digital Humanities meant a lot more than “reading PDFs online” and demonstrated some extracts from his own research on the Hashtag “#ww1” on Twitter. He explained how Digital Humanities supplied some of the most crucial tools for research in public history. He urged scholars not to shy away from it because of the Data capacities, claiming that big data has been presenting a challenge to historians since the 1950s. In a short overview on the state of the Digital Humanities in France he described the success of the 2010 founded French THAT-camps (The Humanities and Technology Camp), and gave an overview of platforms available in France or French. He also attested to the rise in centers for Digital Humanities and the subsequent job opportunities.

Next speaker MARTIN GASTEINER focused on the visualization and narration of research findings. He gave some insights into projects he had worked on at the University of Vienna and asked what digital tools do to historical narratives. Gasteiner claimed a huge shift in narration, since prior to the advent of digital technologies, history in universities was solely produced in written texts. Raising interesting questions for the debate, he challenged the participants to think of a new form of Quellenkritik for historical data that has been computed.

KIRAN KLAUS PATEL focused on the difficulties that might arise from collaborations between historians and digital humanists, since historians are not necessarily familiar with the language and tools used in Digital Humanities, but still need to understand the outcome of such work. He urged the workshop participants as historians not to hide behind a “hard science rhetoric” as postulated by programmers.

DANIEL BURCKHARDT who chaired the panel argued that since not every historian is – or can be – a programmer, ready tools need to be developed, leaving the problem of a Black Box behind. Patel argued that the minimum standard should be that it has to be transparent which algorithms were used and why. Coming back to the problem of Big Data, Gasteiner and Clavert pointed out the responsibility of archivists in managing archival holdings.

The last panel of the conference, “Europeanization/ Internationalization of Research Infrastructures” was chaired by THOMAS MEYER (Berlin) who by means of introduction also gave a short presentation on German infrastructure and funding, raising one of the main issues of the whole workshop: How to ensure availability of online projects long term.

DAŠA RADOVIČ (Marseille) presented Openedition, a project that consists of Openedition books,, hypotheses-blogs and a calendar. Originally a French enterprise, it is now also active in other countries, notably in Italy and Spain. She reported that the blog-section called “hypotheses” was growing particularly quickly and that one of the major challenges to the project in general was to remain centralized while working with a variety of networks.

DOMINIC MITCHELL (Stockholm) of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) gave an overview about the work of DOAJ, where a verification process for academic journals is performed. Hinting at the often mentioned information-overflow he described their goal as to “help people find the important information”. One of the main challenges to that would be fake journals and he explained how in some areas of the world that development has led to “Open Access” being synonymously used as “Scam”. DOAJ hence tries to provide a “White List” for Publications.

Last speaker on the panel was PETER KNUPFER (East Lansing, MI) of He discussed H-Net and its history, the state of Digital Humanities in the USA and an outsider’s perspective on the European case. H-Net was a pioneer in Digital Humanities and resulted from a bottom-up perspective with the seemingly simple goal of providing audiences with the services they needed. One issue from the beginning had been long-term funding, and one main target has always been, to be strongly connected to historians who work as educators. He argued that the archival function of projects like H-Net was essential and something that could not be taken into the blogosphere.

In the final discussion led by Daniel Burckhardt (Berlin) it was agreed that scholarly communication in the digital age should also be seen from a longue durée perspective of scholarly communication. It was also agreed that it was important to be aware of the role of digital humanities projects as creators of source material for future generations via their extensive archives. On the issue of project funding they all agreed that long-term financing was one of the major challenges – in most countries discussed at the workshop. For the European case, where money is distributed after applications, Martin Gasteiner highlighted the positive side: grant applications, successful or not bring project partners together.

All in all the workshop was quite a success in bringing scholars from different countries together, to discuss Digital Humanities, their usage, their funding, the role of collaboration and the differences in national contexts in a rather informal atmosphere. The sheer number of questions raised, be it about big data usage, usage of digital tools in teaching history, funding of long-term digital storage or simply how to integrate Digital Humanities into historical sciences, had necessarily to lead to a many of them remaining unanswered, but been an important trigger for debate. The workshop thereby helped to lay out questions for future events and collaborations and proved that despite all technological means to get in touch, personal contacts between scholars are still essential for academic debate.

Conference Overview:

Michael Wildt / Rüdiger Hohls (Humboldt-University, Berlin), Welcome

Claudia Prinz (Humboldt-University, Berlin), Introduction

Matthias Middell (Leipzig University)

Panel “Changing Scholarly Communication and Virtual Knowledge Production”
Chair: Torsten Kahlert (Humboldt-University, Berlin)

Enrico Natale (Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences), ‘Historians still don’t know where their interests really lie’[1] – Divergent Opinions and Practices among Historians on Scholarly Communication in Switzerland

Danny Millum (University of London), Reviews in History: reflections on the experience of running an open access journal in a rapidly changing digital environment

Ilja Nieuwland (Huygens Institute, Den Haag), An accidental community and the accidents of communies: a comparison between two projects from the Netherlands

Panel “Changing Research Methodologies”
Chair: Daniel Burckhardt (Humboldt-University, Berlin)

Kiran Klaus Patel (Maastricht University), The Digital Age and Contemporary History - New and Old Challenges

Martin Gasteiner (University of Vienna), Polemics in a distracted field

Frédéric Clavert (Paris-Sorbonne University), History in the digital era. The French case

Panel “Europeanization/ Internationalization of Research Infrastructures”
Chair: Thomas Meyer (Humboldt-University, Berlin)

Daša Radovič (, Marseille), The internationalization of Openedition’s platforms

Dominic Mitchell (Directory of Open Access Journals, Stockholm), DOAJ: community-funded, community-driven, truly international

Peter Knupfer (Michigan State University), Whose Project is This? Reflections of a Recovering Digital Humanist

Concluding Discussion

[1] Monika Dommann on copyright and the place of Books in the humanities (Interview by Urs Hafner), Horizons – Magazine of the Swiss National Science Foundation, no. 101, June 2014, p. 46.

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