The Status Quo of Digital Humanities in Greece

Helen Gardikas-Katsiadakis, Modern Greek History Research Centre, Academy of Athens

From Humanities scholarship to Digital Humanities1
Greece has a long tradition in Humanities scholarship. In fact, the emergence of the discipline was a component of the Greek Enlightenment, a late 18th century cultural movement that was one of the main factors that led to the rise of Greek nationalism, the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence and the foundation of the Greek State in the 1830s. Since then, Humanities, with a particular emphasis on the Classical Greek and Byzantine heritage, have been cultivated with the initial aim of exploring, defining and interpreting Greece’s cultural tradition, social history and national identity. As such, it formed the backbone of Greek public education. Humanities research and teaching are practiced mainly but not exclusively at public universities and research institutions. The collections of the General State Archives, other public and private archival collections, both in original and in print form, provide the documentation for a considerable amount of research output.

With the advent of the digital age and the gradual shift from print to pixel, the massive wave of digitisation and the explosion of digital libraries during the first decade of the 21st century, scholars have increasingly moved toward the use of digitised resources and computational tools in their scholarship. Libraries, archives, museums and other cultural heritage institutions have already digitised a substantial amount of their collections, benefiting from generous European Union funding. ICT professionals have offered their expertise in the process, while gradually responding and on several occasions even anticipating the needs of historians, archaeologists, linguists, literary scholars, and other researchers for high quality digital resources and tools. Thus, Digital Humanities, as an independent discipline, are currently emerging in Greece2and are undertaking groundbreaking research in the Arts and Humanities. Several research institutes are actively involved in Digital Humanities projects, mainly as partners in major European collaborative projects. In addition to that, the recent initiative for the creation of a national research infrastructure for the Humanities is expected to increase the impetus in favour of the development of Digital Humanities by pooling together domestic centres of technological expertise and by fostering interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research between higher education and research institutions in the Humanities and Computer Science disciplines.

A historical overview of Digital Technologies in Greece: Digitisation and Cultural Informatics
Until quite recently, the main research and development interests of departments and laboratories in Greek institutions focused either on Cultural Informatics or on developing digitisation methods and techniques, enabling access, further processing and preservation of cultural heritage assets. In Greece, as elsewhere, the use of Computer Science and technology in Arts and Humanities research projects began with the introduction of software as an auxiliary research tool in assisting scholars in accessing and interpreting their data. During this first phase in the 1980s and 1990s, a number of projects were launched within archives departments of the banking sector, where scholars used computer technology for a quantitative analysis and interpretation of large numerical datasets. Demographic, Economic and Social History as well as Social Sciences were among the disciplines that benefited first from this technological and methodological innovation.

During this first period, a number of private organisations but most importantly many state agencies, such as the Ministry of Culture and the General State Archives, digitised a substantial amount of their collections. Public research institutions, such as the Academy of Athens3and the National Hellenic Research Foundation (NHRF)4also digitised some of their holdings. Recently the latter also launched its scholarly-scientific journals in digital format and open access, signaling its entry into the era of digital scholarship. Many of the digitisation projects undertaken in recent years have the support of the National Documentation Centre (EKT)5 , which operates within the framework of the National Hellenic Research Foundation, and acts as the main national infrastructure agent for scientific documentation, online information and support services for science, research and technology.

In the early years of the 21st century, earlier methodological and technological advances in the fields of Cultural Preservation, Museum Studies, Archiving and Cultural Informatics and the availability of generous European Union funding for cultural purposes enabled the launching of large-scale projects for the digitisation of cultural heritage assets and of resources of interest to Humanities scholars, a necessary prerequisite for research with Digital Humanities tools.

The emphasis on cultural heritage digital services for use in education and tourism that dominates the funding of most earlier and current digitisation projects means that the scholars that benefit most from the methodologies and technology of the digital age are the communities of archaeologists, art historians and cultural anthropologists. The digitisation of large corpora of textual and visual data has enabled them to access a variety of dispersed and often thitherto unavailable resources. It also introduced among both resource custodians and scholars the new principles that Digital Humanities brought to digital scholarship, those of collaboration, cross-disciplinarity and open access, with the use of Creative Commons licenses gradually becoming the rule.

Next to the digitisation of corpora, Cultural Informatics is the second influential aspect of Digital Humanities in Greece. An important milestone in its history was the founding of the Centre for Cultural Informatics (CCI), one of the facilities of the Information Systems Laboratory of the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH)6, in 1992 by Panos Constantopoulos, at the time Professor at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Crete. Constantopoulos also ran an interdepartmental postgraduate Cultural Informatics programme for a number of years, involving the Departments of Computer Science and of History and Archaeology, the only such interdisciplinary programme to have existed in Greek higher education so far. The mission of the Centre for Cultural Informatics is to pursue a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary approach toward supporting the entire lifecycle of cultural information and documentation procedures for the benefit of the study, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage. It specialises in semantic interoperability, information management and integrated access. As one influential project, the CCI developed National Standards for Cultural Documentation and Interoperability.

At the infrastructure level, the Greek Research & Technology Network (GRNET S.A.)7, a state owned company, provides high-quality Infrastructure and services to the research and educational community of Greece. The GRNET backbone interconnects more than 100 institutions, including all universities and many technical and research institutes, as well as the public Greek School Network and offers pioneering computing services to its members, academic institutes and researchers.

With the emergence of Digital Humanities as a discipline in its own right internationally, the establishment of an institution dedicated to research in the field in Greece became necessary. Thus, in 2007 Panos Constantopoulos established the Digital Curation Unit (DCU)8 as a unit within the Athena Research Centre (ARC). The DCU is the only institution in the country explicitly dedicated to research and development in the Digital Humanities and acts as an interdisciplinary research hub in the fields of digital curation of cultural and scientific heritage, evidence-based information behaviour and requirements analysis research, cultural ontologies, semantic metadata integration, and curation-oriented metadata repositories.

Among the most prominent institutes in the field are the Image, Video and Multimedia Systems Lab (IVML)9, of the Institute of Communications and Computer Systems (ICCS) of the National Technical University of Athens, which is the leader in the national framework IS-Helleana10; the Computational Intelligence Laboratory (CIL)11 and the Software and Knowledge Engineering Laboratory (SKEL)12 of the National Centre for Scientific Research Demokritos; the Information Technologies Institute (ITI)13 of the Centre of Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH); the Management of Data, Information, and Knowledge Group14 of the Department of Informatics and Telecommunications of the University of Athens; the Laboratory on Digital Libraries and Electronic Publishing15 of the Department of Archives and Library Science of the Ionian University, established in 1993; and the Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP / "Athena" R.C.).16 Moreover, a number of laboratories at other higher education institutions, such as the Universities of Patras and of the Aegean, as well as research centers have also been involved in Humanities related digital technologies projects over the last years.

While these institutes and laboratories have been and are being engaged in a number of national initiatives, the main focus of these institutions lies in collaborating with the major European FP7 transnational projects17 and in contributing to the Digital Humanities research agenda. The Digital Curation Unit, for example, participated in CARARE together with the Greek Ministry of Culture; it was a partner in EHRI; and it is currently engaged in ARIADNE as is also the Centre for Cultural Informatics; the Image, Video and Multimedia Systems Lab (IVML) of the ICCS, the Centre for Cultural Informatics and the Digital Curation Unit are also involved in Europeana and a number of Europeana related projects, such as DCA, Linked Heritage, Europeana Cloud, and LoCloud.

The catalyzing initiative at the infrastructure level was the identification of DARIAH as one of the ESFRI roadmap projects of Pan-European interest. In 2008 the European Commission provided funding for the preparatory phase of the project, “Preparing DARIAH”. Two Greek institutions, the Academy of Athens and DCU/ RC Athena, participated in “Preparing DARIAH”. At the national level the ESFRI initiative prompted the Greek Government to fund the preparatory phases of several national infrastructure projects. Thus, the DYAS project, a network consisting of eight higher education and research institutions and coordinated by the Academy of Athens, came into being. In 2010 and 2011, DYAS prepared a feasibility study for the development of a national infrastructure for the Humanities to work in tandem with DARIAH-EU.

Digital History in Greece: Challenges and perspectives
Over the last ten years, libraries, archives, museums and cultural heritage institutions have taken advantage of the new digital tools and methods in order to make their material available on the Internet for research and educational use. The following are a selection of digital projects that deserve mentioning, as examples that stand out for their innovative approach, comprehensiveness and popularity among the community of historians: The Digital Crete project18 developed by the Institute for Mediterranean Studies uses the technical expertise of its Laboratory of Geophysical - Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeo-environment. The National Research Foundation Eleftherios K. Venizelos undertook a virtual reconstruction of Venizelos’s private papers. The Centre for the Greek Language has constructed and provides a high-quality Greek language portal19 for textual resources. Archeiomnimon20 is both a collections portal and a research tool that was developed at the General State Archives. Pandektis21 is a rich aggregation of primary sources from the collections of the National Research Foundation. The project Greek Revolution and the Foundation of the Greek State22 is a subject-specific collection of resources held by the Academy of Athens.

In addition to these infrastructural projects, a number of institutions have published historical research projects online. Among the most influential are the Survey results in Boubon (Cibyratis, northern Lycia)23 , realised by the Institute for Historical Research of the National Research Foundation; and The Greek Rural Economy during the Inter-war years24, carried out by the Institute for Mediterranean Studies.

Digital scholarship is complemented by digital journals, such as Historein25 , Mnimon26 of the Society for the Study of Modern Hellenism, and the three journals of the Institute of Historical Research of the National Research Foundation.27 These are but a few examples of digital scholarly publications, and many more could be given.

Thus, the community of Greek historians have made ample use of the digital tools and digitised sources made available to them. Historians also use digital platforms as well as social network services to communicate with their peers nationwide and beyond national boundaries, to exchange information, data and views.28 But what the community of Greek historians are in need of is not only large corpora of high quality textual resources held in public and private archives and libraries; they are also in need of data of improved quality. Historians additionally require advanced digital tools for further data processing and analysis, to enable them to renew research practices, pose new questions and derive new answers from older questions. Preparations for one major project that takes advantage of newly available tools, such as georeference and visualisation, to advance research across the Humanities domains are currently under way at the Academy of Athens. Once completed, the project will render available on the Internet many of the Academy’s research projects completed in earlier years and will offer a highly developed platform as well as advanced research tools for use in ongoing and future research.

When Digital Humanities gradually emerged as an independent discipline in Greece as worldwide, the main Cultural Informatics institutions existing at the time expanded their interests toward new research areas and practices. Responding to the new methodological trend, not only the Digital Curation Unit of RC Athena, but also other ICT research institutes and laboratories have collaborated with their European counterparts in developing state-of-the-art methodology, standards, guidelines and tools for the benefit of Humanities researchers.

However, enabling Humanities scholars to benefit from the current technological trends in order to renew their research methods, to engage in collaborative projects and to apply an interdisciplinary approach in their research has so far met with limited success. With the exception of linguistics departments, Humanities higher education and research institutions have proven slow to adopt the new opportunities offered by the cross-disciplinary approach of Digital Humanities and cases of successful partnership between Humanities research institutions and centres of expertise in computer science are few. A number of individual or small teams of researchers have indeed used digital methods and tools in Humanities Computing research projects, some of them funded by the private John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation.29 On the other hand, limited national funding opportunities and structural barriers have impeded major institutions from launching the kind of large-scale Digital Humanities collaborative interdisciplinary projects that are necessary for transforming the Humanities research landscape.

The problem, as the research community, both Humanities scholars and ICT researchers acknowledge, is both structural and educational. Indeed, one of the most serious challenges facing the evolution of Digital Humanities in Greece is the fact that digital content is widely distributed among diverse institutions, including government agencies and departments, public and private museums, archives and special libraries, as well as academic and research units and associations, and that the degree and quality of digitisation varies substantially. Besides, Digital Humanities as an independent academic discipline is still absent from Greek higher education curricula and have not succeeded in effectively engaging the student community.

Digital Humanities Infrastructure: the case of DYAS
The opportunity to address the above-mentioned issues appeared in 2009. Following a call launched by the Greek General Secretariat for Research and Technology, the main public funding agency for research and for the creation of Research Infrastructures, in cooperation with the European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures by ESFRI, a network of eight institutions coordinated by the Academy of Athens received funding for a project entitled “Creating a Research Infrastructure Network for the Humanities DYAS”.30The aim of the project, which was completed in February 2011, was to prepare a feasibility study for the establishment of a national research infrastructure for Arts and Humanities and a proposal for a strategy to link the Greek Humanities research community with DARIAH31 , the cross-European research infrastructure.

The result was the creation of DYAS. The network aimed at bringing together higher education institutions, Humanities and ICT research institutions, and the main government cultural heritage agency, the Ministry of Culture. It involved a variety of stakeholders – members of the research community, digital cultural heritage managers and ICT professionals specializing in the Humanities. Its objective was to address the needs of two types of stakeholders related to Humanities research: firstly, the service providers (research and academic institutions, cultural heritage institutions and technological institutions). The project enabled them to participate in the planning of the envisioned infrastructure. Secondly, the research communities who form the critical mass of users of digital services, were promised access to the services of the European and national research infrastructures upon completion. The DYAS network assembled many of the major Digital Humanities institutions in Greece: the Academy of Athens as coordinator, the Digital Curation Unit/ Research Centre Athena, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the National Research Foundation, the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas, the Directorate of the National Archive of Monuments/ Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Athens School of Fine Arts, and the Image, Video and Intelligent Multimedia Systems Lab/ National Technical University of Athens.

The main outcome of the preparatory project was a feasibility study concerning the creation of a national research infrastructure, whose main objectives are to support digitally enabled Humanities research in Greece and to provide linkages with the European Research Infrastructure, DARIAH. The feasibility study was completed in February 2011 and combined a survey of the current state of affairs in Greece in the field of Humanities in general and Digital Humanities in particular, and a proposal for the enhancement of Digital Humanities research in Greece. The survey consisted of an assessment of the current state of Humanities research, information resources, institutions and infrastructures, of the technological expertise of the ICT institutions and of national policies directly or indirectly involved in the support of research in the Humanities. The proposal consisted of a detailed recommendation for engaging the Greek research community in the European research infrastructure DARIAH and for expanding the role of the network DYAS by creating a national infrastructure to enhance digital research in the Humanities. Meanwhile, in November 2010, the Greek General Secretariat for Research and Technology had signed a Memorandum of Understanding formally supporting the participation of Greece in DARIAH-EU and Greece became a founding member of DARIAH ERIC. As DARIAH-EU moved from the preparatory phase toward the construction of the infrastructure, the DYAS network, too, moved from the completion of the infrastructure feasibility study to the construction of the Greek national infrastructure.

In May 2013, following a call launched in July 2012 and a successful evaluation of its proposal, the DYAS network received funding to construct a Greek national research infrastructure for the Humanities, DARIAH-GR. The current project, scheduled to end in September 2015, will deliver the following sets of tasks/deliverables grouped into five services:

1. Data sharing: comprehensive registries of digital resources (institutions, individuals, data, metadata, ontologies, vocabularies and software services);
2. Supporting the development of digital resources: tools and best practice guidelines for the development of digital resources (data collection development, metadata development, ensuring metadata quality, vocabulary development, standards and best practices, intellectual property management, human resources development, content management/ repositories);
3. Networking, education, and capacity building: information and advocacy, networking activities (physical and virtual, including events), competence access services, researcher residency scheme, summer courses, educational and training materials and curricula, industry internships and matching activities.
4. DARIAH services: coordination with DARIAH-EU ERIC activities, access management to all DARIAH-EU services; and
5. Digital Humanities Observatory: evidence-based research on digitally driven Humanities in Greece and on Greek studies, monitoring, outreach and dissemination activities, physical as well as virtual.

As work on the project progresses, its partners are already collaborating with DARIAH-EU in a number of humanities research related activities, while the project’s portal has been redesigned to meet the needs of the infrastructure under construction.

A realistic vision for Digital Humanities in Greece
The DARIAH-GR Research Infrastructure, developed by the DYAS network, builds on the achievements and best practice approaches developed by DARIAH-EU, the leading Europe-wide digital infrastructure in the Arts and Humanities, with which it is affiliated, leveraging the experience of other DARIAH-related national digital infrastructure projects, and adapting it to the on-the-ground situation in Greece.

The main concept of DARIAH-GR is that of a hybrid-virtual distributed infrastructure, bringing together the strengths and capacities of leading research, academic, and collection custodian institutions through a carefully defined, lightweight layer of services, tools and activities complementing, rather than attempting to displace or replicate prior investments and capabilities. A key premise adopted by the DYAS network, fully substantiated by the DYAS feasibility study, is that Greek Arts and Humanities data and content resources are as a rule thematically organized, widely distributed, under the custodianship and curation of diverse institutions, including government agencies and departments, public and private museums, archives and special libraries, as well as academic and research units, associations, research projects, and other actors, and displaying a diverse degree of digitisation. Given the constitution of such information and Humanities research practices, established legal and institutional constraints, and curation and long-term sustainability considerations, primary data and content is to remain, in digital form, with holding institutions. The mission of the DARIAH-GR research infrastructure is therefore seen as follows:

“[T]o provide the Greek Arts and Humanities, and Greek studies, research communities worldwide with effective, comprehensive and sustainable capability to discover, access, integrate, analyse, process, curate and disseminate Greek Arts and Humanities data and information resources, through a concerted plan of virtual services and tools, and hybrid (combined virtual and physical) activities, integrating and running on top of existing primary information systems, collections and infrastructures, and leveraging two-way integration and synergies with the European Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities.”

DARIAH-GR services will take advantage of the domain-neutral computational and data management cloud infrastructure being developed by GRNET and Athena RC in order to optimise cost, concentrating exclusively on catering for domain-specific requirements.

The vision DYAS aspires to is, on the one hand, to empower the Greek Arts and Humanities research community to develop and adopt best practices in the use of digital technologies for research purposes, and thus participate fully and equally in the European research area. On the other hand, it is to assure long-term sustainability, long-term preservation, and access to the valuable assets of Arts and Humanities research data and content held by diverse institutions and actors in Greece for the advancement of scholarly-scientific knowledge, learning, and public enlightenment.

The DYAS network is committed to advocating for improving the accessibility and quality of information, for increasing digital literacy among Humanities scholars and for embedding it within Humanities curricula in higher education. In the short term, historians and other Humanities scholars will profit from workshops and other similar activities organized by the DYAS network and aiming to familiarize them with digital methods and tools and to encourage them to follow best practices and standards in their projects. The overall aim remains to revolutionise the landscape of Humanities research by integrating national and transnational experience in Digital Humanities into current research practice.

1 I wish to thank Anna-Maria Sichani for her invaluable help in preparing this paper.
2 In Greek the English language term is used untranslated to describe the discipline for lack – until now – of an accurate rendition.
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28 Mostly, Greek historians use personal webpages, for instance that of Professor Antonis Liakos, lists such as the Group for the Study of History and Society OMIK, forums like the Social History Forum, academic community platforms like, blogs, such as arthrografein and the more specialised History of Health Net and history specific Facebook and Twitter accounts.
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