The Studio in the humanities and social sciences

Yet, the implications of e-research for the humanities and social sciences are far from clear. A systematic and critical interrogation of the potential of e-research paradigms and methodologies for the humanities and social sciences has been hampered by disciplinary boundaries between fields, by a relative lack of resources and research infrastructures, and by the dominance of particular computational approaches in the world of e-science. The Studio will address these problems by:

  • demonstrating and exploring the potential of additional, non-computational as well as computational, ways of doing e-research
  • making disciplinary boundaries more permeable for new scholarly practices
  • pooling resources that are available to the scholarly communities in the Netherlands and abroad.

The humanities and social sciences are not a unified set of knowledge practices, as is well known. Methodologies and techniques do not travel easily from one field to another. This has a direct bearing upon the development of e-research tools, practices, infrastructures and institutions. For example, in fields like philosophy, art history or literature studies, scholars even may not be aware of e-science as relevant to them at all. The equipment of many academic scholars with the tools and "play space" they need to independently assess the merits of e-research has moreover been hindered. Lack of funding has decreased the space for advanced instrumentation and support staff. Moreover, ICT has been standardised within the paradigm of office automation and therefore lacks many features that would be useful for scholarly work. In so far as ICT has been tailored to research needs, it has been based on computational research and often assumes mathematical and programming skills on the part of the researcher. In many fields scholars have different needs, such as the representation of ill-defined data, analysis-oriented visualisation of manuscripts and multimedia sources, and specific source-oriented analytical tools. These needs are often not met by standard computational and mathematical analytic methods.

The meeting of e-research and the academic scholar is moreover problematic because it is far from clear whether the present needs of the scholar can be met by e-research at all. Important fields in the humanities and social sciences are characterised by a huge epistemic diversity; by specific, sometimes person-bound, roles of the researcher; by the lack of consensus about the research agenda in a host of specialties; by a relatively low-tech research environment (often aggravated by the scarcity of university funding); by the specificity of writing and reading as features of knowledge creation; and by a historically grounded and relatively large share of solitary research practices (Becher 1989; Whitley 2000). In all these dimensions, many fields seem ill-suited to become enthusiastic adopters of the e-science paradigm as it now stands. If e-research should make sense to a variety of specialties in the humanities and social sciences, new non-computational and computational paradigms of e-research need to be developed.

The Studio will therefore orient itself to a critical interrogation of the very notion of e-research, by taking seriously the intellectual and social characteristics of the humanities and social sciences and the implications of these characteristics for the hermeneutics of e-research as a prospective intellectual and technical horizon. At the same time, existing knowledge practices in the humanities and social sciences should not be taken for granted. There is ample space for enhancement indeed (see for example the NWO programs focused on new research practices in the humanities and social sciences (NWO 2000; NWO 2001; NWO 2001)). This must in the end be enacted by the research communities themselves, which is why we wish to engage them in the Studio. Advanced research projects and the discussion of these projects in seminars and Summer Schools can play a catalytic role in this development by the involvement of new generations of researchers and students (PhD and Research Masters). Each research project will result in contributions to the pool of research resources in the form of scientific and technical publications, research methodologies and techniques, software tools, organisational protocols, or best practice manuals, and freely downloadable data and tools. Because the research projects in the Studio will not be developed for but with scholars in the humanities and social sciences, we expect that the lessons learned in this research programme will have a lasting effect on academia in the Netherlands.

This may be reinforced by the host of recent new initiatives in the areas of digitisation, Web based repositories and archives, digital libraries, and collaboratories, in the Netherlands as well as abroad. New programmes such as the Dutch national initiative DARE and the NWO programme CATCH attest to this. Indeed, digitisation of the humanities has been on the agenda for a number of years (NWO 2000). Recently, a consensus has emerged about the need for a national data archive in the humanities and social sciences (DANS) (see for the social sciences SWR 2003). This coincides with a rethinking of the social and cultural roles of the humanities in the Netherlands (Bijker and Peperkamp 2002; NWO 2002) and abroad (eg. Ang and Cassity 2004). The Studio will not duplicate these efforts. Its research will also not try to take over the responsibility of R&D departments of data archives, repositories and academic and research libraries. To the extent that these R&D efforts will take more shape, the Studio will take initiatives to cooperate in joint research projects on common themes. We expect that these projects will focus on the role of data and data standards in scholarly work.

Complementary relationships also will be developed with scholars engaged in methological research in social science and humanities university departments, and with research groups in humanities computing. The Studio will not try to interfere with already well-established methodological traditions and research programmes in Dutch universities. Monodisciplinary methodology is the responsibility of the relevant research groups, not of the Studio. Rather, the Studio will contribute to the exchange of methodologies between different research traditions by creating an experimental space and repository of e-research related methods and tools. In e-research it is sometimes less clear what a research method actually entails than in traditional research contexts. For example, the difference between tools for communication and tools for analysis may become blurred. This is especially true for collaborative analytical and annotation tools, a niche area that may be worthwhile for the Studio researchers to explore. This area is usually not yet covered in more traditional methodological research. The Studio moreover aims to contribute to the methodological development of the study of e-research itself. To this end, the Studio develops a concentrated research effort in three specific methodological domains (see Methodological foci).