DH Benelux 2015: Tools, research, reflection

This blog post was written by Adeline van den Berg and Lotte Wilms

On 8 and 9 June 2015, the second DH Benelux conference took place, bringing approx. 150 Digital Humanists together in the beautiful building of the University of Antwerp. Apart from great lunches, conversations and a poster reception alongside penguins and flamingos, a few things stood out for us. Below we sum up what we think were common threads, with the help of some tweets.

(NB all abstracts are available here: http://dhbenelux.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/dhbenelux-final-programme.pdf)

We agreed with this tweet from our colleague, because we felt that many of the presentations that were about actual research that (according to Jesper Verhoef’s and Melvin Wevers’ presentation) includes heuristics, hermeneutics, tool criticism, corpus faceting, and source criticism, remained on a high level in order to introduce each of the steps. However, because the whole process was discussed, there was no time to go into the details of each of those steps. This left us somewhat unsatisfied in our search for the way DH-researchers conduct their work.

We not only want to know which process you followed in your research, but also why you decided on one thing over the other. How did you prepare your data? Why did you choose this tool over that tool and what are the effects on your outcomes? You disambiguated your named entities? Cool! But how did you do this? Are those tools on Github and are they useful for our users? And also, why did you ask what you asked and what does the answer contribute to your field? But perhaps this is exemplary for a conference about DH given the wide range of skills of the attendees and the varying interests and research topics?

Heard more than once: we need to be working with our users instead of for them. To ensure a good fit between tools or data and the user, discussion and input is needed! For institutions such as the KB this offers a valuable lesson (which we have in fact already been putting into practice, for example with our Researcher-in-residence programme).

The generic tool is the holy grail for digital humanities (© @sclaeyssens) no matter how hard we try and search for it, it probably does not exist. Every user and thus every user need is unique. For the KB this prompts the question: how can we cater for these needs?

Quite a few presentations were reflecting on DH as a community itself, asking questions about the gender balance in DH, or whether we have an overview of the projects and research that is happening. Other than being a healthy evaluative approach, it also points towards how rich and thriving the DH community actually is in the Benelux. It is ever growing. The conference was fully booked this year and hopefully grow even bigger next year (it has been announced that DH Benelux in 2016 will be on 9-10 June 2016, at Belval in Luxembourg).

And finally, something we didn’t comment on, but do like; paraphrasing keynote speaker William Noel: ‘Do not love you website but love your data. Make your data promiscuous!’.

The Digital Humanities team of the KB presented a poster at the conference, which we will discuss in the next blog post. Stay tuned!

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