The University of Canterbury Digital Humanities program hosted an afternoon of lectures on November 12, 2015, entitled The Frontiers of DH: Humanities Systems Infrastructure. It featured speakers Alan Liu, Paul Arthur, and James Smithies who provided their perspectives and insight on the looming issue of infrastructure in the Humanities, which is easy to ignore but shouldn’t be. The following are some notes from Arthur’s lecture.

Smart Infrastructures for Cultural and Social Research – Paul Arthur, Professor and inaugural Australian Chair in Digital Humanities at the University of Western Sydney

Infrastructure used to mostly mean equipment and facilities, but now it is  also about people, who are maybe even more important (for example, having people to communicate between IT and elsewhere).

Few predicted that Google, a big corporation, would end up doing so much of the digitization work that normally libraries might be expected to do. He mentioned Graeme Turner’s Towards an Australian Humanities Digital Archive. Australia chose not to proceed with doing it by itself, partly because of Google, but it does now have Trove. Digitization is important, but infrastructure for Humanities researchers are the texts. Those are their evidence, not the technology that enables it. Merely scanning is not enough; texts have to be searchable, etc. The success of Trove has put pressure on the National Library as a trusted custodian to expand its projects as well as support other libraries.

Social and Cultural Research were chosen as terms rather than Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS), so it is not restricted to specific disciplines.

NCRIS Status Report on the NCRIS eResearch Capability found that Australia’s HASS has not kept up with the rest of the world. What does that mean? Should there be one national infrastructure or many that interlock? (Sciences have diverse needs and infrastructure to match, from medical to biological to space.) HASS often told to talk more with each other; should we be cross-pollinating more? (yes)

Conversations around infrastructure should also discuss rewards and recognition for people and the work they do with digital. Ideally, research should be citable, Open Access, and reproducible.


It is now much easier for people to document their lives. We can look at people in their framework and environments (social network analysis). We’ve gone from linear print to multilinearity and hyperlinked texts. Biographies are no longer just looking at individuals in isolation but more broadly. Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) has become a research network; the term biography doesn’t really apply anymore. There are 13,000 entries, modeled after the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) which sees itself as a curated collection rather than a dictionary. It is now possible to look at themes instead of an A-Z or chronological approach – this is really changing how these dictionaries function.

Editing Process

In 2009, the ADB team was still using analogue processes of paper editing, pencils and sharpeners, and typists typing up material. It shows the persistence of analogue with its long history. One person would work on a thing at a time and be notified of articles to work on through folders placed in their pigeonhole. Articles’ progress was charted through magnets on a whiteboard. They eventually moved to Windows Live (then Skydrive, now Onedrive).

Once ADB went online, it prompted questions of what represents a life? What represents a nation? Who makes it in? Where are women, Aborigines, workers, etc.?

ADB is free but ODNB is behind a paywall. Some of ADB is also available in Trove.

Obituaries Australia

The goal is to publish all previously published obituaries in Australia. It offers different perspectives from ADB and the chance for more people to be included. There is a Related Entries box instead of hyperlinks within the text. You can create diagrams of family trees and spousal relationships.

HuNI (Humanities Networked Infrastructure)

HuNI (pronounced honey) is a Humanities infrastructure aggregator with open linked data and API. The good thing is, although cultural data is hard and laborious to collect, once it is collected, it withstands the test of time for scholars.

During the Q&A, Alan Liu posed an interesting question: Will DH always be tied to nations?