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Theibault, J. (2016). Regional Digital Humanities Consortia: An Emerging Formalization of Informal Network Ties?. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 902-903.
Regional Digital Humanities Consortia: An Emerging Formalization of Informal Network Ties?

Regional Digital Humanities Consortia: An Emerging Formalization of Informal Network Ties?

The infrastructure supporting digital humanities work has evolved in a sometimes convoluted pattern of highly resourced large scale initiatives and small scale informal initiatives that lead to durable models that then scale up. Prime examples of informal structures becoming increasingly formalized until they become important features of the digital humanities infrastructure include CenterNet and THATCamp. Understanding such emerging informal initiatives and charting their development to scale is important for determining the essential ingredients of digital humanities infrastructure.

This poster presentation will identify and explore a new informal infrastructure for digital humanities work that has emerged in the last five years: Regional consortia of digital humanities practitioners. These regional consortia bring together people from a range of institutions within a defined geographical area. They can be distinguished from, on the one hand, state and national digital humanities groups that organize conferences and edit journals and require paid membership, as well as digital humanities centers located in a single institution or formally constituted groups with explicit criteria for admission, and, on the other hand, not visibly organized interactions in active digital humanities regions, even if those interactions are frequent in practice. Paris and London might serve as prominent examples of the latter, as neither has developed an informal network despite being highly active digital humanities practitioners. In fact, a central question about the presence of regional consortia is what need is being met by taking on an organized form at all, as opposed to just “getting together”? It has been frequently noted that digital humanities infrastructure is highly unevenly distributed. Will successful examples of regional consortia in some regions inspire or provide a framework for a widening support network in underserved regions? Or will it lead to consolidation of already established digital humanities communities?

I identify eleven regional consortia that have organized themselves with enough visibility to enable study (ten in the United States and one in Europe): DH SoCal, PhillyDH, NYCDH, Boston DH, Virginia DHC, TexasDH, Florida DH, SFBay DH, Detroit DH, Keystone DH, and DigHum Berlin. The framework is heavily tilted towards organizations in the US, and it is possible that there are comparable organizations in other countries that I have failed to uncover. As far as I can determine, each of these groups emerged more or less spontaneously from local initiatives, rather than being directly modeled on one another. I am not including DHBenelux or DH Nordic in my analysis though they share some of the same markers of spontaneous creation “from below,” because both have formally become affiliates of EADH and thus have taken on characteristics of national organizations. Many of them (though not all) share a close association with THATCamp. Either they came into being as part of the process of organizing a THATCamp or they were result of a THATCamp session. At a minimum, they exist virtually, as either a website, a twitter feed, or a listserv, or often all three. Usually, they also have face to face meetings of some kind. While most regional consortia have emerged in regions with at least one significant digital humanities center located at a major university, one of their most conspicuous features is that they are all expressly not housed at a single institution and are open to anyone interested in digital work in the region. Indeed, most appear to encourage outreach to under-resourced local cultural heritage institutions as part of their activities. Costs are kept very low, though some regional consortia have explicit institutional support from universities in the region, while others rely strictly on members’ support, drawing on institutional resources that individuals control.

The earliest regional consortium to establish an online presence, DH SoCal, first posted in March, 2010. Because such regional consortia are so new, they are still in the process of defining their missions and organizational structures. In almost all instances, an important reason for reaching out across institutional lines in a region is a perception that the range of skills/technical expertise required for digital projects is too great for any one institution to have them all. Regional consortia become a forum for sharing expertise. At the same time, as noted above, regional consortia act as evangelizers for digital projects, to encourage local cultural heritage organizations to embrace digital work. So the other primary function of consortia is to publicize local digital projects to a wider public. Membership in these consortia vary greatly in terms of the distribution between students, faculty, librarians, and representatives of cultural heritage organizations. This poster will compare and contrast the membership, statements of purpose, and activities of these various consortia to see if there are core features that may help future groups organize.