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Moldovan, C. (2016). Challenges in Setting up a Digital Humanities Centre in Romania. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 844-845.
Challenges in Setting up a Digital Humanities Centre in Romania

Challenges in Setting up a Digital Humanities Centre in Romania

The Transylvania Digital Humanities Centre (DigiHUBB) is an emerging Digital Humanities Centre based in the Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The Centre was officially established in April 2014 within the Faculty of Letters. As is evidenced in other cases, DigiHUBB exists because of the commitment of scholars experienced in various fields related to Digital Humanities. 1 The primary goal of DigiHUBB was to create a collaborative network connecting DH activities within the University and beyond, that first took into account the importance of communicating the vast global impact that DH research and practices have today. The centre defined itself as impact-oriented, with an emphasis on innovation related to research, teaching and creative activities. While following the path of other prestigious DH Centres around the world, DigiHUBB aims to develop its own expertise coming from the distinctive regional specificity of Transylvania that benefits from a multicultural and multilingual cultural heritage, which has not been sufficiently explored with modern tools till now. 2

The importance of analysing the different ways in which a DH centre is built was stressed by Claire Warwick in her seminal essay “Institutional models for digital humanities” published in the Digital Humanties in Practice (Warwick, C., Terras, M., Nyhan, J., 2014). The cases analysed in the chapter - the creating of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Digital Humanities in Mexico - were considered representative for the way they illustrated the institutional environment and the particularities of diverse “particular academic, political, cultural and economic realities” ( http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dh-in-practice/chapter-9/).

This paper is a commentary on the manner in which a DH Centre is established in an Eastern-European country 3 and the challenges that exist within the traditional structures and mentalities at different levels -- the academia, the policy-makers and the society in the larger sense. The poster will focus on the strategies that DigiHUBB has, at different levels – education, research and innovation, collaboration with the IT industry. It will also point out similarities between other post-revolutionary experiences and learn if there could be a kind of specificity that could give our centre a uniqueness that will make it relevant internationally. We will compare this challenge with other interdisciplinary endeavours in Romania. The argument in this paper strongly resonates with the thematic implications addressed in this conference – the “social, institutional and multicultural aspects of digital humanities” ( http://dh2016.adho.org/cfp/).

In approaching this report we have observed several paradoxes that could easily exemplify the challenges that an innovative approach faced in both the institutional environment and the investment in the research framework in Romania. In the first place, the rapidity with which DigiHUBB gained international support and assistance 4 was tempered by the resistance of the existing research structure, although it is well-known that Romanian research in general is less internationalized and under performing in all major university rankings. 5 In the second instance, although the IT industry in Romania, and especially in Transylvania, is productive and lucrative, it addresses the quotidian aspects of digital work and not the innovative part. Moreover, there is a visible mismatch between the skills needed by the knowledge market and the qualifications provided by the academia.

The challenges that DigiHUBB faces are complex and they target, as our paper will show, several important issues that go from the generic ones ( the misunderstanding of the concept, the lack of confidence in its epistemological value, the supremacy of the published paper book over electronic publications, the absence of systemised pedagogy in Digital Humanities, the minimal funding from the University or governmental institutions) to more specific ones, which are more challenging to engage with.

DigiHUBB has been involved in a variety of activities related to the Digital Humanities since its inception: in January 2014 the keynote speaker for the inaugural conference was professor Susan Schreibman from Maynooth University; this was followed by a conference held by doctor Julyanne Nyhan, from UCL, in March and many informal meetings with other key members of the Digital Humanities community. The lobbying and promoting Digital Humanities also included participation to national academic events, publishing articles on the theme 6; the following step was to set up a training event, so in April-May 2015 DigiHUBB organized a one week workshop on TEI and data visualisation financed by NeDIMAH and the European Science Foundation, and co-organized a symposium on textual digital analysis within the Babes-Bolyai University. 7 There was a strong involvement in networking and studying the activities of other DH centres in Europe. We also succeeded to introduce an MA module on scholarly edition that will start in 2016.

In the process of setting up our centre we had to fight a very specific way of relatedness that still characterizes post-revolutionary Romanian society, which we can be characterized as “non-digital humanist”, as it is, in most cases, individualistic, speculative, traditional, and change-resisting, in comparison with the collaborative, hands-on, innovative and co-creative features of Digital Humanities 8.

Understood as a HUB, our centre has multiple possibilities of offering innovation, at all levels of the research-economic-social chain. We also consider it as a new cultural model, a real co-working space opened to all the actors of our multicultural and multilingual region.

  1. Byrne, T. and Schreibman, S. (2015). ‘Digital Humanities and the Innovation Ecosystem: A DARIAH-Ireland Report.’ Maynooth University.
  2. Schreibman, S., Siemens R. and Unsworth J. (eds). (2014). A Companion to Digital Humanities. Hoboken: Blackwell Publishing.
  3. Terras, M., Nyhan, J. and Vanhoutte, E. (eds). (2013).  Defining Digital Humanities: a Reader. UK: Ashgate.
  4. Ridge, M. (2014). Crowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage. UK: The Open University.
  5. Warwick, C., Terras, M. and Nyhan, J. (eds). (2012).  Digital Humanities in Practice. Facet.

Some of the DigiHUBB’s members were directly involved in Digital Humanities, like text editing or mapping, others expressed their interest in Digital Humanities as a discipline and an object of study. The DigiHUBB members come from different fields, like linguistics, geography, literature, computer science, art history, etc.



There is a lack of collaborative projects concerning big historical events important for Transylvania and Romania, as the “1918 Centenary” where DigiHUBB could evidently have an important contribution.


Romania is, at the moment of this proposal, one of the last East-European country that entered the Digital Humanities circuit.


Immediately after its creation DigiHUBB was put on the “Around DH” map (courtesy to Alex Gill from Columbia University Libraries), http://www.arounddh.org/. The response of the Digital Humanities Community to the first call for assistance launched on Humanist Discussion Group was impressive.


As reported in http://ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/pdf/country-profiles/ro_country_profile_and_featured_projects.pdf#view=fit&pagemode=none.


See Corina Moldovan, A discipline of reference in present days research digital humanities , in “Globalization, Intercultural Dialogue and National Identity”, Iulian Boldea ed., Arhipeleag Press XXI, 2014, pp.286-294.

Corina Moldovan, Les humanités numériques, une provocation, in “Debates on Globalization. Approaching National Identity through Intercultural Dialogue”, Iulian Boldea ed., Arhipeleag Press XXI, 2015, pp.99-108.


„Editing texts in a digital world:text encoding and data visualization”, workshop, Cluj-Napoca, 27 april-3 may 2015 and „Explorations in textual digital analysis for the humanities and social-sciences”, symposium, Cluj-Napoca, 14-15 may 2015.


„The digital humanities, therefore, not only widens the scope and processes of disciplines within the university, but contributes to national innovation agendas, creating new possibilities for the traditional scholar within an increasingly competitive academic and economic context. As such, the collaborative nature of digital humanities research contributes to the innovation ecosystem, understood as the productive interaction between people, ideas, flows, processes and outputs.” (Byrne, T and Schreibman, S (2015)