How We Became Digital? Recent History of Digital Humanities in Poland

Maciej Maryl (maciej.maryl@ibl.waw.pl), Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland

Digital humanities suddenly erupted in Poland in the second decade of the 21 st Century: first digital humanities centres were established (2013-2015); Poland joined important European networks and consortia like CLARIN (2013), NeDiMAH (2014), DARIAH (2015), or OPERAS (2017) while establishing national consortia CLARIN-PL (2013), and DARIAH-PL (2015); finally, it hosted important international conferences: CLARIN 2015 in Wrocław and ADHO’s Digital Humanities 2016 in Kraków. Yet, this sudden eruption by no means marks the beginning of DH in Poland. The first digital projects in the humanities could be traced backed to early 2000s as the data collected in the survey by Werla & Maryl (2014) suggest. Those events should then be understood as landmarks in the process of the institutionalization of digital humanities in Polish scholarship.

This paper explores the specificity of digital humanities in Poland through the analysis of the events and projects which lead to this institutionalization. As O’Sullivan et al. 2015 point out “Tracing the emergence of academic disciplines in a national context is a useful undertaking, as it goes beyond the definition of a field to an assessment of its evolution within a more specific cultural context.” They also claim that the emergence of the field is closely connected to the social as well as economic trends. It is true for Poland, where humanities computing evolved slowly due to technological deficiencies and budgeting problems. Moreover, Polish humanities in the 1990s (especially in the field of literature, culture and history) were also preoccupied with removing the “white spots”, i.e. conducting research on topics that could not have been accounted for before 1989 for political reasons. On the other hand, when discussing the development of DH in a country which was hardly a forerunner of digital methods, but rather its late adopter, heavily influenced by the experiences of foreign institutions, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the regional specificity of digital research practices (cf. Schreibman 2012). Is there any local flavour of the practices, materials, or tools selected? Does it go beyond mere linguistic differences? Are region-specific research questions being asked?

The discussion will be based on selected projects (Werla & Maryl 2014), conferences, as well as on the observations of the forming phase of DARIAH-PL consortium (2013-2015), which would serve as a case-study. The issue of national specificity of DH in Poland in comparison to other European countries will be addressed in the light of the results of DARIAH VCC2 survey on digital methods (Dallas et al. 2017), conducted in 2014-15 by the Digital Methods and Practices Observatory (DiMPO) Working Group of DARIAH-EU. The discussion will be informed by Roopika Risam’s concept of “DH accent” which allows to account for “both local specificity and global coherence in DH” (2017:378).

Although the authors of Digital_Humanities claim that “The mere use of digital tools for the purpose of humanistic research and communication does not qualify as Digital Humanities” (ibid.) The results of DARIAH VCC2 survey on digital methods and tools in the humanities show that the application of digital methods in the humanities is gradual. The tools like word processors, web search engines and various online resources (digital libraries, archives, journals) are widely adopted. Yet, a bit more advanced tools (e.g. bibliography managers or specialized note-taking applications) are relatively less popular. And there are still some types of applications (e.g. databases, Content-Management-Systems, or use of social media in scholarly practices) which are used only by a small group of scholars. Therefore being a digital humanist means placing oneself on the scale ranging from the basic tools nearly all of us use to the most advanced stage on which new methods and software capacities enable us to pose completely new research questions (or to answer the old ones in a fundamentally different manner).

This process of becoming digital, i.e. adopting digital methods and practices by scholars in the humanities, will be analysed through the conceptual framework of “three waves” of digital humanities: (1) early remediation of traditional methods of scholarly inquiry (cf. Svensson 2009); (2) taking the advantage of the new medium in creating new methods and genres (Pressner 2011; Davidson 2008; Svensson 2010) (3) critical scrutiny of the epistemic constraints of the medium (Berry 2011, Rogers 2015). Those waves, although sometimes understood chronologically, are here considered as co-occuring in a DH community.

Polish sample of the DARIAH survey does not differ greatly in terms of the digital tools applied by scholars in comparison to the European sample. They use less often bibliography managers or personal databases, but Polish results seem to be rather consistent with European sample, what – in turn – shows that Polish DH, although developed beyond the existing networks, show similar patterns of growth. There are however important differences in terms of disciplinary background, career status and perceived needs of the Polish scholars, who were more interested in enhancing their existing research practices (improved access to the sources or software, networking), and are less open to new methods and tools (advice, courses, support options).

By means of such comparative perspective this paper engages with the conference topic, discussing how digital approaches may be instrumental in building ‘bridges’ between various research communities, which in turn may contribute to levelling the differences with regards to centres and peripheries of contemporary DH. Understanding the tension between local and transnational initiatives is important to capture the specificity of Polish DH, which could be viewed also as a heavily institution-related. Poland participates in CLARIN and DARIAH, yet Polish scholars are not that active in ADHO (there is no Polish Association of DH). Given the emerging national and international DH initiatives in Eastern Europe, as well as the plans to establish DARIAH Hub for the region, it may be a good moment to reflect on the interplay of regional and external factors of this process. A better understanding of how we have become digital humanists, offered here on the example of Poland, may inform those initiatives.


Appendix A

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