Digital Humanities (DH) has emerged in the last decades as an exciting and challenging field of research, combining – in an international and interdisciplinary effort – theory, practices and methods from multiple fields in the Humanities and Computer and Data Sciences. This has resulted in innovative research, and the creation of promising new directions for the Humanities. While DH has developed successfully in the UK and Ireland, with the establishment of world-leading centres in both countries, there are major opportunities for further development and innovation in the field by bringing together their complementary strengths. Seeking to nurture the capacity for excellent research and teaching in DH, to establish and sustain more effective connections with non-HE sectors (notably Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), and to create new pathways for collaboration, this project will undertake research and consultation vital to the implementation of a permanent Digital Humanities association within the UK and Ireland. Building on existing research conducted by the partner institutions, it will bring together different stakeholders to consider and interrogate critically the concepts of sustainability, inclusivity, training, advocacy and career progression, among other key questions. Institutions and individuals engaged with the network, across the UK and Ireland, will work to propose ways in which the UK and Ireland can build a collaborative vision for the field, and create new and sustainable long-term partnerships in alignment with the international community. At the end of a year of intensive discussion, deliberation and planning, the foundations for a self-sustaining DH association will have been laid, and it will be launched in the autumn of 2021.

Planned Impact

This network will lead to the creation of a formal UK/Irish Digital Humanities association, by developing the evidence base and mapping pathways. In doing so, it will bring long-term benefits for the following four communities:

1) Researchers in Digital Humanities

Researchers will have the opportunity to inform the development of a formal DH association for the UK and Ireland. Workshop attendees will gain insights into key issues in creating and supporting effective DH collaborations, and contribute directly to developing a pathway towards a formal association. Early Career Researchers will benefit from two aspects. First, they will be supported to attend each of the workshops, providing important opportunities for networking at national and international level. Second, we will create a supportive environment to allow ECRs and other stakeholders to provide direct input into strategic discussions. This will ensure their voices are represented in the project outputs, and therefore the founding principles of the organisation. The core project partners and participants represent key nodes in the UK and Irish DH landscape. They will provide impetus for knowledge exchange, offering long-term benefits to the research community through increased awareness of DH and greater alignment between existing pockets of expertise.

2) Individuals in cognate careers including Research Software Engineering (RSE)

In recent years, there have been significant steps towards formalising and developing career paths for those in cognate careers, such as RSE. The network will provide a forum for those on cognate career paths to influence the direction and priorities of the association, and to identify differing training and development needs. It will also provide an important nexus for cross-sectoral knowledge exchange and networking. In the long term, the foundation of an association will lead to opportunities for formal collaborations around workforce development and training.

3) Content-holding institutions

Organisations such as libraries, archives, galleries and museums will be given the opportunity to feed their expertise directly into the process. Content-holding organisations are actively engaged in supporting DH research and, in many cases, contributing directly through research projects and collection development. They will therefore benefit from representation in developing the underlying principles of the association. Attendees from these organisations will benefit from solidifying formal links with the DH research community, and the sharing of good practice in undertaking and supporting DH research. Similarly, IROs will be able to inform the research agenda to ensure broad interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral representation.

4) Strategic bodies and policymakers

By working towards a formal representative organisation for DH, the network will support strategic decision-making. This will, in the long term, benefit policymakers and funding bodies, through collaborations with a formal representative body to inform decision-making in both DH and the broader Arts and Humanities. This applies to Research and Innovation bodies including UKRI and the Irish Research Council, and to organisations involved in workforce development. For instance, the Society of Research Software Engineers would benefit from collaboratively developing clear career paths in software engineering and development in the Arts and Humanities. It will also position the UK and Ireland as formal contributors to a broad and growing global infrastructure of strategic DH organisations. This will ensure that the UK and Ireland play a key strategic role in shaping the research and innovation agenda in DH. Further benefits will accrue through the transparent process of consultation and dissemination that we intend to adopt, upon which others who are considering setting up similar representative organisations will be able to draw in order to shape their own discussions.