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Crossing the Unexpected: Comments from Google Wave

Crossing the Unexpected: Benefits and Challenges of Scholarly Collaboration in a Humanities Labs

  1.  Crossing the Unexpected: Benefits and Challenges of Scholarly Collaboration in a Humanities Labs

  2.   Smiljana Antonijevic and Anne Beaulieu


Time: 3:15:00

Day: 4/15/2010

Location: Pre-Recorded


Abstract: New research practices in the humanities increasingly integrate digital tools and virtual research environments (VREs). To support and study these changes, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has recently started an initiative called Alfalab as a joint project of five KNAW research institutes. Alfalab is part of the KNAWs strategy of supporting humanities research in general and digital and computational humanities in particular. As a VRE, Alfalab includes a virtual laboratory that combines a tools registry and a dataset registry in two areas of digital humanitiestext analysis and the application of Geographical Information Systems to historical materials. Alfalab addresses the problem of sustainability and/or applicability of tools tailored to heterogeneous data, and it takes the particular conditions of the humanities as a starting point. Furthermore, Alfalab examines success and failure factors in the digital humanities, and it includesat the earliest phase of tool development an interactive approach to user feedback. Alfalab therefore embraces the issue of heterogeneity of research questions and methods, and seeks to be responsive to this in its structure and way of working. In the framework of Alfalab, researchers and users across research institutes and universities, and across a number of disciplines come together to develop tools and to enhance research practices. To achieve that, they continually transcend traditional disciplinary and research boundaries, and, in such a processes, they often face the unexpecteddirections, effects, problems, solutions, failures, benefits, communicative breakdowns, and so on. Our proposed contribution will highlight these aspects of Alfalab. It will trace, record, and exhibit benefits and challenges emerging from encounters with the unexpected in a collaborative scholarly work on developing a humanities lab. This presentation will offer a set of short interviews with the Alfalab developers, users, and funders, as well as with the digital humanities experts outside the Alfalab project. This array of interviews will provide a multisided perspective on potentials and complexities stemming from the development and implementation of the next generation digital tools for the humanities research. The presentation will also include recordings from the Alfalab test sessions, portraying specificities of the humanities scholars interaction with the Alfalab demonstrator tools. Finally, the video will show Alfalab research and development team sessions, illustrating dilemmas, problems, problem-solving strategies and other elements of the Alfalab development process.


Speaker: Smiljana Antonijevic and Anne Beaulieu

Bio: Smijana Antonijevic is a Post-Doctoral Research at the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Antonijevic completed her Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Communication with a concentration in Internet Studies in 2008 from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.


Anne Beaulieu is a Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Program Leader at the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Scienes. Dr. Beaulieu received her Ph.D. in the Department of Science & Technology Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam in 2000.


Session Materials:



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4:21 pm

Hi there, I like this expectations stuff!

Hi, thank you. Did it meet your expectations?


4:23 pm

But I like the correlation with the expectations re e-reseach and digital humanities

4:30 pm

Great interviews!

4:41 pm

I, too, enjoyed the discussion on the expected vs unexpected in the context of the humanities lab -- thank you! Interesting coincidence: I am reading Whitman's Leaves of Grass right now and your discussion reminded me of something I had just read a couple of minutes ago (I hope you all won't mind me indulging in some poetry :p): "The past is the push of you and me and all precisely the same,/And the night is for you and me and all,/And what is yet untried and afterward is for you and me and all./I do not know what is untried and afterward,/But I know it is sure and alive and sufficient."

Thanks, Viola; what is most striking for you in the relationship between expectations and the humanities?

4:33 pm

I really like the linkage of humanities lab, expectations, and presentation. Very well done!

4:34 pm


Thank you, Cathy. What was particularly interesting for you in linking expectations and humanities lab?


4:37 pm

We are starting humanities labs here at the Franklin Humanities Institute and label I am often asked if "humanities" and "lab" go together in ways other than "science studies" and I find myself saying over and over that ANYTHING, in any field, is humanities so long as it is rooted in the ages' old humanistic concern for "what it means to be human in civil society"---with each term in that phrase subject of interrogation and deconstruction. I'm writing on the neuorscience of attention now and the digital but it is utterly humanistic because I reflexively ask the historical and the ontological questions evne thoughI am writing for a trade audience. I found your comments on expectation and analysis very exciting in this pov. Not asked as a cognitive psychologist would but multi-dimensionally as a humanist would. thank you!

Moments of unmet expectations have been very fruitful 'on the ground'--and have been the start of many of the real reaching out, or reaching across between parts of the team. And of course, at an analytic level, they are moments when assumptions are revealed. Would love to read more about this work on neuroscience of attention. We are developing work at teh VKS in Rotterdam on neuroscience of decision-making and its growing role in 'civil society'.


4:22 pm

do not know yet, still into it

What do you see as the main correlation?

4:34 pm

What I like is the "unpolished" character of this presentation. so no polished project overview but on the one hand the issue of expectation, which is ABSOLUTELY crucial, and how this is perceived in day to day work on this. Also the difference in perspectives from different backgrounds.

Yes, the difference in disciplinary backgrounds and expectations was also very important for us, and I am glad it came out in the presentation.

When I watched the presentation again, I was thinking about some of the reactions of colleagues, asking what was specific about humanities in what we raised. And I was thinking that the sensibility of taking something odd and turning it into something fruitful for research was actually quite an ethnographic thing to do.

4:36 pm


I certainly agree with that, the unexpected is one of the main features of ethnographic research.

There is also something quite 'human' about that whole dynamic of expectation, of attachments to outcomes, and of the work needed to overcome the problems or discomforts that arise when expectations aren't met. Perhaps this is an interesting contrast with the more modernist way of approaching the promises of technologies.

4:38 pm

Yes, the point of an etiquette is also interesting. How does etiquette rrelate to expectation. And the tool point as told by Joris. Still very dominant.

what do mean with the tool point?


4:40 pm

btw, and utterly unrelated, are you feeling the ash from the Volcano? I'm having to rebook a flight to Sweden because of a changed date for our DML winners event and cannot get through to airlines and there was a recorded message about unusually heavy traffic due to rescheduling of all flights in Europe because of the volcano in Iceland. I am now breaking into your Google Wave with a very irrelevant question, I realize, mauruding, and hope you will forgive me! Expectation turned inside out perhaps?

4:42 pm

I and some other HASTAC'ers also tweeted your presentation and are aggregating all the conference tweets as #HASTAC10 in case you are interested in other responses. Unfortunately, our system is being migrated today and I've only been able to be on intermittently as our network is very compromised for the changeover. No email at all. Not a bad thing. I think your question on etiquette has made me suspend all sense of same. I'll stop now. Promise. But I would love more insights into what you think a humanities LAB, in particular, adds to the humanistic repertoire?

the 'Lab' carries particular expectations, about the objects (discrete, stable, dissectable, preservable, storable, pokable...) with which one will engage (so, ontological expectations) and about behaviours (procedures, protocols, experiments,.. epistemic expectations.) and outcomes (results, data, objective measurements,...). These are very powerful tropes, and shouldn't be underestimated. How they prod us into other ways of thinking about what we do as humanities scholars can be quite valuable, even as we purport NOT to buy into the positivistic baggage of the lab.

Yes, went out on the roof terrace with my son to look at the funny skies, but quickly went back inside because you could actually 'taste' it in the air. might be psychological.

4:40 pm

yes, all air traffic is down.


Dear Anne, dear Smilijana, I VERY much liked the format of your presentation, which turns the spotlight back onto the viewer's own expectations.

I am myself studying the use of databases in literary sociology. ICT is here mainly used to stimulate research in a 'data-driven' way, i.e. by enabling scholars to discern larger social trends on the basis of a lot of empirical material. Alfalab on the other hand is a tool for textual analysis. What did scholars perceive to be the biggest benefit in using this digital tool? In what way is the collaborative element of Alfalab changing existing research questions?

Thanks; Alfalab is conceived as a virtual research environment, of which tools for textual analysis comprise one part, and it is still in the phase of development, so we hope to be able to learn more about all the questions you raise in the later stage of development. What was intersting for you in spotlighing the viewers' own expectations?


Well, on a very basic level, it reminded me that my own view that is shaped by disciplinary traditions. My view equally is ethnographic and perhaps historical (I tend to relate applications like alfalab to the history of literary studies). I think that a lot of people in HASTAC on the other hand take an 'applied' perspective, i.e. what can digital tools do for the humanities. Both view have their blind spots!

5:18 pm

Both have their pov, both their blindspots---because that is what a pov is! I personally find the most interesting conjunctions as the ones that view all the disciplines as "affordances," analogous to "tools" if not exactly tools, rather than one being used to understand or enhance the other. But that is my iconoclastic HASTACy take on interdisciplinarity. It comes in many forms but I especially like the form that creates the blur and then leads to the deconstruction of that imprecise blur. It's one of the things I liked about this presentation.


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