Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Digital Humanities a Field of Research?

If you are a Canadian graduate student, the answer is currently: no.

At least according to SSHRC, the Canadian national research funding body. Canadian graduate students applying to fund their studies must choose one of five “multidisciplinary selection committees” to review their proposal. These committees are designed to ensure that someone with an expertise in your field – broadly construed – will be able to critique it fairly. Unfortunately, digital humanities does not appear in the list and SSHRC’s official suggestion is that students choose as best they can from the choices available.

  1. Fine arts, literature (all types)
  2. Classical archaeology, classics, classical and dead languages, history, mediaeval studies, philosophy, religious studies
  3. Anthropology, archaeology (except classical archaeology), archival science, communications and media studies, criminology, demography, folklore, geography, library and information science, sociology, urban and regional studies, environmental studies
  4. Education, linguistics, psychology, social work
  5. Economics, industrial relations, law, management, business, administrative studies, political science

This puts Digital Humanities students at a distinct disadvantage, as their work will only be deemed valuable if it contributes to history, literature, geography, or some other traditional research discipline, and cannot be judged on its own merits.

Please join me in telling SSHRC that Digital Humanities is an academic discipline, and one that deserves recognition within the SSHRC infrastructure. I have sent the following letter asking for a review of their current practice. If you support the measure, please send a brief, polite message to Roxanne Dompierre, SSHRC Program Officer (, outlining your support or let SSHRC know on Twitter (@SSHRC_CRSH).

Thank you very much

Adam Crymble


Ms. R. Dompierre

SSHRC Program Officer

RE: The inclusion of “Digital Humanities” as a category for graduate study

Dear Ms. Dompierre,

I respectfully submit a request to the SSHRC Doctoral Committee to add “Digital Humanities” as a category in one of your multidisciplinary selection committees.

Digital Humanities is a vibrant worldwide community of multidisciplinary scholars with PhD and MA programs in Canada, the US and Europe. This is a rapidly expanding field with more international involvement every year. It is a community that is researching and working within and beyond academia, with traditional peer-reviewed research, community outreach, and government partnerships. Research ranges widely from user studies, to humanities data mining, to digital tool construction.

The value of digital humanities research is clearly recognized within Canada. Recent SSHRC digital humanities funding initiatives for faculty include “Image, text, sound and technology” and “Knowledge Syntheses on the Digital Economy” (2010), as well as “Digging Into Data”, which was jointly funded by SSHRC, the NEH and AHRC. Despite ample funding at the faculty level, funding opportunities for students have not yet caught up with this trend.

The current advice from SSHRC for students studying within this emerging field is that they should apply to an evaluation committee with a traditional discipline that touches on the themes of their research. Working in a multidisciplinary field such as digital humanities, applicants are put at a distinct disadvantage when competing for funding against scholars doing traditional research within a single field. This is particularly the case when the judging criteria asks evaluators to assess how the research will impact that traditional discipline, something which may not be the explicit aim of the multidisciplinary research.

I urge SSHRC to make a positive step towards removing the ambiguity for digital humanists and encouraging the participation of new scholars in this developing research area by explicitly adding “Digital Humanities” to one of the multidisciplinary selection committees.

Thank you for your consideration.

Adam Crymble

SSHRC Applicant

PhD Candidate, King’s College London

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