Prof. Manfred Thaller: »Towards a reference curriculum for the Digital Humanities«

Monday full-day workshop Towards a reference curriculum for the Digital Humanities was facilitated by Prof. Manfred Thaller from the University of Cologne It was meant as one more step on the way towards a standardization of degree programs for transferability between different mostly German universities, so that people understand the skill set that one has based on a similar degree designed as Digital Humanities. In the course of the discussion Prof. Thaller mentioned 5 very easily understandable reasons for such a standardization:

1. Probability of political pressure to make degree courses more compatible.
2. Make conditions for admission more compatible.
3. Make it easier to establish new degree courses.
4. Give graduates an easily understandable profile on the job markets.
5. Make exchange between European academic landscapes easier.

In the beginning Prof. Thaller described the situation by giving an overview of different programs at several universities which are all linked in one way or another with the Digital Humanities. His overview was based on an initiative started in late 2009 by the Cologne Centre for eHumanities to improve the cooperation between (mainly) German universities actively offering degree courses in Digital Humanities Extensively results of this survey are accessable as pdf Afterwards, several participants described programs from their universities in more detail which incited a debate regarding the nature of Digital Humanities as a field and its instruction and how it works precisely. From discussion there emerged two main approaches: On the one hand to implement separate self contained degrees or on the other hand implement modules which provide introduction into parts of the Digital Humanities and could be integrated then into the traditional humanities degree courses.

Later Stef Scagliola from Erasmus Studio for e-research of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam gave her ideas which are also accessible at: Summarized, she argued for embedding Digital Humanities in standard general research skills that are taught in all humanities; i. e. a new curriculum should to enable all humanities disciplines digitally and creating general digital content. This matched Prof. Thallers view insofar as even he stressed that whatever Digital Humanities might be, the humanities should dominate in the first place and not vice versa. Some participants indicated that the more humanities scholars are using PCs and different software the more the borders between both categories (Digital Humanities scholars vs. humanities scholars) become amorphous; i. e. how is it possible to create clear shape of a field called Digital Humanities or is it possible at all? In the afternoon the group started with working out a description of what would be the most desirable elements of a curriculum of DH if no organisational or administrative conditions would have to be considered. Five thematic modules were be defined which could become part of a definition of a Digital Humanities core curriculum:

– Implementation of an example project
– Programming
– State of The Art of Digital Humanities
– Metadata
– Structured data and data standards (covers: TEI)

Conclusion: Specifiying future activities and giving details and how to submit additional information for further curricula work will be mailed to all registered participants of the workshop. Other people who are interested in the continuation of curricula activities are invited to send an e-mail to A final version of slides from Prof. Thaller are accessible:

P. S. Male correspondent was wondering during collection of core elements for a general curriculum of Digital Humanities in the afternoon whether it could be helpful to consider the topic from prospective students point of view. In other words asked: Could it be helpful to teach Digital Humanities as task-based learning? It is important to consider how students, no matter whether on a BA or MA level, can with their knowledge labelled as Digital Humanities survive on the labour market after they’ve graduated and left university? Are scientists in general or humanities scholars in particular solely teaching future scientists?

P. P. S. Furthermore, male correspondent assumes it could be also helpful to reflect upon the ongoing process of institutionalizing a new scientific branch. Could historical studies in the development of other sciences or scientific branches be helpful, no matter whether Digital Humanities remain an integral part of humanities or become independent from it sooner or later? For whom Thomas Kuhn and his successors did their work of analyzing history of sciences?

(md) (akg)

Dinner for 17

First techncal difficulties even happen at the dh2012, but after everone managed to connect to the wi-fi, we can get started „playing like a programmer“. First lessons: Computers are pedantic. Mia tells us to imagine a little kid, who’d never let anything go but rather be about: why, why, why. „So you have to be very clear“, she explains. The good thing: „When your replies don’t satisfy your kid, he/ she doesn’t just die. So note that you cannot break computer – well, you actually can, but you’d have to do a lot better than that.“

Programming is like preparing a dinner party. At least that’s what Mia, our workshop leader, tells us. So through today’s Programmers-101, we will try to go through the steps of buying supplies, setting everything up, baking pastry and more. Let’s get this party started, then.

„I wrote my last code in 1986 and then I stopped, so I have some catching on to do“, says Brian, one of the participants eager to learn. Dave, another, wrote his first code two months ago. From „getting a bit of a feel for it“ and „learn some xslt but no more“ to „being able to do a little more“ and „being able to really play with things“, the 17 workshop-participants have different, individual expactations and goals for this afternoon.

Programmers think differently. Because we are so used to constantly failing, looking for errors and trying different solutions for problems every day, our mindset is quite different.“ To understand that mindset, Mias emphatic and metaphoric way of speaking about computers and programming really helps. She explains: Computers are like little, dumb kids, who always have to be taught everything. They never stop. They just dont have that much common sense. And also: Programming is telling someone else to make pastry, and how to actually get pastry out of it. Well, what about „Hacking“? – Unlike I believed, Mia points out that „it has nothing to do with illegal access! Its about tinkering, it’s about playing… Hacking as in „hacking it together“, as in „building cool stuff, quickly“.

Variables are cotainers: they are just empty and wait to be filled. It’s like in math class: back to apples and oranges! The participants seem to love the analogies, as we can see by the many tweeds about the workshop. That leaves just one question we’re all excited to find out about: „Mia, can you make pastry?“ „No, but I have a friend who does!“, says Mia, speaking like a programmer.

During the course of our exercices, another lesson is to be taught: There are always several ways to solve a problem. And if it doesn’t work: go through every bit and look for mistakes to fix it. After all, that’s nothing you can do with pastry, or any other part of analogue life, for that matter.


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Mia Ridge, playing like a programmer (photo: jmlv)


Have a look at my programming-exercise! (ms)

CATMA workshop



Phew, I think we’re the first ones to give you all a relaton from the DH 2012! It’s quite busy here, especially at the Registration desk.

It’s already after the coffee break and we’re back in Room 122 for the next part of the the “Crowdsourcing meaning: a hands-on introduction to CLÉA, the Collaborative Literature Éxploration and Annotation Environment” workshop. The participants are trying to figure out how to use CLÉA\CATMA tool on their own texts. We’re tagging, searching and clicking away.

As you can see, student assistants are twice as busy as the rest of the group, because we are also taking pictures, as well as blogging and tweeting…

The leaders of the workshop, namely from the right: Evelyn Gius, Marco Petris and Lena Schüch, look really satisfied, don’t they?

Pictures: Elena Dergacheva (#ed); post: Dagmara Hadyna (#dkh)