UCLDH: The Hub of a (virtual) Network

My recent trip to University College London was a great success* and has left me with a ton of information to digest, ideas to play around with, and questions to ask. (It also left me with a long illness, which is why this first post is extremely late in the making). One of the main points of the DiggingDH project is to  question the concept of a ‘center’ – so it was interesting for me to pay a visit to a center which primarily exists in the virtual.

The Centre for Digital Humanities at UCL sits within the Department for Information Studies, is co-directed by Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras and consists of PhD students, a teaching fellow, and a research coordinator. The Centre’s success has allowed for the recent addition of a research manager. The larger management team and affiliated members range much wider than Information Studies, though, so one can imagine getting everyone together might be difficult. There are, however, as Melissa Terras notes, benefits to having a virtual center. It allows the affiliated faculty and staff to limit the time spent on the administrative details and to “just get on with doing the DH stuff”. And this they do:  my time at UCL allowed me to grasp only three of the many research projects by this group (QRator, Transcribe Bentham, and Textal).

How, then, does the Centre for DH operate, with no physical location and members scattered throughout campus? Meetings between Centre members often take place sporadically, in various places on UCL campus. New ideas, concepts, or research topics are often conveyed via social media. Also, as on many the university campus, if you look around, there are plenty of people already “doing DH”. Claire Warwick, my first interviewee, notes that the Centre provides a place for those interested in different aspects of Digital Humanities to come together, to hear talks on the subject, and to question how to go about starting digital projects. The members of UCLDH collaborate with people from many different faculties, but also facilitate collaboration between different parts of the university.

I would argue that the glue that holds the center together is the awareness that each member has of the role of the Centre on campus. As I conducted my interviews (8 in total) with members of UCLDH, I began to realize a common language was being used to describe the DHCentre: namely, as “the hub of a network.” Though the interviews have yet to be analyzed, this term and the description of the collaborative role of the center were relayed word for word at least four times.  The first time I heard this term, I thought it quite apt, and although I don’t think it any less so after my return, I began to realize that it seemed to be a part of something else that UCLDH is known for: marketing itself.

Reading up on the UCLDH logo is enough to make one realize that marketing is an important part of their strategy. (It is not simply by chance that the chairs at the end of the hall at UCL’s Department of Information Studies match two of the colours in this logo!) IMG_2684Members of the UCLDH team make very good use of social media, primarily Twitter and Flickr, and some of them even provide commentary on use of these tools in national newspapers. The graduate students are encouraged to contribute to a blog which constantly sends out DH related posts, and fills in local Londoners on DH events. Many of you familiar with DH will remember Melissa Terras’ Infographic: Quantifying Digital Humanities. This, like so much to come out of UCLDH, is both a pleasure to look at, and full of information. It is this aesthetic that has gained the Centre recognition well outside of UCL, and helped to make the projects they create familiar terminology in DH circles.

For the UCLDH team, then, marketing themselves appears to work in two ways: Not only is it a way of gaining recognition, but it also serves  as cohesive glue for understanding how their center works, and how it should operate within the university. Having the same perception of what they are working towards as a team allows the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities to come across just at they are: professional, accomplished, and collaborative.

Are you part of a DH Center? How does marketing fit within your agenda? The DiggingDH team would love to hear about it! Email us at diggingdh[at]gmail[dot]com or send us a Tweet: @diggingdh

* This research trip would not have been possible without the support of the GRAND Network and the Marie Curie Fellows Association.

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