Digital Infrastructure for the Humanities in Europe and the US: Governing Scholarship through Coordinated Tool Development
In this paper, I provide a comparative perspective on current digital infrastructure policies for the humanities in Europe and the US. Thereby I mean to move beyond analyzing the shaping of technology within individual infrastructure projects and instead trace in a more encompassing way how dynamics at the institutional and policy level mediate the reorganization of disciplinary tool development. Drawing conceptual inspiration from the work of Sheila Jasanoff, I propose that digital infrastructure actually functions as a regulatory technology, i.e. as an interface through which the different actor groups (researchers, funders, policy makers) rearticulate their mutual relations. European initiatives, I argue, are based on a more centralizing, technology-driven vision of digital infrastructure that serves the European Commission’s policy goal of integrating national research systems in institutional and epistemic terms. This causes a certain disconnect between tool developers and prospective scholarly users who are often unfamiliar with digital approaches, but the emphasis on central coordination also ensures that no single community gains exclusive control over technology development. In the US, by contrast, the original impetus to adopt a concerted strategy for digital infrastructure has not been provided by science policy makers and administrators, but by researchers in the area of digital humanities. These scholars have successfully promoted a sociotechnical view of infrastructure as an emergent, evolutionary phenomenon, which also implies that conceptual and managerial authority should be situated at well-established digital humanities centers. While avoiding problems related to the implementation of technology in more traditional scholarly practices, this arrangement will tend to privilege the intellectual and technological preferences of existing elites within digital humanities over those of other research communities.