The 2017 Digital Humanities (DH) Benelux conference was hosted by the University of Utrecht from the 3rd until the 5th of July. The aim of the conference is to foster a dialogue and discussion between specialists about developments in the digital field within the humanities. Bridging the gap between humanities researchers’ questions and technical capabilities, the content of the conference focused on both aspects, offering the opportunity for both research outcomes as well demonstrations of the tools.

This wide approach, taking both digital possibilities as well as researchers’ needs into account, is very similar to the goals of PARTHENOS. As such, it proved to be a suitable setting to present some of the work PARTHENOS has produced thus far. This became apparent in various presentations. On Tuesday morning, Vicky Garnett presented PARTHENOS’ insights in education on the use of Research Infrastructures (RIs). In her talk entitled “Soft skills in hard places: the changing face of DH training in European research infrastructures”, she illustrated how there is still a mismatch between class-room based teaching on one hand and the practical use of RIs by researchers on the other. The PARTHENOS’ training plan addresses this gap by adhering to four principles:

  • by targeting the user of the RI;
  • by focusing on both the need to know about as well as the need to know how to do;
  • by appealing to an audience which is larger than just researchers (e.g. policy makers and funding agencies);
  • and, by training the trainers for maximal impact.

In the next session, George Bruseker demonstrated the way in which RIs allow for integration of research data. In his talk, aptly entitled “Building a Conceptual Architecture and Data Model for Cross-Disciplinary Research Infrastructures”, he made a strong case for PARTHENOS in that the last thing the project wants to do is to develop “just another aggregation”. Instead, he illustrated which methods were developed to combine information produced by different disciplines in new, smarter and useful ways.

Over the course of the conference, visitors of DH Benelux were offered the opportunity to visit a PARTHENOS’ stand in a central location. Apart from leaflets, posters and other material, members of PARTHENOS were there to explain the project’s goals, approach and tentative results. During the Bazaar on Tuesday afternoon, the stand was available there as well. Apart from the general PARTHENOS’ stand, there were two additional posters which showed the progress PARTHENOS is making. Marie Puren presented a poster describing the benefits of the Standardization Survival Kit (SSK). On the poster, the necessity of metadata standards was explained in a cartoon by two imaginary aliens. This visualization was especially appreciated by one visitor who noticed in a very positive fashion: “This is probably the first time ever that a cartoon on metadata standards is offered to the public in DH Benelux!” Furthermore, Roberta Giacomi and Maurizio Sanesi illustrated how the PARTHENOS Virtual Research Environment helps to bridge the gaps between different RIs. By applying a use-case, involving the travels of the medieval pilgrim Michele da Figline, Roberta and Maurizio successfully showed how the content of CENDARI (RI on WWI and Middle Ages) and ARIADNE (RI on Archaeology) can be combined to bring about new insights and come to a better understanding of the past.

On Wednesday there was a panel session which also featured PARTHENOS represented by Klaus Illmayer. The topic of the Panel, “Be FAIR or be square: Stakeholders’ perspectives on data quality in the Digital Humanities”, featured five panellists from organisations such as Europeana and DANS who all have an interest in data quality.

The presentations and discussion focussed on the various approaches to using the FAIR Principles in order to achieve better data quality and Klaus talked about the PARTHENOS implementation of common policies and recommendations. The panel was also very complementary to the joint RI workshop organised for Thurday the 6th July where further approaches and solutions were on the agenda.

Summarizing, DH Benelux proved to be a great opportunity to show what PARTHENOS has produced so far, as well as to offer some teasers for the future. Putting our work up for critical evaluation by people who are not part of PARTHENOS has also proven to be a very useful way to indicate any blind spots. All the more reason to seize every future opportunity to do so!

Frank Uiterwaal