Beijing Digital Humanities Special Interest Group 11/2019 Seminar Report

Discussion Topic:

How can humanities scholars and non-humanities scholars best collaborate in the field of digital humanities?


Discussion Aims:

In recent years, as the field of digital humanities develops rapidly in China, lectures, workshops and seminars have become major formats for the presentation and discussion of digital humanities topics. As basic awareness of digital humanities concepts, methodologies and tools reaches an ever-greater audience, we are increasingly faced with a series of pressing questions: how can scholars deploy their new skills to address research questions in the humanities, and how can these tools and methodologies be developed and improved? We hope to proactively address these questions by means of the Digital Humanities Special Interest Group (DHSIG), a regularly meeting interest group at Peking University.

DHSIG meetings will provide a venue to tackle questions of digital humanities tools, methods and theories in round-table discussion. Rather than focusing on a single presenter, discussions will be conducted freely under a discussion leader’s guidance. Materials will be shared in advance so as to provide a basic understanding of the topic at hand and offer participants the opportunity to participate equally in discussion. To encourage students’ active participation, at each stage of our discussion, we will first offer students the opportunity to voice their perspectives before opening the floor to all attendees. We will seek to arrive at a common consensus on each of our topics, and after our meeting concludes, we will compile these thoughts in the form of a proposal that we will then publicly issue. (This proposal may include a number of different complementary or even opposing arguments.) We hope that these proposals can provide workable plans of action to scholars in the digital humanities and help to guide further research in the field.



Our Proposals


What problems do humanities scholars hope to answer with digital methods?


  1. How to handle simple but time-consuming research tasks.
  2. How to create visualizations that paper-based methods do not allow.
  3. How to automate methods of solving otherwise complex or convoluted problems. For instance, when dealing with ancient texts, automation of the following tasks: collation, copying, citation checking, converting between different calendar systems, generation of family trees, interpretation of seal carvings or archaic writings, et cetera.
  4. How to empirically describe qualitative impressions and conclusions. For instance, finding quantifiable ways to express certain conclusions regarding different editions of a given text.



When collaborating on digital humanities research, what points should humanities scholars and non-humanities scholars keep in mind?


  1. When non-humanities scholars embark on humanities research, or when humanities scholars embark on non-humanities research, it is necessary to abide by the scholarly norms and standards of the field.
  2. For those fields relevant to the digital humanities (e.g. literature; history; philosophy; mathematics; computer science; statistics), we propose that an index of specialized vocabulary should be prepared, such that colleagues in different disciplines can understand one another’s terminology.
  3. When scholars collaborate on publications in the digital humanities, we propose that the paper's authorship should be decided by means of cooperative and egalitarian consensus.
  4. When scholars collaborate on research in the digital humanities, we propose that they communicate recent research developments in their fields to their cross-discipline colleagues in layman’s terms.


What training do humanities and non-humanities scholars need when doing work in the digital humanities?


Recommendations for humanities scholars:

  1. To learn a programming language (such as Python), so as to understand exactly what programming can accomplish in the humanities.
  2. To learn to use regular expressions, or if those pose a difficulty, at the very least the use of wildcard characters when searching in Word.
  3. To understand the use of encodings such as ANSI, GB, GBK, BIG-5, UTF-8, Unicode.
  4. To understand basic Excel functions such as VLOOKUP, IF, LEFT, RIGHT etc.


Recommendations for non-humanities scholars:

  1. To first read Prof Rong Xinjiang’s book “Academic Training and Academic Norms: An Introduction to the Study of Early Chinese History”.


How do we evaluate the results of digital humanities projects and research?


  1. Evaluations of digital humanities projects and research should emphasize their scholarly contribution to humanities fields.
  2. The importance of engineering in digital humanities research must not be understated. We propose the following evaluative angle for the engineering work that goes into a digital humanities paper:
    1. The accuracy with which it addresses needs in the humanities
    2. Its systematic approach
    3. The reproducibility of the project’s engineering methods
    4. Its ease of use and usefulness for humanities scholars
    5. The ability of data and/or tools to be reviewed by humanities scholars
    6. Compatibility with other projects
    7. Rate of citations in humanities scholarship
  3. We propose that data, models, algorithms and code should be publicly available and open-source. This enables digital humanities research to be reproduced and reviewed, while helping to avoid unnecessary repetition of work others have conducted. We propose that research be shared on Github, and that methods should be shared in, and that copyright details should be explained. Taking into consideration the interests of local projects and centers, we can understand that scholars may prefer for certain projects not to be shared freely. Still, we strongly encourage that all content be made public and open-source wherever possible.



Proposal Authors (Ordered by Last Name)

Chen Peihui, PhD Student, Department of Philosophy, Peking University

Gao Shuwei, PhD Student, Department of Chinese Peking University

He Mengchun, Editor, People’s Publishing House

Shi Rui, Deputy Director, Ancient History Research Center, Peking University

Wang Hongsu, China Biographical Database, Project Manager

Wang Jun, Professor, Department of Information Science, Peking University

Wang Linxu, Master’s Student, Department of Information Science, Peking University

Wang Wei, PhD Student, Department of Philosophy, Peking University

Tsui Lik-Hang, Assistant Professor, Departments of Chinese and History, City University of Hong Kong

Xu Yang, Master’s Student, Department of History, Peking University

Yan Cheng, Assistant Researcher, Department of History, Tsinghua University

Yang Hao, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Peking University

You Xingchao, Combined Office of Beijing Dougong Technology (Ltd) and Peking University Data Analysis Center

Zhang Liyuan, PhD Student, Department of Information Science, Peking University

Zhu Benjun, PhD Student, Department of Information Science, Peking University




Appendix 1: Practical Handbook


Appendix 2: Bibliography