Cambridge Digital Humanities: 5 Questions to Anne Alexander


Cambridge Digital Humanities is a creative and collaborative space where students, researchers and international visitors can come together to engage in dialogue, experiment with technology and advance scholarship.


Cambridge Digital Humanities (CDH) is a creative and collaborative space where students, researchers and international visitors can come together to engage in dialogue, experiment with technology and advance scholarship. On the eve of CDH's website launch, we spoke to Coordinator Anne Alexander to learn more about this exciting multidisciplinary space.​



Q. Anne, CDH’s roots lie in the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network. How did the Network first come about and what was your role in the process?

The Digital Humanities Network was first established in 2011 with funding from the University as a Strategic Research Network as part of a major programme facilitating the creation of new cross-School multidisciplinary networks and initiatives. The DH Network built on many years of Digital Humanities activity at Cambridge, including major research projects, interdisciplinary events and conferences, but its creation and the funding provided for my post as Network Coordinator, gave DH researchers more tools and resources to connect with each other and share ideas, know-how and experiences. A lot of this activity took place at CRASSH, which made the centre a natural 'hub' for the newly-formed Network. 

I was one of the group which drafted the initial application for funding, and took up the role of Network Coordinator in October 2011. 

Q. Will the Network continue to exist now that CDH has been established?

In 2016, the University of Cambridge commissioned a review of its work in the field of Digital Humanities, in order to determine its position in relation to other national and international DH centres, assess the appropriateness of its DH resources (both staff and facilities), and identify areas where further growth might be envisaged. One result of the review was the establishment of Cambridge Digital Humanities (CDH), which has been designed not as an institution in its own right but rather as a broad and dynamic 'framework' aiming to consolidate DH activity across the University and to foster new collaborations and other external links.

One of the key aims of the Network was to break down barriers to communication and foster active collaboration between researchers in different disciplines. Acting as a platform for DH researchers to connect with each across different faculties, departments and institutions is still a crucial part of what Cambridge Digital Humanities does, even if the Network is now one only one division among four. 

Q. Please describe CDH’s divisions and their respective aims. 

CDH Research covers a wide range of individual and collaborative initiatives across the University, many of which have made original and internationally significant contributions to their respective disciplines and to the field of DH in general. The team of developers and other experts associated with the CDH Lab offers project incubation advice and a central technical support service. Building on the Digital Humanities Network’s previous training programmes, CDH Learning is delivering training in research methods and transferable skills to enable both new and established researchers at Cambridge to create and exploit new practices of scholarship. Finally, the Network is continuing to develop a sense of community and identity across diverse DH researchers at Cambridge.

Q. CDH runs workshops and training courses for Cambridge students and staff. What are the programme’s themes and who might benefit from the sessions?

Doing Research in the Digital Age is the introductory strand of the Digital Methods programme offered by Cambridge Digital Humanities. Our varied programme of events is aimed at making a broad community of researchers – from graduate students to senior academics – familiar with the key concepts, methods and tools required to do research in the digital age. We showcase digital research which is relevant to their disciplines and interests, organise 'taster' sessions in key methods, and provide opportunities to experiment and work with pre-prepared datasets. This strand is not primarily aimed at researchers who self-identify as ‘digital humanists’ or who necessarily think of themselves as researching some aspect of ‘the digital’, but rather those who want to experiment and explore new methods in order to make better-informed decisions about what to include in their methodological toolkit.

Cambridge Digital Humanities also offers a year-long programme of advanced digital methods workshops, which are often run in collaboration with research projects or external partners.

Our advanced workshops are aimed at a wide range of researchers, from PhD students to academics who are leaders in their field. Many of the workshops are open for registration or application from participants outside the University of Cambridge. Depending on the topic we often also attract participants who are practitioners or experts from outside of academia, including librarians and archivists, journalists, policy-makers and professionals from industry or the Third Sector.

The current themes across our Learning Programme are: 

Machine Reading the Archive (MRtA)
The primary aim of Machine Reading the Archive is to help participants develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and possibilities of working with archival data in the digital age, drawing on theory, methods and practice from the humanities, computer science and the archival profession.

Ethics of Big Data (EoBD)
In a world where massive, networked and distributed datasets play an essential role in communication, social interactions and the economy, our Ethics of Big Data theme explores the practical and ethical challenges of researching with big data. The programme for this theme will be developed in collaboration with the Ethics of Big Data research group.

Ways of Machine Seeing (WoMS)
Building on the success of collaborative workshops held in 2016 and 2017Ways of Machine Seeing draws on insights from art history, film studies, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction and machine vision to examine the interactions between art, culture and technology through a series of workshops and courses.

Scholarly Practice in the Digital Age (SP)
This theme brings together elements of the Social Media Knowledge Exchange programme run by the Digital Humanities Network for early-career researchers, focusing on skills development in research dissemination and communication using social media, with sessions addressing a wider set of issues related to the practice of scholarship, including Open Access, digital collaboration tools, public engagement and impact. 

Q. How might one get involved?

There are several ways you can get involved in our programme: 

  • Come along to one of our events. If you are a PhD student or staff at the University of Cambridge then you can come to all our workshops, but book up early as places are limited. Other students, colleagues from other universities and members of the public can register for our advanced workshops (although some workshops may be by application only, please check the specific event for details).
  • Sign up for our mailing list for regular updates here.
  • Follow us on Twitter @CamDigHum
  • CDH Learning also welcomes ideas and suggestions for future workshops and events – get in touch: learning@cdh.cam.ac.uk.

Posted: Tuesday 17 April 2018

Contributor: Anne Alexander


Cambridge Digital Humanities: 5 Questions to Anne Alexander