Issue 1

Welcome to the first issue of the DHCommons journal, a new kind of publication for digital humanities projects.

DHCommons attempts to meet a long-standing but growing need in the DH community for robust peer review of in progress—that is, beyond the planning stages—but still developing projects. While building on precedents set by groups such as NINES or 18th Connect, DHCommons seeks to offer feedback earlier in projects’ lives, when new directions and development are still possible, and also to certify those projects’ early contributions to both the digital humanities and their disciplinary fields. We review projects from centerNet's many regions and languages and, whenever possible, in the project directors' preferred languages, so as to better reflect the scope and diversity of digital humanities work around the world. DHCommons complements the growing cadre of journals publishing digital humanities articles by providing a venue for full-project peer review. The project statements we will publish in each issue attempt to document both a project's contributions and its struggles, and the reviews we will publish alongside them outline projects' strengths, as well as areas for expansion or improvement. We hope these genres will provide scholars with valuable, transparent, and even practical access to the theories and methods of digital humanities work.

What does it mean to peer-review a digital humanities project? This is a question several groups have taken up in the past decades from different perspectives, but it has not yet been fully answered. Groups like NINES and 18thConnect did much early thinking about how to peer review large-scale digital projects, but their efforts benefited relatively narrow literary-historical subfields. More recently we have seen a growing number of of guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship in disciplines or more generally, for example:

Despite these efforts, however, the evaluation of digital projects continues to be a problem [Schreibman et al. 2011]. As Tanya Clement argues of the collection Switching Codes, digital projects often “[make] available a conversation that has very few listeners or readers in the humanities capable of appreciating the scholarship represented in this interdisciplinary work” [Clement 2012]. More broadly, we would argue, many DH projects struggle to find reviewers who can evaluate both their contributions to their humanities disciplines and the scholarship embedded in their methods or technical practices.

Additionally, given the growth of digital humanities programs, initiatives, and faculty positions in recent years, this “assessment gap” has real and ever more dire consequences. Digital humanities scholars are being hired, often at the junior level, in the expectation that they will lead ambitious digital research projects, which are often large-scale efforts that span disciplines, academic units, and substantial periods of time. However, there is little agreement about how such projects can be certified by the scholarly community; we largely do not know how to evaluate the very kinds of scholarship we increasingly wish to see produced in the digital humanities [Nowviskie 2011; Rockwell 2011]. This is a particularly crucial issue if we wish for work in the digital humanities to have relevance and significance within the field, but also beyond disciplinary boundaries.

DHCommons seeks to address this gap by offering a publication channel that, although influenced by traditional journal mechanisms and workflows, was developed around a new concept which we hope will contribute to improving scholarly practices in the digital era. While practices of course vary from journal to journal, the editorial processes for traditional academic publishing are well established. From graduate school onwards, scholars in the humanities are inculcated in a particular understanding of the role of authors and reviewers, and expectations for what a journal article should look like are relatively standardized. Even operating under these understood norms, editing a high-quality and timely journal is challenging. Within the digital humanities, we have superb traditional journals, such as DHQ, which offer a venue for article length argumentation and experimental journals, and the Journal of Digital Humanities, which model post-publication review practices for scholarly blog articles and related “grey literature” in the field.

DHCommons complements the growing cadre of journals publishing digital humanities articles by providing a venue for full-project peer review. In planning this journal, we identified a specific problem felt within the digital humanities community: the need to certify the contributions of mid-stage projects. Of course, “mid-stage” is not an immediately clear term. We imagined “mid-stage” to mean those projects which have progressed far enough to have an impact within their fields, but which are unfinished in development or intervention. Even this leaves much room for interpretation, however, as some projects intend to exist for only a few years, while others intend to develop indefinitely. Projects can be capacious and unwieldy—how could they be effectively but expeditiously reviewed?

Our initial challenge, then, was to define the characteristics of our scholarly product and decide at a very practical level what this new journal would publish. These decisions were two-fold: what would authors write and what would we expect from our reviewers? We wanted to change expectations about what type of work authors would submit and also what type of review would be done of that work. We have answered these questions, at least in part, through our work with both authors and reviewers leading up to this first issue, but we know that our ideas will continue to evolve as DHCommons develops in the future.

First, the notion of a published project description is a challenging idea. We reviewed a variety of submissions from authors. Many read too much like grant proposals, speaking theoretically about what a project would do but not describing any substantive technical or theoretical contributions yet made by the project’s work. Others offered more theoretical or reflective analysis of the described project’s course. We also wanted to achieve a balance of attention between the technical aspects of the project and its scholarly impact. In most cases, we had to work further with authors to produce more detailed, content-oriented statements which would be useful to readers, particularly those developing similar projects.

Our reviewers faced similar challenges of scope. Though we provided initial guidance, many were unsure how they should assess a project description, or what kind of criticism and feedback they should provide. Our initial reviews ranged from basic bullet lists of critiques to more substantive prose that reflected the reviewer’s broader understanding of the project. For a journal such as DHCommons, in which the reviews are also published as annexes to the project statements, it is essential that reviews are honest and thorough — offering genuine suggestions for revision and improvement —while clearly outlining the promise and interventions that a project makes to its fields. As we worked to meet both of these goals, a number of options suggested themselves, which we invite interested readers to also consider:

  • Should we also peer-review published reviews, so they can be certified publications for their authors, just as book reviews are a genre of print journal publication?
  • Might we imagine another model whereby we publish most relevant project statements, perhaps after basic copyediting, and solicit published reviews as a first step in a post-publication, community-based, peer-review process?
  • Should we set up a two-step review process, one of which provides feedback to projects proper (and helps the editorial board select project statements for publication) and one of which results in a publishable journal product?
  • Should go even further, decoupling these two stages of review so that different reviewers could choose to carry out one stage, the other, or both;
  • Finally, publishing only a single project statement for an ongoing project may be inadequate, leading to quickly outdated content. We may before long need to consider publishing revisions or updates to our project statements, and perhaps also to the reviews.

Working through these important questions has meant a slightly delayed path to publishing this first issue, but we believe the results offer a useful provocation, if not definitive solutions, toward the creation of effective peer review for digital humanities projects. We are deeply grateful to the first project directors who worked with us for their patience, adaptability, and willingness to experiment with us. This first issue is comprised of outstanding projects for which our reviewers unanimously selected for publication. We have more projects in our review pipeline and welcome new projects to submit project statements for subsequent issues.

In this first issue we have published the following project reviews:

  • The CEDAR project by Albert Meroño-Peñuela, Ashkan Ashkpour, Andrea Scharnhorst, Christophe Gueret and Sally Wyatt presents a fascinating project on how they have integrated Dutch census data in a web of global cultural and historic information using open linked data. CEDAR seeks to answer fundamental questions about social history in the Netherlands and the world in automatic, web-scalable and reproducible ways.
  • The Dutch Ships and Sailors Project, as presented by Victor de Boer and his colleagues, presents an overview of an expansive linked open data project that aims to provide a unified access to heterogeneous sources. This work promises to generate a range of new scholarly interventions, both by this team and by many other scholars working on maritime history in the Netherlands and beyond.
  • Ernesto Priani writes about the project Biblioteca Digital del Pensamiento Novohispano and reflects on how a project that began as a simple digitization effort became a DH workshop for training human resources as well as a key project in the development of DH in Mexico.
  • The heureCLÉA team describes their efforts to address two major challenges in digital textual studies: creating space for collaborative and interpretive annotation for digital text and representing the creativity and fungibility of narrative time. Their project statement delves into the their technical work as well as the scholarly negotiations that drive such a project, and will thus be of interest to those interested in narratology as well as those interested in humanities data creation or analysis.
  • Finally, Robert Warren and Shelley Hulan in their paper “Can 20 Million+ documents change the First World War?” present the Munnin project that attempts to tackle the issue of re-usability of a wide number of sources for various research projects and scholarly domains.
  • In complement to these featured project reviews, this issue includes several contributions from the "How Did They Make That?" (HDTMT) initiative lead by Thomas Padilla (MSU), Miriam Posner (UCLA), Trip Kirkpatrick (Yale), and Dean Rehberger (MSU). These pieces offer a peek into state-of-the-art project activities as well as practical guidance for scholars seeking to emulate them. In the first HDTMT, Frederick Gibbs describes the process of transitioning the Programming Historian website from Wordpress to Github in light of an increased commitment to community openness and an open peer review process. Throughout the discussion Gibbs highlights a number of tools (e.g. Pandoc, Markdown) and their positive impact on smoothing platform transition and facilitating a more efficient workflow for Programming Historian. In the second HDTMT article, Christian-Lamb and Sikes describe the process of encoding and representing key events in the lives of 2nd U.S. President John Adams, First Lady Abigail Adams, and three generations of their family on a timeline using a customized version of SIMILE.

We are deeply grateful to all those who have made the journal possible, especially our editorial team for their hard work with project directors and reviewers; centerNet's Neil Fraistat, Kay Walter, and Jean Bauer for their sage counsel, and most of all our editorial assistants at Northeastern University, Jackie Gronau and Vicky Papa. Thomas Padilla did simply phenomenal work editing the HDTMT sections in this first issue; his careful work with these projects is evident in the pieces. We would also like to thank the Agile Humanities team—and in particular, Bill Kennedy and Dean Irvine—for the splendid design work apparent on this site.

Finally, we are very happy to announce a new addition to our editorial team. Starting immediately, Padmini Ray Murray (Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology) will join DHCommons as our Managing Editor. Practically, Ray Murray will help ensure that future submissions move through the review process in a timely manner and that all parties understand each stage in the process. More idealistically, she will help enlarge our geographic, linguistic, and disciplinary vision for the journal and the field of digital humanities itself. We are honored that she agreed to join us in this endeavor.

Our last word will be for you, the digital humanities community. We do hope that this first issue will interest you in contributing and reviewing, to make this journal a useful forum for better understanding and evaluating digital activities in the humanities.


  • [Clement 2012] Clement, Tanya. “Half-Baked: The State of Evaluation in the Digital Humanities.” American Literary History 24.4 (Winter 2012): 876-890. DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajs051.
  • [Nowviskie 2011] Nowviskie, Bethany. “Where Credit is Due: Preconditions for the Evaluation of Collaborative Digital Scholarship”. Profession (2011): 169-181. DOI: 10.1632/2011.2011.1.169.
  • [Presner 2011] Presner, Todd. “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship.” Humanities Blast: Engaged Digital Humanities Scholarship Blog, September 2011.
  • [Rockwell 2011] Rockwell, Geoffrey. “On the evaluation of digital media as scholarship”. Profession (2011): 152-168. DOI:10.1632/prof.2011.2011.1.152.
  • [Schreibman et al. 2011] Schreibman, Susan, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen, Introduction to “Evaluating Digital Dcholarship.” Profession (2011): 123-201. DOI:10.1632/prof.2011.2011.1.123

In this issue

section icon

Biblioteca Digital del Pensamiento Novohispano

La Biblioteca Digital del Pensamiento Novohispano es un proyecto en español, activo, sin fecha prevista de término, que ha vivido distintas etapas de desarrollo, hasta constituirse en un proyecto de humanidades digitales. Ha sido, ante todo, el reflejo del proceso de adopción de las humanidades digitales por un cuerpo de investigadores y estudiantes en la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, que, partiendo por el interés en el estudio de la época colonial en México ha ido generando una herramienta digital para hacerlo. 

section icon

Can 20 Million+ documents change the First World War?

We present here an interdisciplinary digital humanities project on the Great War of particular interest to computer scientists, English literature specialists, and historians. The project statement outlines the motivations for the project, the methods used, the data produced, and our preliminary interdisciplinary analyses of the results.

section icon

CEDAR: Linked Open Census Data

Census Data Open Linked. From fragment to fabric - Dutch census data in a web of global cultural and historic information (CEDAR) is an ongoing (2011-2015) Dutch multidisciplinary national research project. It is funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) as part of the Computational Humanities Programme. Its participants are Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS), the VU University Amsterdam, the International Institute of Social History (IISH) and the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

section icon

Collaborative Text Annotation Meets Machine Learning: heureCLÉA, a Digital Heuristic of Narrative

This paper is about heureCLÉA, an interdisciplinary project for the development of a "digital heuristic" that can support research in narratives by automatically identifying narratologically salient features in textual narratives. This heuristic will be integrated in the CATMA (Computer Aided Textual Markup and Analysis) working environment as a program module and will provide an automatic annotation functionality that complements the manual annotation functionality already provided by CATMA. While the current project focuses on a specific field of application—i.e., narratological text analysis and markup—heureCLÉA’s methodological approach aims at bridging manual and automated procedures in a more general sense, thus making it relevant to other digital humanities oriented markup projects.

section icon

The Dutch Ships and Sailors Project

In this document, we present the Dutch Ships and Sailors project. This project brings together four Dutch maritime historical datasets. We use Semantic Web technologies for representing and interlinking the resulting data into one interoperable but heterogeneous data cloud. The data set is available as five-star linked data. The individual data sets use separate data models, designed in close collaboration with maritime historical researchers. We present the project goals, technologies and current status as well as discussing current work in a second phase of the project. We show ways of accessing the data and present a number of examples of how the dataset can be used for historical research. The Dutch Ships and Sailors Linked Data Cloud is a prime example of the benefits of Linked Data for the field of historical research.

section icon

Editorial Sustainability and Open Peer Review at Programming Historian

Programming Historian is an online, open access, peer reviewed suite of over 40 tutorials (and growing!) that help humanists (though slanted towards historians) gain experience and insight into not only programming, but a wide range of digital tools, methods, approaches, and workflows to facilitate their research. The success of the site is driven entirely by the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers (general editors, lesson authors, lesson reviewers, etc). Over the last year, we have adopted and refined an open and sustainable editorial and review process centered on Markdown and GitHub that may serve as a useful model for online journals.

section icon

How Did They Make That: Adams Timeline

Spanning the years 1735 to 1889, the Adams Timeline is a searchable collection of key events and happenings in the lives of 2nd U.S. President John Adams, First Lady Abigail Adams and three succeeding generations of their immediate family. Members of the Adams family were deeply involved in a tumultuous era of American history and were keen observers of national and domestic politics, as well as day-to-day activities on their beloved family farm. The collection of Adams Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) is the most comprehensive and historically complete family collection held by any American cultural institution. While forming the basis of numerous digital and analog resources, this vast body of material lacked a coherent summation of major personalities and collection highlights.