Embracing Digital Innovation — Perspectives on Advancing Humanities Scholarship

Amidst rapid technological advancements and a growing emphasis on Open Science and digital outputs, the humanities discipline has undergone a profound evolution in scholarly practices. Integrating digital methodologies into humanities scholarship is imperative for maintaining relevance and advancing research methodologies in the swiftly evolving academic realm. This integration not only sparks a transformative shift in academic discourse but also paves the way for innovative research and scholarly outputs. ALLEA’s report ‘Recognising Digital Scholarly Outputs in the Humanities illuminates the very landscape of digital humanities scholarship, addressing, evaluating, and acknowledging these transformative changes.

Maciej Maryl is an interdisciplinary researcher in digital humanities and sociology of culture.

In this interview with Dr. Maciej Maryl, Founding Director of the Digital Humanities Centre and  Chair of the ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities, we delve into the significance of incorporating digital practices into humanities scholarship, acknowledging innovative research methods, and exploring strategies to navigate the challenges within this dynamic field.

Q: What first got you interested in working with Digital Humanities? 

Maciej Maryl: My background is in sociology and literary studies, which I combine in my research in the sociology of literature. I have always been interested in how technology reshapes the way we read and perceive culture, which was the topic of my doctoral dissertation. While working on it, I had a chance to learn digital methods from the late Prof David S Miall at the University of Alberta and Max Louwerse, then a professor at the Institute of Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis. Right after obtaining my PhD, I was tasked with establishing the Digital Humanities Centre at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which federated and coordinated scattered digital initiatives of the Institute and provided a fruitful ground for the new ones.

Right from the onset, the Centre aimed at establishing international collaborations to learn from other colleagues. It was very early that we got involved in cooperation with relevant European networks, such as NeDiMAH (Network for Digital Methods in Arts & Humanities), and research infrastructures like DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities)  and CLARIN (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure). This not only helped us avoid reinventing the wheel, but we also became actual contributors. OPERAS, the Research Infrastructure supporting open scholarly communication in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the European Research Area, is a great example, as my institution is one of the early champions of this research infrastructure.

Q: Why is it important for you to participate in initiatives such as OPERAS and the ALLEA E-Humanities Working group?

MM: Work for the ALLEA Working Group is special because of the unique place of academies in the humanities, where they are usually tasked with long-term, monumental projects like scholarly editions, lexicons, biographies, or bibliographies. The E-Humanities Working Group aims to guide academies concerning new methods and opportunities while taking into consideration their specificity. We want to ensure that humanities research remains aligned with FAIR principles, i.e., research data is findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

“We want to ensure that humanities research remains aligned with FAIR principles, i.e. research data is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.”

Q: How are advancements in data science methodologies such as Machine Learning systems enhancing Humanities research? On the other hand, what are the key obstacles to incorporating new technologies into humanities research?

MM: Digital humanities have long employed Machine Learning techniques in textual analysis or data mining. Studies of authorship attribution or recognising entities in texts are all based on such methods. To describe the use of such methods, we employ the term “distant reading”, which – as opposed to close reading of individual texts – expands a singular perspective and allows for the analysis of vast textual resources. However, these methods require interdisciplinary knowledge and data, namely corpora of texts, which are not readily available due to copyright restrictions. This underscores the importance of researchers making their data available so others can compile and use them in new projects.

Q: What was the primary aim of the new ALLEA report, ‘Recognising Digital Scholarly Outputs in the Humanities’?

MM: The report corresponds with our mission, as mentioned earlier, of making digital humanities more accessible to the academies. In this case, it is a natural follow-up or sequel to our previous report, Sustainable and FAIR Data Sharing in the Humanities, which discusses in detail the handling of humanities research data. However, we cannot expect scholars to engage with data sharing and digital practices when they receive credit only for traditional publications like journals and monographs. So, in the present report, we pave the way for recognition of such work.

Q: What would you say are the three main takeaways from the report?

MM: Well, first off, we posit that the digital is the new norm: the report highlights how digital tools and methods are changing the humanities, and digital technology is becoming essential for modern research in fields like history, languages, or arts. Secondly, scholarly work assumes new forms and formats which are better suited for digital data we are working with. The report highlights that digital projects, databases, platforms, and even software can be treated as valuable scholarly work, not just books and articles. Finally, the report argues that all forms of scholarly work, especially digital ones, need proper recognition and credit, just like any other important contribution to knowledge and culture.

Q: The report highlights the “ambiguous status of digital technologies in academia”. What are the primary barriers hindering their recognition within academic circles?

MM: Just as you need a manual or a guide to start using a new electronic device, scholars need proper interdisciplinary support and training to integrate digital tools into their workflows. I think scholars are suspicious of the new types of scholarly outputs because we don’t have standard ways of assessing what constitutes good work in academia. Our report aims to bridge this gap by positioning new genres within the long humanities tradition.

“Scholars are suspicious of the new types of scholarly outputs because we don’t have standard ways of assessing what constitutes good work in academia. Our report aims to bridge this gap by positioning new genres within the long humanities tradition.”

Q: The report highlights shortcomings in current authorship attribution schemes, where diverse contributions are often overlooked as invisible labour, especially evident in Open-Ended inputs aimed at enhancing published work. How do you propose addressing these challenges to foster a more equitable and collaborative research environment?

MM: In the humanities, we still tend to think about authorship in singular terms, and the range of credited contributions boils down to a handful: author, editor, maybe translator. People doing other work, which has become increasingly more important, like coding, data collection, cleaning, or annotation, are merely mentioned in acknowledgements or footnotes. In the best-case scenarios, they could be artificially added as co-authors, which does not reflect the specificity of their actual contribution. We need to use existing taxonomies to appropriately describe the individual’s contribution to the paper so they can receive proper recognition featured in their track record. Such descriptions may sometimes resemble movie credits, but this is the level of detail that is fair to everyone involved.

“We need to use existing taxonomies to appropriately describe the individual’s contribution to the paper, so they can receive proper recognition featured in their track record.”

Q: As a follow-up, how can we adapt evaluation systems to effectively recognise and accommodate the complexities of collective authorship in digital scholarly outputs?

MM: We should align evaluation systems with the wide range of academic contributions, not only focusing on authorship of publications (which are, of course, very important) but also considering the various ways individuals contribute to the scholarly community. The practical aspect of such evaluation is currently under discussion within the Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA), with a very active contribution from ALLEA.

Q: According to the report, practices in the humanities, particularly around research assessment, “should evolve to keep pace with digitisation”. Which emerging trends could have a transformative impact on the way scholars in the humanities conduct research and disseminate their findings in the future?

MM: I believe we need to support innovative work wherever it fully leverages digital technology to enhance scholarly arguments. In the report, we discuss the Journal of Digital History as a case study. It serves as a great example of how to incorporate different layers of scholarly argument into one output, including scholarly narrative, methodology, and data. Evaluation practices should evolve not only to recognise such work as scholarly output but also to acknowledge the range of contributions from various collaborators. It appears that such work not only improves scholarly communication by aligning it better with the topic and method of research but also facilitates reader engagement with specific methods and data, enabling their reuse or replication of the study.

Q: What would you say are three actions academia can implement in a fairly short time that would have a big ROI in moving the humanities into the digital age, i.e., what are some low-hanging fruits we can address right now?

MM: To recognise the potential of digital tools and methods for the humanities, academia could focus on three general actions. Firstly, we need to ensure that data for digital research is readily available in standardised formats. Hence, we not only need to prioritise the digital collection and preservation of texts, images, recordings, and other types of data but also ensure they are accessible according to the FAIR principles. Our previous report focused on this aspect.

Secondly, we need to establish digital humanities centres within academies to foster interdisciplinary hubs that combine digital technology with humanities scholarship, enabling innovation and collaboration. The Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage (ACDH-CH) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences is a perfect example of employing digital methods in pursuing traditional goals of academies.

Finally, we should integrate digital tools and methods of social sciences into humanities curricula not only to broaden the scope of future research but also to provide students with tools allowing for critical scrutiny of other digital humanities outputs. Access to materials, tools, and competencies will form a good basis for digital humanities to flourish.

“We need to establish digital humanities centers within academies to foster interdisciplinary hubs that combine digital technology with humanities scholarship. Finally, we should integrate digital tools and methods of social sciences into humanities curricula.”

Q: During the consultation process, were there suggestions that surprised you or made you rethink a previously held view of digital outputs in the humanities?

MM: Actually, we were surprised by the significant response from the community. Over the course of two summer months, 28 readers left 78 comments and suggested over 200 changes in the document, which, in our opinion, was indicative of the considerable interest in the topic. The feedback was not general or fundamental but rather focused on some of the concepts we used, exemplary case studies of innovative genres, and useful resources we did not mention in the report. This was very beneficial as we aimed to provide links to all relevant resources.

Q: Were there any significant challenges not addressed in the ALLEA report regarding the recognition of digital scholarly outputs that you believe are crucial for future consideration? If so, what are they, and what strategies do you propose for addressing them?

MM: I believe that a significant challenge and opportunity for the academies currently lies in the development of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). Through the digital activities we described in our report, the academies may be able to feature their scholarly resources and output in EOSC services. We will deliberate on this issue in the future work of the Working Group.

This interview is part of the ALLEA Digital Salon Series. The published report ‘Recognising Digital Scholarly Outputs in the Humanitiesprovides extensive insights on improving transparency in linking resources, re-evaluating authorship norms, and enhancing digital competencies for scholarly outputs.

About Maciej Maryl

Dr. Maciej Maryl is an assistant professor and the founding Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences (CHC IBL PAN). In addition to chairing the ALLEA E-humanities Working Group, he serves as an Executive Assembly member of OPERAS, and co-chairs the DARIAH Digital Methods and Practices Observatory. His research focuses on advancing digital research infrastructure for the social sciences and humanities, emphasizing data science applications, innovative scholarly communication, and meta-research on digital practices.

Read more by Maciej Maryl

New ALLEA Report Highlights the Evolution of Digital Practices in the Humanities

In an era marked by rapid advancements in technology and an increasing emphasis on Open and digital outputs, the humanities have seen a significant transformation in their scholarly practices. To address, evaluate and recognise these changes, the report ‘Recognising Digital Scholarly Outputs in the Humanities’ sheds light on the evolving landscape of digital humanities scholarship.

Drafted by the ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities, the new report stresses that the expansion of digital practices and open outputs in humanities scholarship should be regarded as a natural progression of scholarly endeavours leveraging digital technologies. It calls for the adaptation of assessment systems, emphasising the importance of interdisciplinary work, novel research methodologies, and innovative scholarly outputs that go beyond traditional academic formats such as books or journal articles.

The report also underscores the significance of linking studies with FAIR research data, acknowledging continuations and open-ended outputs, recognising multiple scholarly roles in the authorship attribution, providing interdisciplinary competence-building, and improving evaluation processes.

The report’s second section provides practical recommendations for evaluating specific types of digital scholarly outputs, such as digital scholarly editions, extended publications, databases and datasets, visual representations (infographics and maps), code, blogs, and podcasts. Each case study includes examples and suggested reading materials.

Maciej Maryl, chair of the ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities says:

Although the digital age offers a plethora of formats that seem better equipped to communicate diverse scholarly findings, our research assessment systems still heavily favour traditional outputs like journal articles and books. In our report, we provide examples of good practices for emerging and innovative digital outputs, as well as a framework for researchers and institutions of how to evaluate them.

Ultimately, this should contribute to increasing the diversity of scholarly outputs and ensuring that researchers receive the appropriate recognition and reward for developing and using them.

Read the full report here

Call for Contributions: Open Consultation on Innovative Outputs in the Humanities

Working with digital outputs in the humanities? Consider contributing to the ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities draft recommendations by 26 July 2023.

The ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities has launched an open consultation concerning draft recommendations on recognising digital scholarly outputs in the humanities. The goal is to gather broad feedback from active humanities researchers and institutions in order to tailor the recommendations to the community’s needs.

A link to the draft recommendations and instructions for contributing is available here: https://bit.ly/ALLEAehumanities


Open Consultation

The consultation is open to all researchers and practitioners working in disciplines within the humanities, policymakers, and representatives of all public and private organisations active in the field. We are particularly keen to hear from humanities researchers in ALLEA member academies. The consultation is open until 26 July 2023.



1. Suggest changes or leave comments in the document.

2. Types of feedback

  • clarification – let us know whether any parts of the text are unclear and need clarification or elaboration.
  • omissions – highlight issues we might have overlooked.
  • further reading – suggest resources worth recommending to readers.

3. Recognition. All contributors will be listed in the final report. Please ensure that your comments are properly signed with your name. If you wish to remain anonymous, use private browsing.

4. Contact. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact the WG Chair, Dr Maciej Maryl, directly (maciej.maryl@ibl.waw.pl).

Please note that the final draft will be additionally proofread for language.


On the report

This report proposes recommendations regarding recognition, evaluation, and assessment of innovative scholarly outputs in the humanities.

First, the report focuses on the cross-cutting issues pertinent to digital practices in the humanities, such as (1) linking studies with underlying data, (2) open-ended outputs, (3) collaboration and authorship, (4) training and competence building, and (5) reviewing and evaluating. Next, it discusses particular case studies of innovative outputs where these cross-cutting issues manifest themselves, i.e. (a) digital scholarly editions, (b) extended publications, (c) databases and datasets, infographics, (d) code, (e) blogs, and (f) podcasts.  Finally, the conclusion provides some general remarks on recognising and evaluating digital practices in the humanities.


About the ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities

The ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities, composed of experts from across European academies, is committed to identifying and raising awareness for priorities and concerns of the humanities, paying particular attention to current and emerging developments in digital practices. Currently, the Open Science agenda figures highly in research policy and research funder requirements, and is driving changes in research practice. To address this agenda, and facilitate the adoption of Open Science across the humanities, the working group has turned its attention to supporting humanities researchers in their research data management practices.

More information on the ALLEA Working Group E-Humanities and its members can be found here: https://allea.org/e-humanities/