Research IT's digital humanities support highlighted at DH 2017

August 11, 2017

Research IT’s innovative approach to supporting digital humanities was on display in multiple venues at the international Digital Humanities 2017 conference, held from August 8-11, 2017 at McGill University in Montreal. Quinn Dombrowski, the manager of Berkeley Research Computing’s consulting service, presented a workshop on high-performance computing (HPC) for humanists, a paper on the ECAR/CNI report on institutional support for digital humanities, and a panel on humanists’ needs for research computing.

Quinn presented the HPC workshop jointly with Tassie Gniady from Indiana University, and John Simpson and Megan Meredith-Lobay from Compute Canada. The workshop focused on two different types of computation: photogrammetry (generating 3D models from partially-overlapping 2D photographs) and optical character recognition (OCR). For the photogrammetry section, attendees generated a 3D model of a previously-photographed corn maiden sculpture using the photogrammetry software Photoscan, running on Indiana University’s Karst virtual desktop. Quinn also presented on how researchers can obtain access to the US-based national compute infrastructure XSEDE, and an alternate approach to photogrammetry using a Jupyter notebook developed by Research IT cyberinfrastructure engineer Maurice Manning. Simpson and Meredith-Lobay described how to access Compute Canada -- the Canadian equivalent of XSEDE, and walked participants through setting up the open source OCR software package Tesseract on a virtual machine, and running it using a Jupyter notebook.

Joan Lippincott (CNI) and Karen Wetzel (EDUCAUSE) presented on how scholars and digital humanities center directors can use a new report that provides a framework for assessing institutional support for digital humanities. The report was the product of an eCAR working group that held biweekly phone calls between 2016-2017, comprising a diverse group of library and IT staff from the US and Canada. The DH 2017 conference was the first opportunity for some of those participants to meet in person.

A virtual special interest group for people who support digital humanities work from positions in central or research IT groups (rather than divisional or departmental IT, or libraries) was started by Quinn in 2015. Seven of the group’s participants gathered for a panel discussion about how they came to their current positions, and the opportunities and challenges of providing IT-based support for digital humanities. Institutions represented included UCLA, the University of Chicago, Case-Western University, and the University of British Columbia. Despite an 8 AM time slot, the panel had over 20 attendees, many of whom self-identified as IT staff. Following the panel, multiple attendees expressed interest in joining the group.

If you’re interested in using the photogrammetry or OCR tools offered by Berkeley Research Computing, please email

Photo: DH in IT special interest group members Tassie Gniady (IU), Quinn Dombrowski (UC Berkeley), John Simpson (Compute Canada), Lisa Snyder (UCLA0, Lee Zickel (Case Western), Megan Meredith-Lobay (University of British Columbia), and Jeff Tharsen (UChicago).