Valorisation for the humanities is attractive

The best thing about valorisation for the humanities is that we can always present something attractive

“For the humanities, collaborating with ICT companies is truly fascinating and rewarding. We have so much data available and now we have the opportunities to unlock that data. That opens up a world of exciting opportunities to ask and answer completely new research questions.” Rens Bod, Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities and professor of Computational and Digital Humanities, University of Amsterdam.

“The best thing about valorisation for the humanities is that we can always present something attractive”, says Rens Bod. “We study art, music, movies, literature, archaeological artefacts, photography, all of these are topics that touch the lives of large groups of people.” The humanities boast huge collections of data that have been assembled over years and decades. These databases require digital technologies to benefit from the wealth of information and knowledge that they contain. About two years ago, the Centre for Digital Humanities initiated a programme to stimulate researchers to collaborate with companies, particularly ICT companies. Bod: “There is logical fit, because many of these companies, especially the small, innovative ones, work on areas like cartography, music similarity, image recognition and textual analytics that are closely linked to what we study in the humanities. With support from the Faculty of Humanities and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO, we could grant seed money to small-scale projects that, for example, aimed to build a prototype of an app or another digital tool.”

That resulted in some interesting partnerships and applications. “Starting around twenty years ago, art historian Marten Jan Bok and colleagues have collected a wealth of data on painters during the Dutch Golden Age. Which works did they produce, who bought them, where were these works originally displayed, who did they marry, which contacts did they have with other painters, but also with publishers, art dealers, composers, writers etc. etc. This has resulted in the ECARTICO database, which contains information on more than 20.000 persons and more than 100.000 paintings. Clearly, there have to be interesting uses for such a huge collection.” One of the ideas that came up was to develop an app that museum visitors can use to learn more about the paintings they see, for example, where the painting was first housed. With the city of Amsterdam still having a large part of its Golden Age street plan intact, you could use the app to guide you to that particular house. And while walking, the app can tell you more about other houses you pass. ” This project is a collaboration with Webmapper, a developer of cartographical software. So far, the project has resulted in a website, called and the app is under development.”

Another project that Bod himself was involved in concerns music similarity: linking musical pieces that share the same rhythm or tone. “This is a research topic with a strong foundation in music theory, but because it is all about pattern recognition it is really an informatics topic as well.  The postdoc who supervised this project, Aline Honingh, established contact with a small company called Elephantcandy and with whom she developed an app that dj’s can use to select music based on rhythm or tone. The fun thing about this app is that it also found its way to joggers and runners, they use it to find music that suits their own running rhythm. You can even select music based on your heartbeat.” So far, out of the five initial projects, four have proved sustainable and are still ongoing. To Bod, the added value of this new way of working is that new possibilities have been created to attract funding. “We have successfully applied for funding through the Topsector Creative Industry and we have initiated collaborations with larger companies, including Elsevier and IBM. Without our initial projects with the ICT companies, this would not have happened. Now, we have something tangible to show and that makes all the difference.” He hopes more researchers in the humanities will be inspired to explore new options. “Go out there and talk to companies, particularly the relatively small, innovative ones. You will meet enthusiastic, creative and entrepreneurial people that can contribute interesting new perspectives on your own work.”