Information technology tools for the humanities

A special service for arts, social sciences and humanities scholars who want to use modern technology to take their field to the next level. CEDIFOR, the Centre for the Digital Foundation of Research in the Humanities, Social and Educational Sciences, has supported their endeavours with expertise and infrastructure since March 2015. The position of spokesperson is held alternately by researchers from TU Darmstadt and the Goethe University Frankfurt.

Professor Dr. Iryna Gurevych, Information Technology Professor for Ubiquitous Knowledge Processing in Darmstadt. Photo: Katrin Binner

With a digital foundation to research, information technology unlocks the potential for new approaches to humanities questions. The Centre is a first-stop shop, advisor and supporter for arts, social sciences and humanities scholars who want to use modern technology to take their field to the next level.

“Many academic researchers only have a vague idea of what can be discovered using information technology tools. So we assist them in choosing the right methods and tools, as well as in formulating new academic questions, that can be answered for the first time using IT”, explains Iryna Gurevych, Information Technology Professor for Ubiquitous Knowledge Processing in Darmstadt and currently acting as the spokesperson for the Centre.

Both an efficient infrastructure and relevant expertise have been built up in Darmstadt and Frankfurt for the purpose of offering advice. Researchers in Darmstadt are concentrating on methods of text analysis with complex tools that can cover a wide range of specialisations and projects. For example, researchers are working on automatic profiling in criminology, based on the interview texts of suspects. These profiles could support the work of social sciences and humanities scholars, such as court-appointed experts, in future.

“It is true that our programs open up new research opportunities, but no-one can replace the intelligence and know-how of the academics. There are tools to make vast quantities of digital data manageable for investigations. But tools are only ever as good as those that use them”, stresses Gurevych. So IT specialists also benefit from the expertise of the humanities scholars when advising and supporting the projects. Because without their project ideas and their data, they would not be able to test and develop the methods and tools.

The numerous top-class partners who have already registered their interest in a collaboration, including the German National Library, the Städel Art Museum, and Harvard University, to name but three, is further proof that establishing the Centre has struck a chord.

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Background

CEDIFOR – the Centre for the Digital Foundation of Research in the Humanities, Social and Educational Sciences, was established in December 2014 by researchers at TU Darmstadt, the Goethe University Frankfurt, and the German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF). Those responsible at TU Darmstadt are Prof. Iryna Gurevych, Professor Petra Gehring (Language and Technical Philosophy) and Andrea Rapp (Germanic Digital Philology).

The Centre continues the work of the LOEWE focus area “Digital Humanities” and is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to the tune of 2.1 million euro over three years. Iryna Gurevych, Information Technology Professor for Ubiquitous Knowledge Processing in Darmstadt and Jost Gippert, Professor for Empirical Linguistics in Frankfurt, take turns as the spokesperson and also coordinate the activities of the new Centre.

Anne Grauenhorst / sip

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