The role of Digital Humanities in Papyrology: Practices and user needs in papyrological research

Lucia Vannini (Institute of Classical Studies)

Digital Classicist London seminar 2017

Friday June 30th at 16:30, in room 234, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Livecast at Digital Classicist London YouTube channel.

A debated problem in Digital Humanities concerns the acceptance, in Humanities scholarship, of the numerous existing digital resources: although we are witnessing an increase of Digital Humanities collections and tools available for researchers, some studies have demonstrated that this variety of resources is not matched by a wide adoption from practicing scholars.

This issue has risen the question of whether tool builders are using methods to verify the adoption of their resources, and it has been shown that only a small part of developers carried out studies to verify the actual use of their resources and asked users for feedback.

In recent years, however, digital humanists have begun to bridge the gap in usability studies of Humanities resources. Not only have they performed usability evaluations of Humanities collections, but they have also carried out a reflection on how recommendations for the usability of websites in general can be specifically applied to resources in this field.

As well as presenting this context in which the research for my PhD dissertation is framed, I will illustrate the methods – interviews, user observations, and a questionnaire – I have chosen for gathering data on scholarly practices in the study of antiquity. In particular, I am focusing on the behaviour of papyrologists, who study ancient books and private documents found in archaeological excavations. I will therefore discuss the information I have been collecting until now on the use of digital resources for Papyrology, a discipline for which user studies had not been conducted yet. I will be focusing on the results of interviews, which concern the use of papyrological projects by PhD students and researchers both in Papyrology and other disciplines of the ancient world.

My questions aimed to examine the following issues: what kinds of digital collections are used; whether scholars generally appreciate them and recognise in them a value for their work; whether and how resources are allowing to do research that could not be done with traditional methods only; what problems users encounter in the content and in the usability of collections; what features they would like to see implemented in future developments.