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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday May 10, 2016

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Lorna Hughes

Lorna Hughes

Professor in Digital Humanities - Advanced Technology and Information Institute , University of Glasgow

Why do we need an ontology of digital methods in the humanities?

This article is by Lorna Hughes, Professor of Digital Humanities, Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute, University of Glasgow @lornamhughes

In 2015, under the auspices of the ESF Research Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities (, the Digital Curation Unit at the Athena Research Institute, Greece, built an ontology of digital methods for humanities research, the NeDiMAH Methods Ontology (NeMO).

The ontology development incorporated existing research that had attempted to understand digital humanities projects, methods, or tools by expressing them through a series of taxonomies: analysis of these indicated an ontology, intellectually and technically, was a missing piece of the digital humanities research infrastructure.

This conclusion was reached through an assessment of the complexity of the multidisciplinary landscape of digital research in the humanities, involving a combination of digital content, tools, and methods and research practices from a range of disciplines and traditions.

This can make the practice of digital humanities seem fragmented and hard to define: recent contentious debates about the nature of Digital Humanities exemplify how this lack of transparency inhibits a shared understanding of digital research methods, their contexts, dependencies, and affordances, and prevents effective peer review of digitally enabled research outside one’s ‘home’ discipline.

Similarly, the development (and funding) of research infrastructures in the humanities has lacked methodological cohesion: we hope that NeMO can provide a “layer” that allows arts and humanities researchers to develop, refine and share research methods that allow them to create and make best use digital methods and collections, better understanding the digital research life-cycle, and contributing to the growth of digital humanities

If you would like to find out more, and contribute to the development of the ontology, there is an opportunity to take part in a workshop at the Digital Humanities Conference (DH2016) in Krakow, Poland this year. It will take place on Monday, July 11th, from 09:30-16:00.

This workshop will engage participants in the process of developing and analyzing ontology-based, structured documentations of scholarly research practices in the (digital) humanities, extracting and understanding patterns of work and resource usage.

The workshop will explore NeMO as a conceptual framework for representing scholarly work in the Humanities, dealing especially with aspects of intentionality and capturing the various associations between ‘research actors’ and their goals, the activities undertaken, the methods employed, the resources and tools used, and the outcomes produced, thus enabling semantically rich structured representations of scholarly work.

Participants will be invited to contribute one or more examples of their own research work, from which they will be guided to produce structured descriptions according to NeMO using a dedicated Web-based tool under the guidance of workshop facilitators, resulting in a series of case studies for use in NeMO.

The workshop is of interest to both advanced digital humanities scholars and to digitally-enabled humanities researchers, or those not currently using digital tools and methods but interested to do so in the foreseeable future, as well as to computer scientists, information scientists and others interested in the relationship between digital humanities and digital infrastructures. If you’d like to attend, you can register here, by including a brief outline of the project or piece of research that you would use as the basis for the modeling exercise.

You can sign up here: