EPFL and UNIL launch joint digital humanities center

UNIL lecturer Isaac Pante presides over the dhCenter inauguration at ArtLab © Alain Herzog

UNIL lecturer Isaac Pante presides over the dhCenter inauguration at ArtLab © Alain Herzog

On October 31, the UNIL-EPFL dhCenter was officially launched at the ArtLab DataSquare, as an interdisciplinary research platform between EPFL and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in digital humanities and digital scholarship.

The mission of the dhCenter is to facilitate collaborations, and build a community for researchers at the two institutions working at the intersection of data science, computer science, the arts, humanities, and the social sciences.

In addition to research in the digital humanities, the center will support digital scholarship more generally, and the creation of computational frameworks in a range of fields – from architecture to geography – as well as across disciplinary boundaries.

Creating connections between experts and expert networks will be one of the dhCenter’s key functions, as will helping interdisciplinary research projects obtain funding. Another goal will be to facilitate and engage in public dialogues at the local and international levels on the impacts – including those unintended – of digital technologies on society, the arts, culture, and democracy.

A place for convergence

The dhCenter was officially opened with remarks from Executive Director Charlotte Mazel-Cabasse, as well as UNIL Rector Nouria Hernandez, EPFL President Martin Vetterli, and Cesla Amarelle, head of the Canton of Vaud's Department of Education, Youth and Culture. The evening’s proceedings were moderated by Isaac Pante, a senior lecturer in UNIL’s Department of Language and Information Sciences.

“This event marks the start of a scientific adventure, and collaborative work to promote the study of digital technologies and digital humanities across our two campuses,” Mazel-Cabasse said. She also announced the convergence of the EPFL and UNIL digital humanities student associations, as well as the launch of digitalscholarship.ch, a platform for dhCenter research projects.

“The history of science has been a long road, marked by several revolutions. That of digital technology invites us to encourage humanities researchers and engineers to converge. Achieving this is the true challenge at the heart of the dhCenter that we inaugurate today,” Amarelle observed.

The opening statements were followed by presentations of six dhCenter projects, led by researchers at both UNIL and EPFL (see box).

Following the launch, the dhCenter plans to organize regular events open to the EPFL and UNIL communities. It is already looking for relevant projects and collaborations, at all stages of development, to feature on its website.

dhCenter project highlights

Maud Ehrmann, of the College of Humanities (CDH) Digital Humanities Laboratory (DHLab) at EPFL, presented the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)-funded Impresso project, aimed at using critical text mining to study newspaper archives from the past 200 years.

Raphaël Baroni of UNIL’s School of French as a Foreign Language presented the SNSF Sinergia project, Reconfiguring comics in the digital age, which is carried out in collaboration with Sabine Süsstrunk and Mathieu Salzmann of EPFL’s Image and Visual Representation Lab (IVRL) and Computer Vision Laboratory (CVLab), respectively. The project aims to analyze and facilitate the transition of comics to digital formats; a process that presents unique challenges given the combinations of text and images used by the art form.

Patrick Michel of UNIL’s Institute of Archeology and Classical Studies presented the Collart-Palmyre project, which is in the process of digitizing the archives of Swiss archaeologist and UNIL professor Paul Collart. The mid-20th century archives comprise thousands of Collart’s documents, images, cards, letters, and notes relating to the Baalshamin sanctuary in Palmyra, Syria.

Boris Beaude of UNIL’s Institute of Social Sciences presented the WikiMaps project, which combines data science and the social sciences in its effort to track visits to Wikipedia pages on different subjects. The resulting data visualizations provide insights into collective attention over time and across the world.

Isabella di Lenardo of CDH presented the Lausanne Time Machine project, a collaboration between CDH and UNIL, supported by the dhCenter and the Time Machine Europe umbrella project. The Lausanne Time Machine project will federate many different kinds of data – from population statistics to maps of urban morphology – from Lausanne’s history, and use digital technologies to create a geo-historic platform of the city’s evolution.

Yannick Rochat and Selim Krichane of CDH presented the video game research group UNIL GameLab. In this interdisciplinary initiative, researchers study video games as modes of expression through language, algorithms, and codes, as well as the relationship of video games to society, culture, and public discourse.

Author: Celia Luterbacher