Student stories: Mastering DH at EPFL – Cédric Tomasini

"What digital humanities researchers attempt to do is not a translation, but really a re-creation," says Cédric Tomasini. © Instant-Lab EPFL/Simon Henein

"What digital humanities researchers attempt to do is not a translation, but really a re-creation," says Cédric Tomasini. © Instant-Lab EPFL/Simon Henein

Cédric Tomasini is a second-year student in the Master of Science in Digital Humanities (DH Master) program, offered by the Digital Humanities Institute (DHI) in EPFL’s College of Humanities. As part of the DHI’s ‘Student stories’ series, Cédric describes his experience in the program, and what inspired him to enter this exciting emerging interdisciplinary field.

A native of Switzerland, Cédric completed his bachelor’s degree in Communication Systems at EPFL before joining the DH Master program. He is currently taking his final semester of courses prior to his internship. These include optional courses on text and image processing, as well as some classes at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) on socio-political digital issues, which Cédric says he feels are of “tremendous importance” for understanding and making good decisions in today’s world.

CDH DHI: Why did you choose the DH Master program at EPFL?

Cédric Tomasini: I first heard about the DH Master program during EPFL’s Specialized Master’s Day. As I always had a great interest and curiosity in many fields of the humanities, it caught my attention. By the end of the third year of my bachelor studies, I really missed the humanities, and I had the feeling that disciplines involving them would suit me better than pure computer science, so I did not hesitate. The transdisciplinarity of the domains tackled in the DH Master program really appealed me.

CDH DHI: What have you found most interesting about the DH master program so far, and what have you found most challenging?

CT: I found it very interesting to get in-depth introductions to musicology, social sciences and history, even though one year of courses is too short to really dive into the specificities of each field, outside of the computational approach. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to experience the research process during my musicology project.

The most challenging aspect remains always being confronted with new tools and new fields. This master’s program requires a lot of exploration, and exploration takes a lot of time and resources.

CDH DHI: What surprised you most about studying digital humanities?

CT: That there is no magical theory to apply computer science principles to the humanities! Someday, one may appear, but currently, it is more a matter of being aware of what is done in both fields, and acquiring the experience to link them properly. And this doesn’t necessarily mean linking them at all costs: the potential benefit of using digital technologies always comes with a counterpart, so being a wise digital humanist also means knowing when a computer will not help.

CDH DHI: What are your future career plans at the moment?

CT: I would enjoy taking part in local projects here in Switzerland, to help archives, museums, or libraries to tackle contemporary digital challenges. However, I may also pursue further training after the program, in the domain of education or cultural mediation.

CDH DHI: How do you describe what DH is to your friends and family?

CT: When I need to sum up what I do in my master’s program in one sentence, I say that it is “data science applied to humanities”. But digital humanities as a discipline is more than that. People often include in it almost any scientific field that requires some computer science background, and some humanities background. It can go from the history of computers to the use of computers for history.

A global reflection has emerged from all of this, to think on what the limits of digital humanities are, or if greater fundamental principles that would apply to the whole field can be identified. The idea is really to go beyond the application of the methods of one side to the other, I think. What digital humanities researchers attempt to do is not a translation, but really a re-creation.

CDH DHI: If you wanted future students to know one thing about digital humanities as a research field, what would it be?

CT: The field of digital humanities may look like a weird chimera, and it surely is, which is why so many people are excited about it. But seen through the EPFL DH Master program, it is a new way of doing engineering. So, if you come from a bachelor program at EPFL or another polytechnic school, don’t worry: you will find your footing!