Digital Humanities Benelux Conference 2017

Tool Criticism

Time & Room

Time 09:30 – 15:300
Room to be announced
Signing up Send an e-mail to DHBenelux (attn. Jacco van Ossenbruggen


The aim of this workshop is to bring together people with an interest in Digital Humanities research to collaboratively establish guidelines for tool criticism in DH research. With tool criticism we mean the reflection on the role of digital tools in research methodology and the evaluation of the suitability of a given digital tool for a specific research goal. Our aim is to understand the impact of any limitation of the tool on the specific goal, not to improve its performance. While source criticism is common practice in many academic fields, the awareness for biases inherent in digital tools and their influence on research tasks needs to be increased. This requires researchers, data custodians and tool providers to understand issues from different perspectives. Researchers need to be trained to anticipate and recognize tool bias and its impact on their research results. Data custodians and tool providers, on the other hand, have to make information about the potential biases of the underlying processes more transparent. This includes processes such as collection policies, digitization procedures, OCR, data enrichment and linking, quality assessment, error correction and search technologies.

The workshop will be highly interactive, combining hands-on experimentation with discussion and reflection on the impact of data and tool limitations on the research outcomes. In particular, the workshop will focus on the use of digital tools for the exploratory phase of research, to zoom in on specific research questions and perspectives and to identify relevant collections and materials.

Participants can start from a suggested general topic—migration and the media (from a historical perspective)—and a suggested list of tools to do comparative experiments on diverse and heterogeneous collections of cultural heritage data, but have the freedom to choose other topics, tools and data.

At the end of the workshop, we intend to collaboratively draft a set of guidelines and a checklist for DH tool criticism that is relevant to be both creators and users of digital research tools. Participants are invited to co-author a paper based on the workshop that will be submitted to an international digital humanities journal.

Preparatory reading: Owens, T. (22.8.2014) Where to Start? On Research

Questions in the Digital Humanities.

Where to Start? On Research Questions in The Digital Humanities


09:30 Opening, tour de table
10:00 Background Tool Criticism, explanation of the experiments
10:30 Brief training relevant tools
11:00 Experiment 1: Using explorative tools to refine a research question
12:00 Lunch
13:00 Experiment 2: Using explorative tools to collect digital sources
14:00 Reflection: make a poster reflecting on experiments
14:15 Poster presentations & discussion
15:15 Closing session, planning workshop report


Jacco van Ossenbruggen (CWI, VU,
Jasmijn van Gorp (Utrecht University,
Marijn Koolen (Huygens/ING, KNAW,


For more information, please e-mail: Jacco van Ossenbruggen