Innovation and the Digital Humanities: Early lessons from the King’s Digital Laboratory

The digital humanities has a long history of innovation in technology, techniques and communications. Historically, innovation tends to be associated with business processes. Critics may object to such ‘industry’ language and claim that ‘innovative’ processes may in fact lead, inevitably, to instrumentalist perspectives. This paper will explore these issues through reference to “Open Innovation”, using the recent establishment of the King’s Digital Lab (KDL) at King’s College London (King’s) as a case study.

KDL’s primary purpose is to increase digital capability across the Faculty of Arts & Humanities by working with academic staff to develop research proposals and projects, and deliver a range of digital research outcomes. The expectation is that the presence of the Lab will complement teaching and research in the Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) and further enhance the reputation King’s has in digital humanities. This paper will describe KDL plans (working with DDH) to underpin high quality teaching and research, but also high quality (industry standard) software development processes, and a culture of innovation, experimentation, and entrepreneurship.

Using KDL as a case study we will show how the concept of Open Innovation (as proposed by Henry Chesbrough) resonates strongly with the digital humanities. Concepts of being open (in terms of open sourcing or open access), pursuing open reflection and collaboration within Open Innovation, present a mirror in which we can see ourselves as digital humanities academics. This is a vision of the digital humanities as a catalyst for research across disciplines, providing a means to enable collaborations and intellectual partnerships, but also as IT industry professionals merely working in one of several knowledge domains. To this end, the paper will present a mapping demonstrating the contrast between the principles of Open and Closed Innovation, comparing different modes of communication and collaboration across the digital humanities.