Digital humanities: hybridizing computer and social sciences

Syntec Numérique recently published a detailed analysis (1) on skills and recruitment levels needed in computer sciences and digital applications up to the time horizon 2018. Jérôme Valluy, sociologist and research scientist at University Paris 1/UTC-Costech describes the contributions this Report will make, commenting on the implications in terms of “digital humanities”.

Digital humanities: hybridizing computer and social sciences

Interactions: What are the main contributions you see in the Syntec Numérique study?

Jérôme Valluy (JV) : The authors have presented a cartography of professions, compared evolutions, job creations and training offers. Out of 36 000 job creations over the next 5 years in computer sciences and digital applications, a growing fraction – already a majority today – are digital-technology-based: web designer, community manager, web and mobile “app” developers, big data analysts, cloud computing architects, cyber security analysts, web referencing consultants, etc. The skills related to the ways computer science interact with the human and socio-economic environment are new necessary if staff wish to evolve from their current professional status. Now they are required to understand social uses of technologies, clients and the applications, web sociology, data analysis, writing and editing skills as well as a grasp on the vocabulary specific to Internet practice, to changes in management policies and marketing in a web environment, in ‘interdisciplinarity’ …


Interactions: Is this an incentive to resuming the debate on digital humanities?

JV – This study confirms that there is in fact a need for dual skills and mixed training in computer and social sciences. A good level in standard computer sciences is the prerequisite, but the fraction at this level will decrease as new digital jobs are created, inasmuch as they call for digital data, methodology and ‘reflexivities’ in social sciences, as well as the ability to interpret “big data” files which calls for a specific training in analysis of digitized humanities


Interactions: How would you define digitized humanities and what are the challenges ?

JV – The framework is all the more successful when the contents are ill-defined. The initial definitions become marginal faced with the scale of current convergences in France and elsewhere: “digitized humanities” are prospering round the world and are becoming a major axis to harmonize Europe. France’s authorities are showing their determination in the developing field and are very present in the calla to tender in the university milieus as well as in research and training schemes. This category of activities is opening up: this alone is a factor that contributes to the success story. The partners are contributing via their own skills and specialties – inducing new configurations and adapted situations.


Interactions: What are the corporate expectations?

JV – Knowing your clients well is primordial to any business. The Report and the UTC debates with the Conference of French University Vice-Chancellors and Presidents, January 31, 2014 on the theme “Digital Innovation and Creativity” (2) highlighted this aspect: characteristics, perception, habits, needs … all call for skills in social sciences. Public authorities and their services are finding it increasingly difficult to finance innovative projects when there is a low user rate. Even if there are not just these expectations that are important for training schemes and research work, technological creation would stand to gain considerably by better knowledge of users. This in no way should stymie creativity, but is an encouragement to see it oriented to take account of the rest of the world outside (, clients, users, citizens, consumers …).

Interactions: What are the challenged in training via digitized humanities? Can UTC play a special role here?

JV – The central challenge is to hybridize computer and social sciences. In most HE establishments, these two subject areas are distinct. The French Universities of Technology have a great advantage here. For decades now, computer sciences been exchanging with social sciences and humanities. Synergy here between the areas should be valorized by intermingling course titles, and by creation of an integrated specialty, running from UTC’s freshman (1st) year up to and including the PhD courses. At UTC, the Social Sciences and Technology (TSH) Department, which is a bridge between digitized humanities and technological epistemology, could lead on to a specialty that valorizes all its component credits, with numerous partners in the UTC staff and laboratories. Opening up a section “Social Sciences and Technology” in 2012 was the first, pioneering step. It would also prove interesting to set up a Master’s degree integrating digitized humanities with associate research activities and could lead on to awards of PhD theses in these fields. This joining of forces between digitized humanities, research, a digital writing/AV editing unit, connected to the local lycées, tied to continuing education courses, would be in a position to offer the baccalaureate holders), HE students and salaried personnel a unique and viable framework that could be set up faster in Compiegne than anywhere else.

In French : (1) Contrat d’études prospectives du secteur professionnelle du numérique [Contract for prospective analyses in regard to digital professions], August 21, 2013, 189 p.

(2) UTC/CPU, « Innovation numérique et créativité » [Digital Innovation and Creativity], Seminar held January 31, 2014, Compiegne