DH scholarship in Africa: Let’s talk CEDHUL

By Ayodele James Akinola

The search for an improved Africa’s engagement for Digital Humanities (DH) scholarship, research and enabling environment received a significant boost on October 2, 2019. The University of Lagos, one of the foremost first generation’s tertiary institutions in Nigeria finally institutionalised the Centre for Digital Humanities (CEDHUL) which was formerly running as a digital humanities research unit (a.k.a. DIHRU) at the Department of English in the university.

Earlier, the Digital Humanities Research Unit (DIHRU) provided a vibrant research space for researchers seeking to explore the intersections of computer science and the humanities, thus adopting a cross-disciplinary approach that nurtures innovative research pool research resources and insights from humanities research with those of computer and information science. At the time, this unit was a pet project of Professor Tunde Ope-Davies (Opeibi) with support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany. While operating as a research unit, there were many limitations regarding the level of engagement that could be established with interested individuals in the field.

However, with the new status, the Centre for Digital Humanities, University of Lagos (CEDHUL) is now fully equipped to adequately respond to the yawning gap in the field of digital humanities research and learning in Africa and the growing need to retool scholars and researchers in the human sciences. Being the pioneer and foremost interdisciplinary research and academic unit in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa focusing on research and scholarship in the field of digital humanities, the centre is focused on promoting the use of computational methodologies and digital tools for innovative interdisciplinary research projects and studies in the humanities and liberal sciences such as history, linguistics, literature, philosophy, religion, law, economics, political science and other related disciplines.  This is re-emphasised by the centre’s director, Tunde Ope-Davies. He said,

“it is hoped that the centre will continue to engage in individual and collaborative research projects, to develop computer applications relevant to humanistic research and social transformation, and to use creative interdisciplinary approaches to conducting cutting-edge and innovative research projects”.

This statement seems to be yielding fruits already.

Since CEDHUL debuted (as a unit and centre), they have been organising summer schools, workshops, seminars, symposia and conferences that provided the platform to raise and equip a new generation of scholars and researchers in the humanities and social sciences. Through these activities, they have been able to generate ideas, demonstrate the usefulness of computer methodologies to humanistic studies and disseminate research outcomes for the benefit of the larger society.

The opening of CEDHUL in Lagos

Within the short time of the centre’s emergence, it has sponsored DH projects, supported DH scholars, provided space for researchers to engage in studies involving big-data, and organised collaborative programmes with existing and emerging DH associations in Nigeria and Africa.
One of such programmes is now the D.H. 2.0 symposium/workshop which is held quarterly via virtual platforms featuring various training programmes in the deployment of digital research tools (DIRT) such AntConc, SameDiff, Voyant, Omeka, Gephi, OpenRefine, R-programming language, etc. Some of the trainees, who were initially not DH researchers have gone ahead to deploy these learned tools in conducting their research more efficiently and creatively with a blend of DH and their original disciplines. Through many of these, CEDHUL has greatly enhanced collaboration between DH scholars and others from sister disciplines. In the next couple of months, CEDHUL will be mounting a postgraduate academic programme in Digital and Public Humanities.

The centre presently enjoys the support of international partners from the University of Cologne Institute for Digital Humanities Centre, University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany, and Lethbridge University, Canada. Additionally, its experts are pooled from the University of Lagos’ Departments of Computer Science, English, and History, and related others.

It is hoped that the Centre will continue to evolve as an intellectually stimulating international research hub that will encourage scholars and researchers to investigate the different ways in which digital technologies, web-based resources and ICT are opening new ways for research projects in languages, literature, culture, history, philosophy, creative arts and media studies. These technology-driven scholarly initiatives will also impact personal and social experiences of humans positively in modern society. As such, CEDHUL hopes to build the capacity of graduates of humanities with additional skills to compete successfully in the global/digital job market.

With the present reality, I firmly believe that if you are looking for a digital research environment (DRE) that fosters research and studies in technology-driven approaches and that which aids the investigation of humanistic phenomena while allowing for the integration of insight anchored on computer technologies into the realities and possibilities of human society, you can talk CEDHUL.