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The Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA)

The Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA) focuses on digital humanities research, implementation and teaching. We offer project consultation and trainings for researchers and students. We also support digital resource development throughout the whole life-cycle of research data, and maintain a small MediaLab. As a cooperation partner at local, national, and international level we work together with partners from the public as well as the private sector. We are committed to Open Science, and strive to make data, research, and code available to the public wherever possible.

Over the last years we were actively involved in a number of different projects. To get an overview about our previous projects please have a look at the “Projects” section.

The result of many projects was some kind of digital output, which can be everything from a little .kmz file to full fledged databases. If you are interested in learning more about results from digital research, please have a look into the “Digital Output” section.

The HRA also offers a number of services, both technical and practical. For more information please have a look into the “Services” section.

HRA related films

Cluster Members produced various HRA-related films. You can find them here.

HRA - A short history

The Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA) was established in 2007 as the Digital Humanities Unit of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context." It cooperates with strong regional players, like the Heidelberg University Library, the Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing (IWR), and the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, in establishing a joint framework for Computational Humanities has that serves scholars working in an unusual variety of disciplines, regions and time frames. The HRA plays an active role in this process to enable interdisciplinary cooperation between highly specialized researchers in the Humanities and Computational Sciences; expand digital competence; develop new approaches for the integrative analysis of heterogeneous sources (Heidelberg is leading in 3D and hybrid approaches to audio/visual materials, texts, and artifacts), especially with regard to materials from non-European cultures. 

During the Cluster's two funding periods (2007-2012 and 2012-2017) HRA made strategic moves towards a sustainable digital research environment embedded in a strong network of international partners as built in the past years. In the first phase of the Cluster “Asia and Europe,” the HRA supported a number of stand-alone pilot projects. In the second phase, the team developed a collection management system designed for collaborative research using MODS and VRA standards for highly descriptive standardized metadata (Tamboti with Ziziphus). In the third phase, HRA--now part of the HCTS within the Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies (CATS)--focused on how to sustain these data and enhance functionalities for future Digital and Computational Humanities projects.
N.b.: These sections draw from text passages written by Eric Decker in 2017/18.

Phase 1: Exploring the Digital - Setting the Scene for a Transcultural Approach

In Phase 1 the HRA supported a number of projects covering the whole bandwidth of the Cluster's (inter-) disciplinary spectrum. Pilot projects started to experiment with digital ways of approaching a broad variety of research material in many languages. These included text, image, video and audio material and often ephemeral sources like posters, lobby cards, posters, or comic books - objects not only challenging traditional scholarly discourse but also the available IT infrastructures

A main task for the HRA in Phase 1 was therefore to define the particular needs and requirements for making available resources offering themselves for a transcultural approach, and to evaluate existing IT and DH infrastructures at Heidelberg University and beyond. As a result  the HRA began investing in the enhancement of existing technologies and the development of new solutions on the individual project level.

Some pilot projects were based on existing projects pre-dating the Cluster. This opened many opportunities for the HRA to explore the requirements of projects at an advanced state or even already completed in their development (e.g. WSC Wissenschaftssprache Chinesisch, Modern Chinese Scientific Terminologies).

Other projects were designed from scratch to test the potential of interdisciplinary research within a Humanities research cluster (e.g. Mothers and Fathers of the Nation).

These projects evolved over time, influenced each other and planted the seeds for further fruitful collaborations both within the Cluster and with international partners.

Selected projects originating in Phase 1:

Phase 1 was a period of experimentation, searching for a system capable of managing digital research collections with multilingual metadata. Many of the individual projects were served at first with specific ad hoc solutions that served their purposes well. Our impression was, however, that while this approach leads to quick results, this should not obscure the fact that it only generates project-specific data-silos, not only non-interoperable but also prohibitively expensive to maintain beyond a project's funding period. This problem was approached in Phase 2.

Phase 2: Collaboration and Interoperability - International Standards and Institutional Infrastructure

In order to address issues of interoperability, cost and sustainability, the HRA started the conceptualisation of a digital research infrastructure. At its center was Tamboti, a central digital collection management system based on international metadata standards and capable of supporting multiple projects.

Tamboti offered the possibility for users and user groups with different disciplinary background to share their data and work on different types of research material (text, image, video and audio) collaboratively. Shifting to Tamboti implied a change from project specific solutions to more collaborative and institutional approaches. The HRA began with the development of a software stack to support Transcultural Studies research. It also started to invest in the improvement of existing multi-project platforms such as the image annotation platform HyperImage and the video annotation platform Pan.do/ra.

The underlying philosophy of this institutional infrastructure was the use of highly descriptive metadata standards. We adapted the Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) developed by the Library of Congress and the VRA-Core 4 Schema developed by the Visual Resources Association to cover the specific requirements in many of our user scenarios.

Based on these standards the HRA developed tools that enable researchers from different disciplines to create standardised metadata collections. Taking this approach individual research data is no longer locked in project specific data silos but can easily be exchanged between different research groups. The software development process profited from the immediate application of the solutions in teaching and research. Direct requests and feedback from researchers and students strengthened the development process.

During this phase the HRA built up a strong expertise in software development using XML related technologies and teamed up with external developers from eXist Solutions and betterFORM to implement the digital research infrastructure covering Tamboti, Ziziphus and Atomic Wiki. Even projects with extremely specific requirements like SARIT, a project focused on Enriching Digital Text Collections in Indology, have profited from the software development expertise the HRA provides.

Selected projects starting in Phase 2:

The major achievement of Phase 2 was the establishment of our joint research infrastructure (Tamboti) that allows the HRA to service research projects across disciplinary and linguistic borders. The infrastructure now in place meets many of the requirements in research projects working with multilingual text, image, video and audio materials. Due to this strategy, the number of project specific data-silos could be reduced significantly. All digital metadata collections produced in Phase 2 come with a high degree of interoperability. The HRA not only provided the technical infrastructure but also documentation, training and consulting services to researchers.

Phase 3: Transition

With the transition of the Cluster into an institute with in the newly inaugurated Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies (CATS), the HRA faced new challenges. The reduction of staff and resources resulted in discontinuation of active developments including Tamboti.

Not unlike analogue research environments, digital infrastructures need to be maintained, migrated, updated, restructured or replaced to meet the requirements and the high standards of the researcher. Due to fast-paced technology developments, parts of a digital infrastructure are far more prone to becoming obsolete than analogue data. A digital transition (from one technological environment to the next) is successful when the digital outcome of a project is preserved. To keep the digital outcome alive does not only mean data preservation, it also includes the way that data can be accessed, searched, queried, etc. Transitions always come at a cost - keeping them low is a key to a sustainable digital research environment. This allows to keep digital project output alive and protect major achievements and investments that have been made as a basis for future research. The lower the transition costs the greater the possibilities to invest in new innovative methods and tools for research. Transition phases not only occur at the end of a technology life cycle, but also when bringing digital outcome from several institutions together, to facilitate inter-institutional collaborations.

As a first approach, HRA used Data Future's freizo platform. In the process of the transformation, project data were opened up to new annotations-based data-extraction-methods.

HRA selected four showcases as examples for different scenarios:



You find us in the office at the KJC, ground floor, room 005b. We recommend to make an appointment with us  by email hra@hcts.uni-heidelberg.de or by phone +49 (0) 6221 - 54 4094.