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Research

FAU is one of the leading research universities in Germany. The University’s key research priorities reflect the challenges society currently faces. The Interdisciplinary Centre for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences (IZdigital) consolidates and promotes transdisciplinary research activities across faculties in accordance with its statutes as an interdisciplinary centre.

 

IZdigital is a network of researchers from various subjects and faculties at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). It is a centre of expertise and communication for new methods in humanities and social sciences and conducts research into the social and technological prerequisites and consequences of digitalisation for society in terms of social relationships, organisational and decision-making structures and spatial contexts. IZdigital also develops research platforms and contributes infrastructural expertise.

 

Areas of expertise

The main research interest in digitalisation as a method is the potential of digitalisation to enhance academic methods in the process of generating knowledge. Research in this field employs computer science as a tool either to serve completely new research interests and questions or to pursue existing research more efficiently and precisely. Research objects (such as manuscripts, incunabula, certificates, statutes, literature, works of art, coin collections) can also be digitised and made accessible to the public for research and teaching.

Research in digitalisation as a method includes the following methodological expertise:

Language and text

Work in this area focuses on quantitative analysis of content and style of information in texts using automated or semi-automated processes. Researchers aim to confirm observations using statistical methods and can visualise quantitative patterns to develop hypotheses during textual analysis. Examples of this kind of research include identifying the author of a text using the style and sentence structure, comparative analysis of political arguments in various newspapers, or grouping texts and statements on the basis of similar content.

Images and 3D objects

Work in this area focuses on analysing two and three-dimensional objects in architecture, visual art, archaeology and historical science. Examples of research include methods for structured recording and archiving of complex data (e.g. building documentation), content analysis (semi-automated/automated) and interpretation of visual or physical representations (pattern recognition, classification, metadata analysis) and the analysis of historic surfaces (materials, colour).

Letters and characters

Work in this area focuses on automated identification of letters and other characters in graphic coding (e.g. manuscripts, typefaces). This may include automated digitisation of manuscripts and historic prints, or identifying the author of a handwritten document or the printing shop in which a printed work was produced. Described abstractly, this research essentially involves finding out how and why an instance of a character can still be assigned to a type and its producer – despite many variations of the instances of a character type.

Philology and digital editions

Work in this area focuses on the use of new methods to create digital editions. These methods facilitate the creation of dynamic and interactive texts that are more versatile than traditional academic editions. For example, users can configure their ‘own’ edition to meet their specific needs (from digital sources to a normalised text). In the broadest sense, this may include excerpts that form the edition, or the ability to link to content from neighbouring disciplines such as linguistics and history to the extent that the texts are encoded and can be processed in a digital form.

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Research in this area centres on the effects of digitalisation on how we live and work together in society. Although digitalisation presents new opportunities, it also has a disruptive element which needs to be understood and addressed in research.

The Centre’s expertise in digitalisation and society is categorised into the following areas:

Organisation of institutions

Institutions may be understood as agencies that are motivated for different reasons to restrict social interaction through formal rules (laws, coded customs) or informal rules (manners, work ethics). The sense of overload generated by new technologies requires the active change of institutions that no longer function and the creation of new institutions in a process of negotiation of the desired (new) order. Shitstorms or public outrage, the growing tendency to challenge those in power due to the effectiveness of mass communication, changed boundaries between public and private life or issues relating to responsibility and confidentiality (for example health-related data) and accountability are just some of the issues worth investigating in this context.

Designing processes, organisations and forms of organisations

Routines and structures that have proven effective when dealing with complexity have developed over the course of several decades or even centuries in all sectors of society. Examples include increasing division of work and coordination of tasks to form an overall solution via markets and hierarchies or the delegation of decision-making expertise and responsibility as part of day-to-day life in society. Increasing decentralisation and networking instead of hierarchy and local presence, the attribution of expertise and problem-solving skills to the general public or questions of inclusion, exclusion, participation or non-participation are all potential effects of digitalisation.

Characteristics and forms of objects, artefacts and performances

Changes in characteristics (such as materiality, haptics, two or three dimensions) caused by digitalisation can lead to other effects, uses or responses, further complexities or completely new design options. For example, when previously physical objects are replaced by digital surrogates (for example iPads instead of school exercise books) this presents new methods of interaction (swiping or clicking instead of turning pages) and may give way to entirely different practices (typing/dictating instead of writing). Research in digitalisation in society may include the design of human-machine interfaces or designing media for specific scenarios.

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