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New Digital Agenda for Humanistic Research

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the opening of DigHumLab in Aarhus University 10 September 2012.

Check against delivery.

Distinguished guests, steering committee, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the launch of DIGHUMLAB, Digital Humanities Laboratory. This is a great day for Danish research.

And this is a great day not only for Aarhus University but also for Alborg University, University of Southern Denmark and University of Copenhagen. The four universities now join forces to build DIGHUMLAB.

Before turning to DIGHUMLAB, I would like to mention, that this morning, I visited another research infrastructure here at the university. It is the unique particle accelerator called ASTRID 2. ASTRID 2 is located in the basement deep down under the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

And it is exactly what most people picture when talking about research infrastructure: ASTRID 2 is a huge, advanced machinery. It is constructed by a great number of wires, cables and specially designed components. And the whole construction is enclosed in concrete and from a control panel with buttons blinking red and green. I think most people would say; this is what a real lab looks like! But get used to it.

Natural sciences no longer have monopoly on the word “laboratory”. The humanities and social science have entered the scene. Large research infrastructure has often in the past been aimed at experimental natural science fields. But in recent years, there has been a greater need for modern digital tools within social science and humanities.

DIGHUMLAB is not a physical laboratory where scientists in white coats and protective goggles examine chemical processes through microscopes to find new bonds. DIGHUMLAB is a digital laboratory where scholars from their own desktops can examine texts, sound and image media through digital microscopes to find new connections.

One of the greatest challenges for researchers today is not the lack of data, but that the data is not always accessible or of a format that can be utilised by researchers. DIGHUMLAB addresses this challenge.

Research infrastructures is important

Research infrastructure is important in every area of the scientific world. Over the last decades the technological development has had a significant impact on the development of research infrastructure. The boundaries for what is scientifically possible are constantly expanding. This is good for science. Excellence in research requires excellent tools. Research infrastructure of high quality is just as important to research as a road is to a car.

First of all scientific progress and breakthroughs depend on the scientists' access to advanced equipment, databases, laboratory facilities and computers. Research infrastructures have a great influence on the ability of the Danish research institutions to create new excellent results. And infrastructures allow the Danish institutions to attract, hold and educate the best and most talented students and scientist.

Clever minds gather where excellent facilities and challenging research environment are. Secondly; access to modern research tools gives the Danish scientists a much better basis for participating in the research work on a European and global level. This allows knowledge sharing and creation of knowledge.

There is no reason for us to reinvent the wheel. Let us instead use the international experiences and create new innovative results.

Finally infrastructures in the scientific field are an important and strong card in the international competition. So by having a strong research infrastructure we take an important step forward in the effort to secure our future welfare.

The results scientists achieve through their research should over time spread to the rest of the education system. In the end investment in infrastructures is an investment in research, education and future welfare.

A Danish road map

In 2011 the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education made a Danish road map for research infrastructure. The intention was to identify the main needs for research infrastructure.

In making the road map the Ministry entered into a dialog with the universities who all supported a focused effort on digital humanity. So I am very happy that four universities have united in the work to establish and run DIGHUMLAB. We do not lose out by sharing research infrastructures.

Quite the opposite. All parties are winners. And cooperation on infrastructure today is more relevant than ever before. So hopefully more research and education institutions wish to join the co-operation in the future.

Accessibility is a keyword

One of the greatest strengths of DIGHUMLAB is that it enables access to data that until now have been out of reach. At the same time it makes it possible to handle these data in ways that has been too demanding or impossible so far. DIGHUMLAB therefore allows new pioneering projects and research results. Accessibility is a keyword.

DIGHUMLAB gives access to an enormous amount of data. Having all resources in a field available by linking a huge number of national and international databases there are no limits to what questions the scientist could ask. Another strength is that a lot of scientists’ are now able to share and secure their research data.

I have been told that many competent scientists have spent a lot of time and energy on developing their own databases in order to organize their research. But many of them have not considered that such a system should be able to co-operate with other systems. Neither have they considered what to do when their good old computers crash and the database has to be transferred to another computer. At worst this could mean that an entire research project and all its results crash with the computer.

This should no longer be the case. And what is even more important: DIGHUMLAB enable the scientists to share their data and co-operate in the effort to achieve new results, saving both time and money.

Excellence in research requires excellent tools

Even though it does not look like a traditional laboratory with advanced accelerators and men in white coats and protective goggles, DIGHUMLAB is a real lab. And I have no doubt that DIGHUMLAB will have a positive impact on Danish research work in the field of social science and especially the humanities. It strengthens our opportunity for participating in the European co-operation and learning from international experiences.

It strengthens our position in the international competition. And – last but not least – it strengthens the research environment; an environment that will hopefully create new breakthrough results.

Excellence in research requires excellent tools. And we need excellent tools for science. Not least for humanities and social science. So congratulations to Denmark.

And congratulations to the research world. Both national and international.

last modified Feb 10, 2013