GLANCES OF THE LANDSCAPE: “What was interesting, was the lack of interest”

Our blog series Glances of the landscape offers sneak peeks of the global research infrastructure landscape and the research process of the RISCAPE project. Sneak peeks are provided by the researchers of the RISCAPE project. It is time to take a look at the cultural heritage, digital humanities and language research infrastructure landscape with Professor Franco Niccolucci.

Picture: Mr. Cup Fabien Barran / Unsplash

“My background is strange. I have a degree in mathematics but something like 25 years ago I decided that I am interested in history and archeology. This is when I started to do applications of IT to these disciplines. I am still carrying out research in mathematical logic, which is a very useful skill to have for organizing the data about cultural heritage and archeology”, describes Franco Niccolucci, the work package leader in RISCAPE for studying RIs in cultural heritage, digital humanities and language domain.

Niccolucci and his colleagues’ task is to find out, how the research infrastructure landscape looks like globally in the mixed domain of cultural heritage, digital humanities and language. His own expertise is cultural heritage but on the other two domains, he is relying on his colleagues.

“We already know, how the European landscape looks like. There are two established RIs. The one in the language studies is called CLARIN and the one in the digital humanities it is called DARIAH. Regarding cultural heritage, there is not yet an existing stable research infrastructure. In my opinion, there are several candidates, though. Some of them are already included in the ESFRI Roadmap. But none have yet achieved the status of the European Research Infrastructure.”

The European RIs are taken as a model

For the research infrastructures, the operational environment in Europe is in a positive way unique, thanks to the structure of and work by the European Union.

“The political situation in Europe is unique in the world. For example, there are other federal states in the world, too, but they have adopted more competitive paradigms and not as collaborative ones as we have in Europe. We are very lucky, because we have the opportunity to create RIs which are transnational and have a high degree of collaboration. This is partly possible due to funding that is granted for joint efforts instead of individual academic institutes”, says Niccolucci.

One of RISCAPE’s findings so far regarding cultural heritage, digital humanities and language RIs is, that in many countries, the collaboration takes place in networks of institutions that are working on similar projects. But compared to the European RIs, the collaboration is not permanent or structured nor have they the direct funding. The initiatives are funded on project basis and not as something that is carried out continuously.

“The European RIs are, and should be, taken as a model, I think. It seems that people have started to realise that the European way of organising RIs is much better than to adopt competitive paradigms or collaborate only in networks. There are also positive hints that, for example, in the United States the National Science Foundation will fund joint projects of different institutions. Then there is this trend that many researchers or research institutes around the world will rather join the European RIs than the ones in their own countries, which highlights the appreciation towards them.”

The landscape did not offer many surprises

“I have been working in this domain for many years now, so the findings we had were not really surprising. We did not find RIs around the world that would match the ones in Europe. Still, having the confirmation on the role that we European researchers and RIs can play all around the world, is interesting”, states Niccolucci.

“It seems that cooperation, at least in my field, between the European and other RIs could be arranged by adding international partners, or perhaps networks, to the European RIs.”

In general, what was interesting in the findings, was the lack of interest towards the sector of cultural heritage, digital humanities and language. Niccolucci explains:

“Of course it was interesting, but in a negative sense, to note how little importance politicians and governments give to this sector, which then reflects also to research infrastructures and their development. But then again, there are regions for example in China which are putting great efforts and funds for studying cultural heritage, for example. They want to discover their past and it is important for them.”

Professor Franco Niccolucci is a Director in VAST-LAB, PIN – University of Florence. He is also the Scientific Coordinator at ARIADNEplus – PARTHENOS and Editor-in-Chief at ACM Journal of Computing and Cultural Heritage (JOCCH). At RISCAPE, he leads the WP 9: Landscape analysis of the international Cultural Heritage, Digital Humanities and Language RIs and initiatives.

RISCAPE wants to foster cooperation in the scientific community

RISCAPE is a three-year project to map the international landscape of research infrastructures. Where are we now? Project coordinator Ari Asmi answers.


Science often needs facilities and resources, which are usually quite expensive to build and maintain. This is why countries typically build them together. In Europe, these activities have been supported by the European Union. Naturally, these facilities are also built outside of Europe, but until now we have not had a very good idea on who is doing what.

Where would the best cooperation possibilities regarding research infrastructures lay outside of Europe?

“There is already a lot of collaboration between scientists and research infrastructures. Many scientists may have a lot of information in the issue, but the information is not collected in a consistent way. This is what RISCAPE is now trying to solve”, explains Ari Asmi

RISCAPE is not, however, trying to map all possible research infrastructures in the world. The project is concentrating on eight domains of RIs, outlined by the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI): environmental, biomedical, physics and engineering, energy, astronomical and astroparticle physics, social sciences, cultural heritage, digital humanities and language and e-infrastructures.

“To guarantee a fruitful interaction, you should have some similarities within the infrastructures. Similarities in their operations and policies, for example. We use a definition of a research infrastructure in RISCAPE which assumes, that the research infrastructure should have science or research is in its core, it should be longstanding and its time horizon should be longer than just one research project. It should also offer services to users outside the infrastructure and reach scientific impact that is comparable from ESFRI landmarks or projects.”

So are there any interesting findings in the project so far?

“It has been interesting to notice, that what is considered to be quite normal in the European research infrastructures, for example, services to outside researchers, or support for international visitors, is not at all true in many other regions. This is something that the Commission policies and interaction in the international level might change in the future.”

Picture: Patrick Fore / Unsplash

“What is considered to be normal in the European RIs, is not at all true in many other regions”

The RISCAPE consortium participated the ICRI 2018, the International Conference on Research Infrastructures. The conference was a good opportunity to reflect on RISCAPE’s work so far.

Daniela Mercurio from APRE interviewed the RISCAPE project coordinator Ari Asmi about the progresses and results reached so far.

Watch the full interview here: