Document Engineering and Digital Humanities

Documents of all types have always played a central role in the humanities, both of an object of inquiry and for documenting research results. The digital humanities are thus also concerned with documents and with digital documents in particular. Apart from “traditional” scholarly questions, this raises many new questions, for example, on encoding, markup, and processing of texts, where technical and scholarly aspects interact.

Anne Baillot’s 2013 blog post Encoding is conceptualizing lists a number of nice examples; the discussions on TEI-L are a inexhaustible source of further examples.

Document Engineering is the computer science field working on systems for representing and processing documents in all forms and media. Unfortunately, there are still only few points of contact between document engineering and digital humanities—which is strange, because here we’ve got people with challenging requirements wrt. creation, processing, and presentation of digital documents (think multiple overlapping markup layers) and, on the other side, people working on advancing the state of the art in this area.

This is why I want to raise awareness for a conference that’s still relatively unknown in the DH scene, but which should be of high interest for DH researchers working on digital documents, XML, TEI, etc., and which also offers good opportunities to get in touch with computer scientists working in this area: the ACM Symposium on Document Engineering, or DocEng for short.

DocEng 2012 in Paris already had a small session focused on DH (check out the proceedings), and DocEng 2013 (in Florence) and 2014 (in Fort Collins) hosted DH-CASE workshops (Collaborative Annotations in Shared Environments: Metadata, Vocabularies and Techniques in the Digital Humanities), but many other contributions were equally relevant for DH people, e.g., XML, OCR, retrieval. Again, check out the proceedings of DocEng 2013, DocEng 2014, DH-CASE 2013, and DH-CASE 2014.

I’m certain that DocEng 2015 will again have many interesting presentations for researchers working in DH. DocEng 2015 will be held at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, September 08–11, 2015. On September 8, the DChanges 2015 workshop (Document Changes: Modeling, Detection, Storage and Visualization) will take place, and tutorials entitled “Document Engineering Issues in Malware Analysis,” “Developing Web Applications With Document Technologies and Enjoying It!”, and “What Is This Thing Called Linked Data?” will be offered.

Personally, I’m convinced that both DH and document engineering can only profit from an intensified exchange. And perhaps DocEng can also be a refreshing alternative to endless discussions about how to define DH…


But in particular I’d like to invite PhD students to check out ProDoc@DocEng, the DocEng doctoral consortium. At DocEng 2015 ProDoc@DocEng will take place for the third time now. If you’re not familiar with doctoral consortia: PhD students can present their dissertation projects (which must, of course, have some relation to the field of document engineering) and get feedback and constructive criticism from a panel of experienced researchers and the audience in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. The goal of ProDoc@DocEng is to support PhD students in formulating their research question, to pick the right approaches and methods, and to encourage the exchange of ideas with the research community. For more information on goals and structure, and on previous participants and panelists, have a look at the article on ProDoc@DocEng in the Spring 2015 SIGWEB Newsletter.1

A doctoral consortium is a unique opportunity for receiving feedback from leading researchers in the field and, at the same time, learn about the current state of research in document engineering—a good basis for presenting your work in the main conference at one of the next symposia.

The deadline for submissions to ProDoc@DocEng is May 28, 2015 (this is also the deadline for short papers and application notes). Check the ProDoc@DocEng Web site for details. PhD students accepted for ProDoc@DocEng are also elegible for Student Travel Awards.



You should have access to the full texts of publications in the ACM Digital Library via your institution, i.e., you may have to use VPN if you’re off site. And before you cry “paywall,” just let me point out that ACM is not a for-profit publisher but a scientific society, and the revenue from subscriptions directly benefit ACM members and is used for running and maintaining this unique service.

Author: Michael Piotrowski

Computational linguist, computer scientist, professor of digital humanities at the University of Lausanne.

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