Digital Contingencies – Prospects and Limitations of Technology in Digital Humanities


Digitalization provides unique opportunities for all academic areas. But digital forms of representing, processing, and studying scientific findings also have significant pitfalls as they tend to create an impression of precision and accuracy which may not be supported by the underlying data. This project deals with the development and evaluation of educational methods dealing with contingencies, i.e. uncertainties, doubts and contradictions, in the context of digital humanities.

Concretely, the project employs education and evaluation methods from problem-based learning in combination with blended learning for a module on “Spatial Technologies in Digital Humanities” that centers on the problems of contingencies. The module will be offered as a joint 3rd year specialization module in the undergraduate programs of “International Relations: Politics and History” as well as “Robotics and Intelligent Systems (RIS)” and “Computer Science”.          

Uncertainties, doubts and contradictions in dealing with sources are not uncommon in the humanities and especially in the field of history, and established methods exist for this purpose in classical analog work. The situation is different when ambiguous findings are to be represented and processed with digital methods, especially when widely available standard software is used. This can be illustrated with a very simple example: a program for managing personal data typically expects a unique year of birth, while the available source base may only allow for a possible birth period.

Similarly, digital methods can also suggest a false sense of security. For example, digital methods for creating 2D/3D maps and models are now widely used in the humanities. However, these methods have inherent ambiguities that are often neglected: in addition to physical limitations in their resolution and accuracy, there are also possible structural errors under certain conditions, e.g. in texture-poor areas or in repetitive structures. Yet, the very concreteness of the presentation obscures these problems even more deeply for most users.

The development of the proposed module can profit from the already existing cooperation between the fields of history and robotics at Jacobs in the project “3D Digitalization of the Memorial U-boot Bunker Valentin by air, ground and underwater robots (Valentin-3D)“, as it can build on the data collected by the project. The students enrolled in the module will have the opportunity to work with this data, and, by employing problem-based learning, can acquire both the content and analytic skills required when having to deal with contingencies in the digitalization of the remnants of the giant Nazi-built submarine bunker Valentin in Bremen-Farge.


The project was financed by the Jacobs Foundation within the B3 – Bildung Beyond Boundaries framework. The project PIs are Andreas Birk from Constructor Robotics and Julia Timpe from Contemporary History at Constructor University. Frederike Buda contributed as researcher with an interdisciplinary background in history and digital humanities substantially to the project.