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dhCenter Scientific Committee Profile: Andreas Fickers

As a professor of Contemporary and Digital History at the University of Luxembourg and founding director of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), Andreas Fickers advocates for hands-on training in the use of digital research tools for teachers as well as students of history and the social sciences.

Andreas Fickers brings his expertise in digital history and historiography, digital tools and methods, media history, and digital hermeneutics to the dhCenter Scientific Committee. He remarks that becoming a digital historian specializing in the application of epistemological questions to the digital age was a “natural progression” following his studies in history, philosophy, and sociology. After receiving a PhD from RTWH Aachen University in 2002, he worked as assistant professor of television history at Utrecht University (2003-2007) and as an associate professor for comparative media history at Maastricht University (2007-2013).

To help connect research processes with new forms of data-driven publishing, Fickers and his colleagues at the C²DH are launching a new Journal of Digital History, whose unique platform accommodates historical research in data-driven and digital formats. Submitted articles are each composed of a narrative layer, a hermeneutic layer, as well as a data layer.

He explains that at the C²DH, there is also a focus on the digital as it relates to public history and outreach to non-academic audiences.

“We reflect critically on how digital infrastructures, data, and tools change the way we think and narrate history. There is also a strong public history dimension that focuses on the development of new interfaces for storytelling, and for publishing research that can’t be showcased in a classical journal,” he says.

Breaking open black boxes

For Fickers, an important priority for the digital humanities is dispelling the “black boxes” of digital technologies, as they often appear to historians and social science researchers.

“Many historians don’t like technology, and are even afraid of technology. History students may choose to study history because they don’t like technology or the sciences, yet they use digital tools and infrastructure every day,” he says.

He therefore believes that hands-on training and experimentation with digital tools, such as text mining software, is essential to make these technologies more accessible.

“You very quickly learn there is no ‘push a button’ solution — you learn how hard it is to build a dataset, and to curate data in order to make it searchable, and turn it into an analytical object of study.”

Fickers adds that such training should be a priority not only for students, but also for teachers and established researchers. He cites the usefulness of interdisciplinary “trading zones” for bringing together different communities of practice to develop common vocabularies and understanding.

“Most of my colleagues are not digital-born, but analog-born, and they reproduce methods for doing research that are not really in sync with the digital possibilities we have right now. So training the trainers is for me an absolute priority; otherwise, we will widen that gap in the coming years.”

In addition to the C²DH, Fickers leads the Luxembourg National Research Fund Doctoral Training Unit ‘Digital History & Hermeneutics’, and co-coordinates the Trinational doctoral school. He’s also principal investigator of the DEMA project, Popkult60 and LuxTime. He is currently the Luxembourg national coordinator of DARIAH-EU (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities) and member of the joint research board of Humanities in the European Research Area.