EPFL CDH visiting scholar to investigate digital infrastructures

As a visiting scholar in the EPFL College of Humanities (CDH) for the academic year 2021/22, humanities and digital technologies researcher Pierre Mounier will try to answer the question of how to design and manage digital infrastructures that are both open and sustainable.

Pierre Mounier, a research engineer at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, is an expert in digital humanities and open scholarly communication. He promotes the development of open access platforms as deputy director of OpenEdition, coordinator of OPERAS (Open Scholarly Communication in the European Research Area for Social Sciences and Humanities), and co-director of DOAB (Directory of Open Access Books).

At EPFL, Mounier will be hosted by the Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology (LHST), led by dhCenter member Jérôme Baudry, within the framework of CDH’s Visiting Professor Program (VPP). His research will focus on the use of digital infrastructures – such as databases; software; text corpora; and platforms for digital research, publishing, and visualization – especially in the social sciences and humanities (SSH).

“The objects and topics I intend to study are at the crossroads of several disciplines: engineering, information science, and the humanities. Therefore, I hope to learn from the very interdisciplinary culture at CDH and at EPFL, and advance my research through a fruitful dialogue with the researchers from various fields,” Mounier said of his appointment.

Sustainability and governance intertwined

At an inaugural talk on September 28, Mounier highlighted the interdependence and diversity of digital infrastructures, which can be multi-layered, distributed, or even entirely dependent on individual volunteers. The versatility of these infrastructures – which deliver tools and services, but also less-tangible outputs such as standards, best practices, and coordination to various types of users – make them complex objects to manage. Mounier therefore calls for a better understanding of how they operate, how they can best support open research, and how they can be governed sustainably in an open digital environment.

“Sustainability is often reduced to the issue of fundraising to support technological developments and services. But the ‘money question’ is only the last and most visible part of a larger question that relates to how the infrastructure interacts with its social environment. That’s why I will focus my investigation on governance, which shifts attention to a vision of how a knowledge infrastructure can be grown for the benefit of the society that invests in it,” he says.

In the course of his investigation, which will take the DOAB, OpenEdition, and OPERAS as case studies, among others, Mounier will notably explore three different governance models as they relate to SSH: the management of physical research infrastructures, such as telescopes and particle colliders; the governance of academic institutions; and the emerging management of online communities such as Wikipedia.

Visiting scholars at CDH

Through its Visiting Professor Program, the CDH promotes scientific relations with international scholars working in digital humanities research and education, and other interdisciplinary domains linking engineering and the social sciences and humanities. Visiting professors and academic guests are granted temporary stays in CDH labs or institutes, which facilitates the expansion and reinforcement of CDH research as well as new collaborations. The CDH has previously welcomed visiting scholars Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Larsen.

View Mounier’s inaugural talk, “Governing digital infrastructures: exploring a key issue at the crossroads of digital humanities and open science”, on Switchtube

This article was originally published on 11.10.21 by Celia Luterbacher, EPFL CDH.