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Photo: Adam Polczyck

Wallraf digital: Digitalisation as an opportunity for your career - Interview with Professor Gersmann

A new generation of young researchers is currently reaching for the stars in the sky of scholarship. In this context, “digital natives” are making use of the wide range of academic working and publishing methods the digital age provides. Professor Gudrun Gersmann holds the chair for the history of early modern times at the University of Cologne. With the development of the model project Wallraf digital, she has taken a huge step forward in making research results digitally available to a broad public audience.

By Svenja Rausch

Professor Gersmann, could you describe the model project Wallraf digital? What is it all about?

In essence, it is about consciously using the possibilities provided by the digital age, making scientific results available to a broader audience, and familiarizing early-stage academics with the digital medium early on. With Wallraf digial, we have achieved this goal and set a benchmark: the current state of research on Wallraf, an important personality who lived in the city of Cologne around the year 1800, was brought together and presented in digital form for the first time. The concept comprises more than 60 academic contributions that are the result of the work of scholars and students involved in ‘research-oriented learning’. They are now available on an online platform created specifically for this purpose. There are various videos, a digital timeline surrounding Wallraf’s life and work, a picture database on objects contained in his collection, and an app on Cologne during Wallraf’s times. This shows that our academic project staff was not only concerned with the contents, but also with the implementation of digital publication formats and the use of different media.

What can we find out about the project in the months to come and what will come next?

We just launched a new blog, which we will also use to communicate additional knowledge about Wallraf. It is about telling history (or histories) in an academically sound way and to find the right language to do so on digital platforms. We will complement the Wallraf portal and the Wallraf app with blog posts, and we will also invite our project partners to write contributions on specific topics. These activities will lead up to two exhibitions planned to take place in late 2017 and early 2018 in Cologne. They will complement our digital activities on Wallrad in Cologne in an analogue way. After the Wallraf digital project, we will of course continue to publish, present, and communicate other scholarly topics digitally, and to further develop our formats.

What are the project’s implications for future scholarship?

Wallraf shows the possibilities we have to make research results and knowledge transparent and more easily accessible by digital means. Hence the project is a good example of how we can meet the increasing demands of society for knowledge transfer. This pertains to the arts and humanities as much as it does to other sciences. However, this also means that early-stage academics must learn to think digitally and become acquainted with digital forms of presenting knowledge – nationally as well as internationally.

Please complete the following sentence: Digitalization helps early-stage researchers…

…to become more visible, and to be perceived and involved in national and international discourses more quickly, since digital contents can be shared and discussed around the world. I would also like to refer to our younger authors who have published their dissertations on MAP: MAP particularly supports the digital distribution of their work.