Preserving 30 years of Digital Humanities Work: The Experience of King’s Digital Lab

The slides and abstract of a talk at the DPASSH (Digital Preservation for Social Sciences and Humanities) conference, co-authored with Anna-Maria Sichani and Carina Westling, University of Sussex 14-15 June 2017.




King’s Digital Lab (KDL) was launched in November 2016, at King’s College London. The Lab evolved from the Centre for Computing and the Humanities (1991), the Centre for eResearch in the Humanities (2008), and the Department of Digital Humanities (2011-). KDL works closely with the Department of Digital Humanities, in a model expected to deliver research and teaching at scale. The department focuses on teaching and research, the Lab on research software engineering (RSE), and implementing the systems, infrastructure, tools, and processes needed to produce high quality digital scholarly outputs. 12 full-time staff support these activities, ranging from analysts to developers, a systems manager, project manager, and director.

The Lab has inherited a substantial portfolio of legacy projects, including ground-breaking work produced in the Centre for Computing and the Humanities, and later the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, in partnership with a range of humanities departments and GLAM sector organisations both within and outside the university. Projects being assessed include Henry III Fine Rolls (2009), Early English Laws (2011), Inquisitions Post Mortem (2014), and The Gascon Rolls (2014). A suite of digital publications on Roman, late Antique, and Byzantine inscriptions and manuscripts are also under assessment, including Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity (2004), Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (2009), the Prosopography of the Byzantine World (2011), Sharing Ancient Wisdoms (2013), The Heritage Gazetteer of Cyprus (2015). Many other projects, large and small, round out the portfolio. They present a range of problems, but also intriguing intellectual and technical challenges perfectly in keeping with the values and mission of digital humanities as a practice. No two projects are entirely alike, and were built with a range of technologies including but not limited to Java, SQL, Python, HTML, TEI, and Javascript. Almost all are hosted on Debian-based virtual servers that also require maintenance. The contemporary security context means each one is a potential vector for malicious actors seeking to gain access to King’s College London network, requiring them to be regularly scanned for vulnerabilities, and updated when necessary.

KDL has inherited significant infrastructure (400GB RAM, over 180 virtual machines, 27TB of data). This requires dedicated maintenance effort, and the development of a framework designed to maximise the potential for technical as well as financial sustainability. The team have added industry standard Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) to their Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC), creating a process of analysis, development, and maintenance underpinned by Service Level Agreements (SLAs) defined in collaboration with Primary Investigators and Faculty management. A range of archival products (static sites, removal of front-end, data migration, graceful shutdown, virtualisation etc) are now offered at the initial requirements gathering phase of projects, for implementation when funding ends. The process is informed by scholarly guidelines, balancing technical and financial issues with intellectual and historical significance and a consideration of impact, future funding potential, and the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This paper will outline the experience of King’s Digital Lab, including the cultural and intellectual values, systems, and processes put in place to support, maintain, and preserve 30 years of DH activity.


Archiving, preservation, research data management, software development, digital humanities