A DARIAH programme to instigate innovative arts and humanities research responses to the COVID-19 pandemic supported 9 unique and high-impact reflections on the cultural implications of this global event.
These research projects reached new audiences, but most importantly, they filled a gap in the landscape of pandemic-focussed research. They ensured that the effects of illness, fear, social distance, virtuality and lockdowns on human cultural practices could be as well understood as the biological effects on human bodies. As a DARIAH initiative, they were also chosen for their coherent and clear focus on the role of technology as a factor in both challenges and responses.
The beneficiaries were in the first instance the researchers who led these projects, but in the wider sense they touched a huge range of disciplines and audiences, from the literary studies to music; and from academic researchers to museum goers and community dance groups.
DARIAH has run a biannual funding call related to a nominated theme since 2015. Although the overall budget for this activity is only ca. 50,000 € in each cycle (roughly 9,000 € to 10,000 € per project), the nature of the scheme has allowed DARIAH to draw out and incentivise the development of a consolidated cohort of inter-related, cutting-edge projects in each round.
In 2019, we decided that the next DARIAH Theme funding would focus on the role of the arts in creating knowledge in our community. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, we decided to open a second theme to harvest arts and humanities research responses to the pandemic. Interestingly, many of the proposals we received actually combined these two themes, indicating that the topics were not only of interest to the community, but also resonant with each other in interesting ways.
A total of 9 projects were funded (full list can be found here), all with fascinating research angles and proposed activities. This case study will focus on the impact of only two of these projects, as examples. They are:
Visualising the Virus (led by Sria Chatterjee, IXDM, FHNW, Basel & Max-Planck Kunsthistorisches Institut) created a stimulating and publicly accessible virtual image collection (visualizingthevirus.com), bringing together a unique dataset documenting the visual metaphors generated to incorporate the pandemic experience into everyday life, with scholarly reflection on these images.
The Electronic Literature (e-lit) and COVID-19 project (led by Søren Pold, Aarhus University) also created both an accessible data set (https://www.eliterature.org/elo2021/covid/) and a set of community interactions around how the COVID-19 pandemic was reflected in electronic literature and other digital narrative practices online.
Each of these two platforms reached an extensive community, directly and indirectly.
Indirectly, each platform produced publications, presentations, training and network. For example, Visualising the Virus was integrated into a 10-day course at the National Institute of Design in India, and presented at the Hamwe Festival 2021, hosted by the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE). The project was also a community partner for an internship at Princeton University. The Electronic Literature and COVID-19 project already has resulted in two published research articles, and has a further one in progress, not to mention related academic talks (3 as of early 2022) and coverage in the popular press.
The evidence of impact goes beyond this level of outputs, however. Visualising the Virus received a Special Mention Award from the Arts in Health International Foundation (AiHIF) in April 2021, evidencing its utility as a cross-disciplinary investigation. Similarly, the E-literature project turned some of the practitioner interviews into a short video documentary (available at: https://vimeo.com/543267350) which was screened at multiple festivals and viewed on-line almost 100 times since its release in late 2021.
Most importantly for us, however, the DARIAH Theme made a difference in what these researchers felt they could achieve at a difficult time in their careers. e-lit and COVID-19 PI Søren Pold commented on this issue:
The funding has helped us a lot to carry through this project, which has meant a lot to us, and the included artists during a difficult period of pandemic lockdown. Furthermore, we believe that the results are important as artistic witness to an extreme situation and an expression of the importance of art and digital culture in relation to what has been called the first digital pandemic.Søren Pold
Similarly, the Visualising the Virus team tells us that:
The funding from DARIAH has been instrumental for both the foundation and development of the Visualizing the Virus project and website. This has allowed us to collect a number of trans- and interdisciplinary contributions that visualize the COVID-19 pandemic from a variety of perspectives, highlighting the experiences of marginalized communities across the globe and shedding light on inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. We reach a broad general public audience as well as students and scholars.
Each of the DARIAH Arts, Humanities and COVID projects is making a significant scientific impact in its domain and across audiences. In addition to exciting new platforms and exchanges, they are also producing significant scientific outputs, and notable esteem indicators.
Lead Author: Jennifer Edmond, President of the Board of Directors DARIAH-EU
 Curator statement: Nacher, Anna , Scott Rettberg,og Søren Bro Pold. “COVID E-LIT: Digital Art from the Pandemic”. Electronic Book Review. 2021. https://pure.au.dk/portal/en/publications/covid-elit(3635a9b3-e0d0-4e11-a059-196a14ca72d8).html
 Edited version of the interview with Ben Grosser in electronic book review: Pold, Søren Bro, Anna Nacher og Scott Rettberg. “Platform In[ter]ventions: an Interview with Ben Grosser”. Electronic Book Review. 2021. https://doi.org/10.7273/9fdq-t667
 Research article, “A Pandemic Crisis Seen from the Screen” for an edited research anthology with the title “Platformed Reflections on the Pandemic: Covid-19 and Electronic Literature” (in print)
 Pold, S. B. (2021). Digital kunst i en coronatid: Hvem sidder der bag skærmen? Akademikerbladet. https://www.akademikerbladet.dk/debat/soeren-bro-pold/digital-kunst-i-en-coronatid-hvem-sidder-der-bagskaermen
 Talk by Anna Nacher, Scott Rettberg & Søren Pold: “Post Pandemic Prose”, ELO 2021, May 21, https://vimeo.com/555698083
 Talk by Anna Nacher, Scott Rettberg & Søren Pold: “Platformed Reflections on the Pandemic: Covid-19 and Electronic Literature”, Japanese Association of Digital Humanities, The University of Tokyo, Sept. 21
 Talk by Søren Pold: “A Pandemic Crisis Seen from the Screen: Digital art and electronic literature as reflection on pandemic platform culture”, Sankt Interface Day, Kunst Universität Linz, Austria, 17 Dec. 21