Allgemein Englisch WissKomm

#PublicDH or just #WissKomm?

In recent years, digital science communication and the possibilities of social media have increasingly raised questions about classical research on science communication (cf. Franzen 2019, 616). This article connects here for the concept of public humanities.

Note: This is the English translation (automatically with DeepL). The German original written by Melanie Seltmann (ULB Darmstadt) can be found here.

Introduction and method

In recent years, digital science communication and the possibilities of social media have increasingly raised questions about classical research on science communication (cf. Franzen 2019, 616). This article connects here for the concept of public humanities. Thus, it is also clear that not every form of science communication can be considered. In the course of the paper, it is elaborated that public humanities is not a traditional form of science communication, such as publishing a (popular) science paper or giving a (popular) science lecture, but a modern, digital one, in which modern forms of media turn one-to-many communication into many-to-many communication and discourse thus becomes interactive and recursive (cf. Bucher 2019, 64). Along with this, science communication is shifted from a public awareness of science to a civic engagement, and communication becomes a dialogue (cf. Bucchi and Trench 2014, 4).

After defining the concepts of public humanities as well as public digital humanities, a consideration of different types and dimensions of science communication follows. In this paper, I focus on the European region. In the U.S., the topic of public humanities has been considered longer than in Europe, just as research on science communication is generally more pronounced (cf. Schäfer et al. 2019, 79), but this aspect will be excluded here and saved for further research. In a third step, the concept of public humanities will be embedded in the science communication matrix according to Frick et al. (2021) and thus it will be worked out who acts in the public humanities and to which form of science communication they belong. These theoretical considerations are followed by a chapter on the added value of public humanities for different target groups and with regard to different activities. This is followed by recommendations for the most successful public humanities possible. The article concludes with a summary.

Definition attempts #PublicDH

To begin, I would like to try to define the term #PublicDH. As with pretty much any term, there are plenty of ways to define it. Heinisch (2021) provides a comprehensive overview of the difference between Public Humanities, Public Digital Humanities, and Citizen Humanities. From her remarks on the Public Humanities, one can summarize that an essential component is to lift the humanities out of their university ivory tower and, on the one hand, to bring them closer to the public, but equally to involve them in research. This goes hand in hand with the creation of new formats of science communication and the bidirectionality of the same. It is no longer the scientist alone who examines cultural artifacts, but they are reflected and interpreted in common with citizens. Jacobson (2020) cites the form of storytelling as an example (cf. Jacobson 2020, 165-169).

Initially, public humanities took an almost missionary approach when lecturing the population and justifying their own activities (cf. Gibbs 2016, 1). Nowadays, however, there is much more of a desire to change and make a difference in society through collaboration (cf. Miller et al. 2017). Moreover, disciplinary boundaries are transcended and something larger is communicated and elaborated in an interdisciplinary way. Thus, it is bidirectional and cross-disciplinary science communication.

In contrast, the Public Digital Humanities (or #PublicDH for short) extend the Public Humanities by adding a digital component: the mediated science is conducted with the help of digital methods. This applies both to research originally conducted by scientists and to research generated in dialogue with citizens. In addition, the joint (further) development of these digital methods can also be part of #PublicDH (cf. Heinisch 2021). Thus, the #PublicDH are the kind of public humanities that prepare a special form of #WissKomm for the discipline(s) of digital humanities. On the border of #PublicDH are science communication formats in which non-digital science is prepared for communication through digital formats. Strictly speaking, this form of #WissKomm is more Digital Public Humanities than #PublicDH.

Types and dimensions of science communication

However, not all science communication is the same. In the following, I would like to take a closer look at the different forms of science communication, or #WissKomm for short.

Communication matrix

Mostly, a distinction is made between internal and external #WissKomm. The internal #WissKomm, also called Scholarly Communication, addresses the scientific community, often of one’s own discipline. External #WissKomm, on the other hand, addresses non-specialists (cf. Könneker 2017, 454). However, the definition falls short here. For a specification of different forms of science communication, not only the addressee should be considered, but also the sender. Consequently, a matrix opens up here (cf. Figure 1).

Matrix science communication (shortened from Frick et al. 2021).

The field with orange background (Science-to-Science) represents the internal, the fields with blue background (Science-to-Public, Public-to-Science, Public-to-Public) the external #WissKomm. External #WissKomm can consequently be understood much more as communication that is not internal within a scientific discipline or within science in general. Frick et al. (2021) define external #WissKomm more precisely in three areas and place it in the context of traditional forms of publication and citizen science. Science-to-Public-Communication is the “normal” external science communication or Science Communication, although it is not only present in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), but also in SSH (social sciences, humanities). Public-to-Science and Public-to-Public relate to the field of Citizen Science. In public-to-science communication, citizen:ins provide insights to science. This area also includes the submission of research questions by citizens. This makes research that is relevant to the general public particularly visible. Frick et al. (2021) refer to the area of public-to-public communication as citizen science communication. This takes into account the fact that citizens not only participate in research in citizen science projects, but also act as multipliers themselves and talk about their research and its results, whether positive or negative. Thus, Frick et al.’s (2021) notion of citizen science communication encompasses only some of the forms of communication that would be inherent elsewhere. Frequently, science-to-public communication as well as public-to-science communication are also counted in the field of citizen science.

Schumacher (2021) even speaks of at least five communicative interfaces in the digital humanities: Humanities-to-Public (science PR), Humanities-to-Media (science journalism), Public-to-Humanities (Citizen Science), (Digital-)Humanities-to-(Digital-)Humanities (communication within one’s own community) as well as Digital-Humanities-to-non-Digital-Humanities. Whereby the assignment to Frick et al. (2021) does not succeed one-to-one. Schumacher (2021) leaves out public-to-public communication, but adds humanities-(or science-)to-media communication and digital-humanities-to-non-digital-humanities communication, i.e., interdisciplinary #WissKomm or #WissKomm between scientists of different methods. If one would like to classify Schumacher’s communicative interfaces in the science communication matrix according to Frick et al. (2021), humanities-to-media communication would be a special form of science-to-public communication. Bucher (2019) states that science-to-public communication mediated through channels of journalism is the traditional form of science-to-public communication, but digital media create opportunities for direct science-to-public communication (cf. Bucher 2019, 64). Digital-humanities-to-non digital-humanities communication is a special form of science-to-science communication.


All areas of #WissKomm have their own unique challenges and, depending on the form, five of the six dimensions of science communication (Frick et al. 2021) need to be considered differently. The first dimension (content) is the same in all forms of #WissKomm (for a specific communication occasion). The next step is to decide which target group to address (dimension 2). Here the following #WissKomm differs in the different forms. The other dimensions adapt to the decision made and are also closely related to each other. If one of the dimensions changes, the others must also be adapted. The third dimension is used to consider the style used, and the fourth dimension is used to decide on an adequate format. It is also important to consider what one’s motivation is in #WissKomm, i.e. why one wants to communicate something (dimension 5) and finally, before the act of communication, one should be clear about the role one wants to play (dimension 6). 

NaWik also provides guidance for planning science communication with their NaWik arrow (cf. Könneker 2017, 468) and advises to consider five dimensions in advance. Four of these coincide with the six dimensions just described. First, consider the topic dimension, which corresponds to the content dimension. After that, the style (dimension 2) should be considered, which in Frick et al. (2021) is only considered in the third step. As the third dimension, the medium is now reflected here, which corresponds to the format. Only in the fourth step, NaWik reflects on the target group. Finally, NaWik lists the goal itself as the fifth dimension, which is similar to motivation in Frick et al. (2021). The difference, then, apart from the order of some dimensions, is that Frick et al. (2021) raises the question of the role that the communicating person takes.

Embedding the #PublicDH concept in the communication matrix

But how can the previously defined concept #PublicDH be embedded in the communication matrix just established? Since I have defined the involvement of the public as a central point, the areas of science-to-public and public-to-science belong to #PublicDH. Both communicating research in an understandable way and engaging in dialogue about it are essential components of #PublicDH. It is also relatively self-evident that science-to-science is not included in #PublicDH. More problematic is determining whether or not the field of public-to-public communication is part of the #PublicDH. While it could be argued that just as in Citizen Science projects, the multiplier:ing role of citizens is an important component in #PublicDH, I would argue that the field should be excluded from #PublicDH. According to the definition established above, #PublicDH are the communication of science and the public about research content and methods in the digital humanities. Thus, science is inherent to #PublicDH. Consequently, public-to-public communication cannot be part of #PublicDH (at least in the narrow sense) (see Figure 2). This is also the distinction to the external #WissKomm. Science must be and remain an agent, which is not the case with #WissKomm.

Matrix #WissKomm and #PublicDH (extension of Frick et al. 2021)

Added value #PublicDH

After defining what #PublicDH are and how they can be embedded in the science communication matrix, in this section I look at what added value #PublicDH actually bring. For this purpose, different groups are considered: on the one hand, the added value for the scientists, on the other hand, for the public.

First of all, the general question of the added value of #WissKomm should be asked. Fröhlich (1994) lists three potential added values, which, however, mainly apply to internal #WissKomm: First, #WissKomm promotes motivation and allows new ideas to emerge, multiple inventions are avoided but synergy effects are generated, and finally, #WissKomm leads to a form of quality control and thus also to the selection of research (cf. Fröhlich 1994, 7). Moreover, Fröhlich refers to the added value of #WissKomm as the “gained credit on scientific credibility” (Fröhlich 1994, 8) of individuals, groups, and institutions in the Bourdieusian sense. 

Quality control is certainly a great added value for #PublicDH as well. In addition, there is the applicability of one’s own research (results) in everyday situations as well. By communicating about research, methods and results, science is not only lifted out of the ivory tower and made tangible, but a response occurs, which in turn can strengthen science and steer it towards relevant research of significance. This, in turn, can create motivation and allow new ideas and approaches to be found and tried.

In addition, so #PublicDH are operated within social media, added value can be generated from the specific medium. “For scientists, the networking opportunities are the primary focus here. Science journalists use it primarily as a research tool, lay people for information gathering.” (Weitze and Heckl 2016, 191) This linking of different reasons for using a medium can be excellently used for #WissKomm and also #PublicDH in combination with the communicative interaction possibilities. For the specific case of Twitter, Geyer and Gottschling (2019) state that science communication here “promotes internal dialogue within the discipline and at the same time makes findings of the discipline accessible to the public, informs about methods or about current scientific discussions and projects, and [can] facilitate direct exchange with at least parts of society in a variety of ways.” (Geier and Gottschling, 2019, 284) In few other places than social media do the various actors:come together to satisfy their respective needs of information gathering and exchange. 

In addition, the fact that one’s own person becomes better known and that science communication is fun can be seen as added value (cf. Ziegler/Fischer 2020, 7).

However, all these added values refer to the scientists themselves. However, the question arises whether #PublicDH also generates added value for the public. The social added value of science communication has so far received little attention in research (cf. Siegel/Dunkel/ Terstriep (2021). One of the rare studies that also addresses societal added value is the survey by Ziegler/Fischer (2020) on goals of science communication. An increase in the capacity for democracy as well as the strengthening of the knowledge society are named as societal added values (cf. Ziegler/Fischer 2020, 7). Ziegler/Fischer (2020) also state that their research has shown “that politicians and the public make greater use of scientific knowledge in their decisions” (Ziegler/Fischer 2020, 15). They show that “research [is] clearly seen as a driver of societal advancement and innovation” (Ziegler/Fischer 2020, 16). Furthermore, an education of scientific literacy as well as one’s own maturity through the possibility to access scientific knowledge is elaborated as an added value. Nevertheless, there is still a wide field for further research.

Consequences and recommendations for action

What consequences can be drawn from the added values of the #PublicDH and what recommendations for action for digital humanities scholars result from this? On the one hand, it is important to recognize the potential of #PublicDH and to consider how this potential can be used for one’s own research.

The dialogue with other scientists, but also with the public, can strengthen the advancement of one’s own work. Through discussion and questioning, they can become more aware of the relevant pillars of their research and think carefully about the core of their research. In this respect, research can only benefit from #PublicDH.

However, it is important to consider the different dimensions (see chapter 2.2) and apply them accordingly so that #WissKomm can succeed. There is no shame in getting help for individual (or even all) dimensions and further training in this regard. Support here can be provided, for example, by the Reference Framework for Science Communication (Frick and Seltmann, in preparation). It is also worth looking beyond the scientific framework and getting help in the areas of marketing and journalism. While it is possible that even with well-developed dimensions, dialogue may not work, this should rarely be the case insofar as there is a genuine interest in the exchange. It is also important to note that #WissKomm in general and #PublicDH in particular take time. However, this time is well invested.


The title of this paper asks the question whether #PublicDH is more than “just” #WissKomm. For this, I first defined what #PublicDH is (chapter 2). Thereupon, I described the communication matrix according to Frick et al. (2021) and compared it with Schumacher’s (2021) communicative interfaces (chapter 3). A significant contribution to answering the posed question is provided by embedding the concept #PublicDH into Frick’s communication matrix (chapter 4). Through this, it became clear how the connection between #WissKomm and #PublicDH is and that the two are not identical. The concept of #PublicDH is more precise than just #WissKomm for digital humanities, even than external #WissKomm for digital humanities. This is because it includes as an essential component the discourse between science and the public. Thus, both sides are equally agents and patiens in the discourse. Having stated this, I have described the added value of #PublicDH (Chapter 5) and finally derived recommendations for action from it (Chapter 6). Of course, this contribution is by no means the end of the research on #PublicDH. On the one hand, it should be considered to what extent #PublicDH function differently at all from science communication in other disciplines and what the demarcation criteria are. Furthermore, it would be interesting to investigate to what extent specific (methodological) knowledge of DH is applied in #PublicDH. Many other questions can follow.


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How to cite this Article: Seltmann, Melanie (2023): „#PublicDH or just #WissKomm?“. In: Seltmann, Melanie and Schumacher, Mareike (eds.): Public Humanitieshttps://publicdh.hypotheses.org/791.

Von Melanie Seltmann

Melanie Seltmann arbeitet in der ULB Darmstadt im Zentrum für digitale Editionen in den Projekten Text+, TA Editions & Projekt "Gruß & Kuss". Digital Humanities | Annotationen | Wissenschaftkommunikation | Citizen Science | ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7588-4395 | GND: https://d-nb.info/gnd/1284314103

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