Pelle Snickars, Professor
of Media and Communication Studies, specializes in digital
humanities. He received his doctorate in film science in 2001 from
Stockholm University, with his thesis Svensk film och visuell
masskultur 1900. After receiving his doctorate, he worked with
investigative assignments at the Swedish National Archive of
Recorded Sound and Moving Images (SLBA), where he also took on a
managerial position at a later date.
"Although I have not been employed at a university for a number of
years, it has been very important for me to maintain contact with
the world of research. This is why I have regularly taught and
taken part in various research projects in addition to my other
work," explains Pelle Snickars.
Refused position as Director General
In 2009, SLBA was merged with the National Library of Sweden. At
that time, Pelle Snickars was made responsible for the newly formed
research department at the National Library, where he devoted
himself to issues relating to the digitisation of cultural heritage
and other things. While at SLBA, he took the initiative to compile
the Mediehistoriskt arkiv series of books, continuing this
work at the National Library. Some 25 books have been published in
the series, on topics such as storytelling in the media, new media
and politics and the media. Two years ago, he applied for the
position of national librarian, i.e. Director General of the
National Library, and among other things he underwent a final
interview with Secretary of State Peter Honeth.
"I have to admit, I was fairly nervous before that job interview.
But after thinking it over for a while, I turned it down. I am a
researcher at heart, and research is what I really want to do. I do
not just want to be a manager."
The main themes of Pelle Snickars' research relates to the
relationship between older and new media, media economy,
digitisation of cultural heritage, media history and the importance
of new technical infrastructure for humanities.
"In my earlier research, I looked extensively at media usage
throughout the entire 20th century, and I am planning to start a
history of media seminar in Umeå. I am also interested in the
significance of technical infrastructure for the media. If a large
number of readers of a newspaper buy tablets, for example, how will
this affect the papers? I also want to examine how we should retain
and archive our cultural heritage, and how we should get people to
examine those collections. We have a lot to learn from the major
network corporations in this regard. Look at Spotify, for example,
which is actually a gigantic music archive. How do they build up
their database? How can people search in it? How do they get their
users to feel comfortable using the database? There is a massive
gap between Spotify and the arrangement of some scientific archives
at present, where you first have to order the material that you
want to see or hear, then you have to go down to the archive in
question and only there can you access the material."
Streaming music provides knowledge on archive building
Spotify is a vital component in one of Pelle Snickars' future
research projects. Between 2014 and 2018, he will be working
together with Patrick Vonderau, Stockholm University, Rasmus
Fleischer, Stockholm University/Södertörn University, Anna
Johansson, HUMlab and Christopher Kullenberg, University of
Gothenburg, and they have been granted almost nine million Swedish
kronor by the Swedish Research Council for their project "Streaming
cultural heritage: file pursuit in digital music distribution". The
project plan includes a somewhat unusual element: they plan to form
their own record company!
"We will be examining various criteria for streamed music as part
of this project. Understanding how commercial digital archives such
as Spotify work will be valuable to our research. Spotify currently
has a fairly large number of analysts who work solely on studying
how traffic works in the database - how users search for music,
what music seems to be linked with other music, and so forth. But
this is data which researchers are not allowed to access. But if
you have your own music in the database, you can view Spotify's
data on your own songs. So forming a record company is a practical
and methodological way for us to learn more about how a gigantic
archive like Spotify works," says Pelle.
Digital humanities and humanities
Pelle Snickars' professorship is in the field of media and
communication studies, and above all he will be devoting himself to
building up a vital research environment. But his position will
also focus on digital humanities, a subject that is gaining a lot
of ground at both Umeå University and other Swedish universities.
He feels that humanities have an opportunity for development in
that various aspects of digital humanities are being examined to an
"Of course, I do not think everyone can work with digital
humanities, but humanities specialists have an important part to
play with regard to technical development and in being able to
criticise and problematise new technology and its application. I
think issues relating to the digital world are an exciting way in
which to consider the development of humanities in general. This
really is a field in which humanities can and should set up shop!
Digital humanities also provide a platform for new
interdisciplinary humanities research issues, not least
methodological issues with regard to the use of digital material,
During his time at the National Library, Pelle Snickars has
maintained contact with Umeå University through cooperations with
Patrik Svensson at HUMlab and other initiatives. His position is
affiliated to HUMlab, and he has ideas for a number of projects
where he would like to work together with the lab staff.
"One of the reasons why HUMlab is so interesting is because it
combines various kinds of skills. When humanities specialists study
the digital world, they encounter opposition fairly quickly - they
need someone on the project who understands how the technology is
structures: programmers, systems analysts, etc. I do not think it
is sufficient to have technical specialists that you give orders
to: technicians and other non-research personnel should be
integrated and get involved early on in projects. Technical
personnel of this kind are available at HUMlab, and this is of a
lot of interest to me. I think interaction between technicians and
humanities researchers is the key to success for research in the
field of digital humanities."