Last week I was at ECHIC 2018 in Leuven, which focused on infrastructures in the humanities. The conference was small, allowing very integrated discussions in a single-session format, combining participants with backgrounds in the humanities, as well as a large number of librarians. This variety in backgrounds, and the shared concern over infrastructural problems of sustainable data storage and access in itself was already an interesting demonstration of my paper’s point that digital humanities brings infrastructure into focus. In this blog post, I want to draw a bit of the debate around the main question of the conference: do the humanities require their own research infrastructures?
Like all great debates in DH, the return of the “what is DH” debate started off with a tweet:
It’s 2017 and still nobody knows what Digital Humanities is.
— Ian Bogost (@ibogost) June 21, 2017
This is a recurrent question, and one might ask whether in 2017 it’s still a fair question. Indeed, in 2017 it is not so popular anymore to debate definitions of DH. As I wrote in my previous blogpost, I agree it is not always important, as I don’t think it is an important question when educating students about DH. On the other hand, one might ask whether this isn’t just evasive; we can’t define DH, so we deny the importance of that definition. In this blogpost, I will not provide a definitive answer to what is DH, but I will argue that is remains an important question for two reasons: practical and epistemological.
Recently a student approached me with extensive feedback on my course Doing Digital History of last year. The short summary was that he liked me as a teacher, that he liked the structure of the course, but that he disagreed with the learning objectives of the course. We eventually had a discussion about what teaching digital humanities (DH) should be about, and the up- and downsides of different approaches. In the end, his disagreements went down to three assumptions I made that lie at the core of my course. As many universities are developing courses in digital history or digital humanities, I thought it would be interesting to lay out my assumptions and his objections as a student. If you have any feedback on my assumptions, please put them in the comments!
For my PhD research I will be using Galison’s concept of the “trading zone” to describe digital history projects where historians collaborate with people from other backgrounds. In his book, Image & Logic, Galison developed this concept to describe the development of the field of physics in the period of 1880s-1970s where physicists of the “image” tradition (taking photos to discover new elements) and physicists of the “logic” tradition (using statistics to discover new elements) ended up working together. What is of interest to me, besides his development of the “trading zone” concept, is that automatisation of work plays a key role in this development, and from the 1940s on the computer starts playing a prominent role, shaping the field of physics. What becomes apparent from reading this book is that the integration of the computer in physics was by no means a natural inclusion, but a process of debate and negotiation of what it meant to “do” physics and what kind of knowledge can be acquired using computers. In this blogpost I’ll briefly touch upon this debateSince Image & Logic is an 850 page book, I can in no way summarise this satisfactorily in a blogpost, but I will do my best., as described in Galison’s work, and consider parallels with the debates in digital humanities (dh). Assuming dh describes a transition to include computers in humanities workZaagsma, G. (2013). On Digital History. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 128(4), 3. http://doi.org/10.18352/bmgn-lchr.9344, maybe we can describe this transition of physics as “digital physics“.Not to be confused with the field of physics that describes the universe in terms of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_physics
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Since Image & Logic is an 850 page book, I can in no way summarise this satisfactorily in a blogpost, but I will do my best.|
|2.||↑||Zaagsma, G. (2013). On Digital History. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 128(4), 3. http://doi.org/10.18352/bmgn-lchr.9344|
|3.||↑||Not to be confused with the field of physics that describes the universe in terms of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_physics|
In a previous blogpost, I introduced the project A Republic of Emails, where we created a dataset of the 30k Hillary Clinton Emails by scraping Wikileaks. Now that we have the data, we can start exploring with what I like to call the W-questions: What is the collection about? Where do described events take place? When did these events occur? Who are the actors involved? In this second blogpost, we will look at what the emails from the Hillary Clinton corpus are about. I will describe how we prepared the data to analyse a) the raw text, b) normalised text, and c) entities in the text (named entity recognition). Finally, we will look at a small subset of the emails using Voyant Tools. For all the steps I will point to the respective scripts on our GitHub so you can reproduce the project.
This year I will teach for the second time the Doing Digital History course for the History master at the University of Luxembourg. Just like last year, students will ask several W-questions. What is the collection about? Where do described events take place? When did these events occur? Who are the actors involved? In contrast with last year, where we had different collections per week, this year students will work with a single collection to experiment with throughout the course. In a series of blogposts I will describe the collection that the students will be exploring and the methods/tools that will be used to conduct close and distant reading. If you have feedback to further improve our ideas, please comment. If you wish to reproduce the project for your own courses, the blogposts should allow just that. As a reference to the historical Republic of Letters, I like to call this project A Republic of Emails.
The past six months I have been on parental leave to enjoy our son Felix (born 13 December 2015), and today I am finally back at the university. In these months I have seen a baby grow from not being able to do anything except for reflexes, to understanding objects around him, interacting with them, and manipulating them to do what he wants (although not yet always successfully). Watching him go through these stages of learning actually reminded me of the above gif captioned as how software developers see end users. When I saw that gif a while ago it gave me a laugh, but then I saw that my son had taken my bottle of water, and what he was doing was actually quite similar; licking the bottom, sucking on the side, holding it with his feet.
At some point he figured out what the top part is, and put that in his mouth, which left me to wonder how he figured it out. I left the cap on, so it’s not a simple trial-reward since he still cannot drink the water. Instead, I think there are two aspects of this learning process: visual feedback (seeing what side is supposed to be up), and learning by playing.
This year marks the third annual DHBenelux conference, which cycles through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The third instalment will be held in Luxembourg, and as part of the local organisation and programme committee I get the chance this year to look at all the submissions. Inspired by Scott Weingart’s series on submissions to the annual ADHO DH conference (see his 2016 post on submissions here), I present you a first analysis of the submissions to DHBenelux 2016. Later posts will bring comparisons with the 2014 and 2015 editions, as well as a description of the steps taken to get to the figures below.
“Standing on the shoulders of giants” has long been the metaphor of choice to describe the scholarly workflow of discovering, reading, and citing literature. However, for the past decade this workflow has been influenced significantly by the availability of academic search engines. In this field, the search giant Google has come out as the discovery mechanism of choice. How does “standing on the shoulders of the Google giant” impact the scholarly workflow? This is a question I look into in a post on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog. Read the entire post here.