Why do we need a definition of DH?

Like all great debates in DH, the return of the “what is DH” debate started off with a tweet:

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.

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AIUCD 2017 Panel and Paper abstract

Next week I will be visiting Rome to join the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e le Culture Digitali (AIUCD) conference which will be held from 26-28 January at Sapienza University. See the entire programme here. The topic of the conference is “Il telescopio inverso: big data e distant reading nelle discipline umanistiche”, and as a result Mark Hill and I have formed a panel on big data, distant reading, concept drift, and digital history. In this blogpost I’ll post the abstract of the panel, and my own abstract; if the full proceedings including the abstracts of the other panel members are online I’ll add it to the presentations page. We are excited to have brought together scholars working on concept detection, ambiguity, and methodology of history, so we hope we will get a very nice discussion going.

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Digital Humanities and Digital Physics

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 debate[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., 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 work[2]Zaagsma, 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“.[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

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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

Introducing: A Republic of Emails

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.

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DHBenelux 2016 abstract

This week I’m at DHBenelux 2016, right here at the University of Luxembourg. I am part of the local organisation of the conference, and will give a tour of the DH Lab which launched its website www.dhlab.lu this week. Moreover, I will present my PhD research in a short paper, see below the abstract for my presentation. To learn more about DHBenelux, see my previous posts on DHBenelux 2016 submissions and DHBenelux submissions 2014-2016.

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DH in the US: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

In the first week of June, my supervisor Andreas Fickers and I went to the US to visit several Digital Humanities centres, specifically ones working on Digital History, in Boston (MA), Lincoln (NE), and Fairfax (VA). Since the University of Luxembourg will get its own DH centre soon, we went with the goal of learning how others set up their centre, how DH is incorporated into the curriculum, and how collaboration takes place.

This blogpost is an attempt to summarise what we learned during our visit to the US. The structure I will follow is not chronologically, but by the title of John le Carré’s novel: Tinker (building and making), Tailor (specific versus generic tools), Soldier (collaborations of people), Spy (digital literacy regarding online tracking and other subjects). At the bottom of the blogpost is a numbered list of the people we met; I will refer to sources of information using these numbers.

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Digital History as Trading Zone

Digital History signifies a transition wherein digital methods are incorporated in historical research. Digital History thus introduces techniques developed by computer scientists or engineers into the practice of historians, so that we can speak of methodological interdisciplinarity.[1]Klein, J. T. (2014). Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field (online). University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/dh.12869322.0001.001 ref-oa However, how digital methods affect the practices of History, in methodology as well as epistemology, remains unexplored. My PhD research aims to address this gap. This blogpost introduces some initial ideas and concepts that I will be investigating with an ethnographic study for which I hope to find interested historians, computer scientists, or other relevant actors of Digital History.

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References   [ + ]

1. Klein, J. T. (2014). Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field (online). University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/dh.12869322.0001.001 ref-oa