From Twitter I learned about dhQuest – a game of digital humanities. In the game I played (with just one player) I had three characters (a researcher, a librarian, and a technologist) that I deployed to complete quests as I built a digital humanities centre. Very nicely done.
As I get ready to fly back to Germany I’m finishing my conference notes on Congress 2016 (CSDH and CGSA). Calgary was nice and not to hot for Congress and we were welcomed by a malware attack on Congress that meant that many employees couldn’t use their machines. Nevertheless the conference seemed very well organized and the campus lovely.
My conference notes cover mostly the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities, but also DHSI at Congress, where I presented CWRC for Susan Brown, and the last day of the Canadian Game Studies Association. Here are some general reflections.
- I am impressed by how the CGSA is growing and how vital it is. It has as many attendees as CSDH, but younger and enthusiastic attendees rather than tired. Much of the credit goes to the long term leadership of people like Jen Jensen.
- CSDH has some terrific keynotes this year starting with Ian Milligan, then Tara McPherson, and finally Diane Jakacki.
- It was great to see people coming up from the USA as CSDH/SCHN gets a reputation for being a welcoming conference in North America.
- Stéfan Sinclair and I had a book launch for Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities at which Chad Gaffield said a few words. It was gratifying that so many friends came out for this.
At the CSDH AGM we passed a motion to adopt Guidelines on Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (Google Doc). The Guidelines discuss the value of digital work and provide guidelines for evaluation:
Programs of research, which are by nature exploratory, may require faculty members to take up modes of research that depart from methods they have previously used, therefore the form the resulting scholarship takes should not prejudice its evaluation. Original works in new media forms, whether digital or other, should be evaluated as scholarship following best practices if so presented. Likewise, researchers should be encouraged to experiment with new forms when disseminating knowledge, confident that their experiments will be fairly evaluated.
The Guidelines have a final section on Documented Deposit:
Digital media have not only expanded the forms that research can take, but research practices are also changing in the face of digital distribution and open access publishing. In particular we are being called on to preserve research data and to share new knowledge openly. Universities that have the infrastructure should encourage faculty to deposit not only digital works, but also curated datasets and preprint versions of papers/monographs with documentation in an open access form. These can be deposited with an embargo in digital archives as part of good practice around research dissemination and preservation. The deposit of work, including online published work, even if it is available elsewhere, ensures the long-term preservation by ensuring that there are copies in more than one place. Further, libraries can then ensure that the work is not only preserved, but is discoverable in the long term as publications come and go.
At the end of April I gave a talk at the University of Würzburg on Replication as a way of knowing in the digital humanities. This was sponsored by the Dr. Fotis Jannidis who holds the position of Chair of computer philology and modern German literature there. He and others have built a digital humanities program and interesting research agenda around text mining and German literature. The talk tried out some new ideas Stéfan Sinclair and I are working on. The abstract read:
Much new knowledge in the digital humanities comes from the practices of encoding and programming not through discourse. These practices can be considered forms of modelling in the active sense of making by modelling or, as I like to call them, practices of thinking-through. Alas, these practices and the associated ways of knowing are not captured or communicated very well through the usual academic forms of publication which come out of discursive knowledge traditions. In this talk I will argue for “replication” as a way of thinking-through the making of code. I will give examples and conclude by arguing that such thinking-through replication is critical to the digital literacy needed in the age of big data and algorithms.
I just found out that a paper we gave in 2014 was just published. See The Rise and Fall Tool-Related Topics in CHum. Here is the abstract:
What can we learn from the discourse around text tools? More than might be expected. The development of text analysis tools has been a feature of computing in the humanities since IBM supported Father Busa’s production of the Index Thomisticus (Tasman 1957). Despite the importance of tools in the digital humanities (DH), few have looked at the discourse around tool development to understand how the research agenda changed over the years. Recognizing the need for such an investigation a corpus of articles from the entire run of Computers and the Humanities (CHum) was analyzed using both distant and close reading techniques. By analyzing this corpus using traditional category assignments alongside topic modelling and statistical analysis we are able to gain insight into how the digital humanities shaped itself and grew as a discipline in what can be considered its “middle years,” from when the field professionalized (through the development of journals like CHum) to when it changed its name to “digital humanities.” The initial results (Simpson et al. 2013a; Simpson et al. 2013b), are at once informative and surprising, showing evidence of the maturation of the discipline and hinting at moments of change in editorial policy and the rise of the Internet as a new forum for delivering tools and information about them.
I finally got around to reading the latest Pamphlets of the Stanford Literary Lab. This pamphlet, 12. Literature Measured (PDF) written by Franco Moretti, is a reflection on the Lab’s research practices and why they chose to publish pamphlets. It is apparently the introduction to a French edition of the pamphlets. The pamphlet makes some important points about their work and the digital humanities in general.
Images come first, in our pamphlets, because – by visualizing empirical findings – they constitute the specific object of study of computational criticism; they are our “text”; the counterpart to what a well-defined excerpt is to close reading. (p. 3)
I take this to mean that the image shows the empirical findings or the model drawn from the data. That model is studied through the visualization. The visualization is not an illustration or supplement.
By frustrating our expectations, failed experiments “estrange” our natural habits of thought, offering us a chance to transform them. (p. 4)
The pamphlet has a good section on failure and how that is not just a rhetorical ploy, but important to research. I would add that only certain types of failure are so. There are dumb failures too. He then moves on to the question of successes in the digital humanities and ends with an interesting reflection on how the digital humanities and Marxist criticism don’t seem to have much to do with each other.
But he (Bordieu) also stands for something less obvious, and rather perplexing: the near-absence from digital humanities, and from our own work as well, of that other sociological approach that is Marxist criticism (Raymond Williams, in “A Quantitative Literary History”, being the lone exception). This disjunction – perfectly mutual, as the indiference of Marxist criticism is only shaken by its occasional salvo against digital humanities as an accessory to the corporate attack on the university – is puzzling, considering the vast social horizon which digital archives could open to historical materialism, and the critical depth which the latter could inject into the “programming imagination”. It’s a strange state of a airs; and it’s not clear what, if anything, may eventually change it. For now, let’s just acknowledge that this is how things stand; and that – for the present writer – something needs to be done. It would be nice if, one day, big data could lead us back to big questions. (p. 7)
MIT Press has posted the cover for the book they are publishing that I wrote with Stéfan Sinclair, Hermeneutica! It is finally happening. Now we have to get the web site and Voyant 2.0 wrapped.
What’s particularly humbling are the endorsements from Johanna Drucker, Chad Gaffield, Dan Cohen and Willard McCarty.
This is a story from early in the technological revolution, when the application was out searching for the hardware, from a time before the Internet, a time before the PC, before the chip, before the mainframe. From a time even before programming itself. (Winter 1999, 3)
Father Busa is rightly honoured as one of the first humanists to use computing for a humanities research task. He is considered the founder of humanities computing for his innovative application of information technology and for the considerable influence of his project and methods, not to mention his generosity to others. He did not only work out how use the information technology of the late 1940s and 1950s, but he pioneered a relationship with IBM around language engineering and with their support generously shared his knowledge widely. Ironically, while we have all heard his name and the origin story of his research into presence in Aquinas, we know relatively little about what actually occupied his time – the planning and implementation of what was for its time one of the major research computing projects, the Index Thomsticus.
This blog essay is an attempt to outline some of the features of the Index Thomisticus as a large-scale information technology project as a way of opening a discussion on the historiography of computing in the humanities. This essay follows from a two-day visit to the Busa Archives at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. This visit was made possible by Marco Carlo Passarotti who directs the “Index Thomisticus” Treebank project in CIRCSE (Centro Interdisciplinare di Ricerche per la Computerizzazione dei Segni dell’Espressione – Interdisciplinary Centre for Research into the Computerization of Expressive Signs) which evolved out of GIRCSE (Gruppo not Centro – or Group not Centre), the group that Father Busa helped form in the 1980s. Passarotti not only introduced me to the archives, he also helped correct this blog as he is himself an archive of stories and details. Growing up in Gallarate, his family knew Busa, he studied under Busa, he took over the project, and he is one of the few who can read Busa’s handwriting.
Original GIRCSE Plaque kept by Passarotti
On Thursday I was part of a conference here in Verona (see my conference notes) that celebrated the seminar I led at the University of Verona and the English publication of The Digital Humanist by Domenico Fiormonte, Francesca Tomasi, and Teresa Numerico (with a Preface by me). This is the English adaptation/translation of their 2010 Italian book which has finally come out in English. Here is the edited text of my presentation. (Thanks to Domenico for helping me with the Italian!)
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Today we are here to celebrate the end of a laboratory on digital humanities and a beginning with the publication of the The Digital Humanist: A Critical Inquiry by Domenico Fiormonte, Teresa Numerico and Francesca Tomasi.
Oggi si celebra la fine questa laboratorio che abbiamo creato insieme e una la publicazione in Inglese del libro L’umanista digitale che è stato pubblicato per la prima volta in Italiano nel 2010 e poi aggiornato e tradotto in inglese da Desmond Schmidt e Christopher Ferguson.
The English publication of this book is important to the book because part of what makes it “A Critical Inquiry” is that it questions the universality of English. I use the word universality in two senses, both of which are to be questioned:
First, that there is an assumption that we need a universal language or metalanguage – a dream of philosophers, a dream that can be said to have led to the idea of a universal machine or computer,
E secondo, uso la parola universale per il modo in cui l’Inglese invade l’informatica, dai motori di recerca ai linguaggi di programmazione, come abbiamo sentito oggi nelle presentazioni degli studenti.
Il filosofo della scienza e della tecnologia, Langdon Winner, ha scritto un bel testo dal titolo: “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” In questo articolo Winner cerca di navigare tra due posizioni opposte – quella del determinismo tecnologico che sostiene che ogni messaggio è determinato dal tecnologia–
And, he argues that neither can technologies be said to be neutral – the argument of so many technologists that relieves them of the need to take responsibility for what they develop.
Instead Winner argues that we have to attend to the artefacts themselves – some bring baggage or structure experience and some less so.
One of the great contributions of this book is just such a critical attending to the digital artefacts themselves – especially those like search engines or electronic texts that are important to us in the humanities.
Questo libro, invece di parlare dell’informatica in generale – parla delle tecnologie che usiamo come umanisti e ci aiuta a capire l’importanza del nostro lavoro – infatti direi che ci aiuta capire come dobbiamo assumerci la responsabilità per le nostre technologie.
As Heidegger and others point out, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to notice technologies that we use every day like the glasses on the end of our nose. We need to find ways back to noticing the systems of ready-to-hand in which we navigate our desires and dreams. That includes for Heidegger also noticing the way language itself structures our thinking.
But how can we do that? How can we attend? What practices can we draw on from the humanities?
Lev Manovich in an online essay talks about the comedy of breakdowns as an interruption that forces us to notice technology – something that was normal in Russia, but isn’t normal in the West.
Siegfried Zielinski – in Deep Time of the Media proposes an archaeology that pays attention to the failed technologies – the branches that have been left out of the origin myths.
This book provides, I think, three other, uniquely humanities ways into thinking again about technology:
First, it is written from the margins – at least the linguistic margins of an Anglophone discourse of technology (and digital humanities.) It was first written in Italian and draws on an Italian humanities computing tradition. The book reminds us to pay attention to language, so important to the humanities and technology too.
Second, it historicizes the technologies we take for granted – looking, for example, at key figures who imagined our cybernetic future.
Terzo, questo libro non soltanto guarda agli artefatti e ai sistemi in un modo critico, ma guarda anche ai modi in cui noi organizziamo il discorso accademico sull’informatica umanistica – direi che tratta le digital humanities come artefatto umano che deve anche essere criticato, specialmente perché siamo ciechi ai modi nei quali l’organizzazione della disciplina segue la cultura anglo-sassone. The digital humanist ci chiede di criticare come siamo e potremmo essere dei digital humanists. Questa è un questione di ethos – come viviamo con la tecnologia, come ci organizziamo per porre attenzione alla tecnologia
E’ per questo che raccomando questo libro specialmente a voi dotorandi.
For those of you just discovering the digital as a subject for humanities attention I recommend this book – it is a way in for humanists.
Voglio concludere con un commento sulla presentazione dei libri – se un libro e come una neonato – un natio come ne parlava Vico –è anche importante come il libro viene educato insegnato e interpretato.
Remember the lesson of Frankenstein. The tragedy is not that he was made of parts, but that he was abandoned at birth. The same can be said of the digital humanities – a field made of parts.
Questa e la seconda volta che aiuto a presentare questo libro. La prima volta è stata la settimana scorsa a Roma. Direi che addesso sono diventato un presentatore con esperienza nell’ allevamento. Posso annuciare il tour?
As I was just saying in Italian, this is the second time I present this book – and I’ve chosen to do it in two tongues – English and Italian. In this I’m drawing on a Canadian political tradition of bilingual presentations which I have always admired. Such bilingual talks weave two languages to make something that is not a universal language but is free of the particular blindness of a particular language.
My reason for switching is that if we are to avoid the universalizing tendency of technologies of thinking like language we have to habituate ourselves to travel back and forth translating and thinking across. That used to be obvious to the humanities, but we seem to have forgotten that discipline.
Attraversare le lingue è qualcosa che voi Italiani dovete fare per forza – per noi anglo-sassoni è una nuova esperienza – troppo volte aspettiamo che l’atro venga da noi invece di incontrarci a metà strada.
Nel frattempo, The Digital Humanist è un importante tentativo che attraversa Italiano e Inglese per invitarci tutti a dialogare.
Edoardo Ferrarini gave a talk yesterday on “Lo statuto disciplinare dell’Informatica umanistica” or “The Status of Humanities Informatics” (with a possible pun on status/statute). Ferrarini works in the area of Latin Literature of the Middle Ages and Humanism at the University of Verona. The talk was interesting and important in three ways:
- First, he gave an Italian history of humanities computing which both looked at what happened (and is happening in Italy) and looked at what could happen given the current regulations around programs. The second part I didn’t quite follow as it assumed a knowledge of the statutes that govern the academy here, but my sense was that they are constrained by national definitions of what is allowed. In particular they are dealing with a changing, but rigid definition of what is allowed in the way of programs.
- Second, he provided a definition of Humanities Informatics (IU) that drew on a long Italian tradition that we (in the English speaking world) are largely ignorant of. His definition draws on definitional work of Tito Orlandi, though I’m not so sure how closely. More on the definition below.
- Third, he used this definition as a lens with which to review what IU should be and what it could be in the face of the statutes and status of the field in Italy. He argued for it being an interdisciplinary field available across humanities disciplines.
I particularly recommend the two Keynotes by Jeffrey Schnapp and Genevieve Bell. You can see my conference notes here.
I was part of the panel on Building Communities and Networks in the Humanities.