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Digital
technology is rapidly becoming more important in daily life around the world. An
increasing amount of material is digital, and digital media offer significant
potential. Since digital technology is interwoven into our daily lives, it is a
powerful intersecting property as well as a boundary object. Digital
projects can have an impact on numerous fields in the academic world, as well
as across institutions, and even amongst the general public. These projects often
cross the divisions between research, teaching, and service in innovative ways.

The infinite amount of digital data that is
available today paves the way for the creation of new research subjects and prospects
for real life applications.12
The Digital Humanities exist at the intersection of humanities disciplines and
digital technologies. The scholarly field is involved in the methodical use of
digital resources, in addition to reflecting on their application. By producing
and using new digital technology and methods, Digital Humanities creates new
modes of education and study, while simultaneously researching and critiquing
how these impact cultural heritage and digital culture. Hence, an idiosyncratic
feature of the field is its cultivation of a two-way relationship between the
digital and the humanities: it both uses technology in the pursuit of humanities
studies, and submits technology to humanistic enquiring, often at the same time.34

 

From Busa to Big Data

 

The history of digital humanities can
be traced back more than half a century, to the first use of computers in
historical research in the early ’60s. The first published work by an historian
involving computerised research was published in 1963, the Index
Thomisticus5
by Roberto Busa is often seen as the absolute starting point of digital
scholarship. Busa started the development of a lemmatised concordance of an
electronical edition of the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas around 1946.67 From 1962 onwards, the first
international conferences with subjects like The Use of Computers in Anthropology and Literary Data Processing were organised, these
conferences are seen as the first Digital Humanities meetings. The actual
transition from Humanities Computing
to Digital Humanities took place from the late 90s throughout the 00s.

Roughly three stages led to where we
stand now, starting with the first use of punch cards and unit recording
equipment in the 1940s. This introduction led to a combination of history and
computing centred on qualitative analysis and data modelling in the first stage
of the uptake of computers in humanities research throughout the 1960s and
1970s. After a climax in computer-aided research in
the 1970s, the trend faded by the mid-1980s influenced by the criticism that the
research methods used, concentrated too much on measurements and methods.

With the introduction of
the personal computer by the mid-1980s and the Internet and the World Wide
Web in the early 1990s, the second wave came along, mostly focused on the
development and use of databases and the digitalisation of text-based sources.

Also, scholarly communication and discussion moved online. Researchers could
now share their endeavours via digital channels and therewith expand their
audiences.8

Over the past two decades an increasing amount of research data
became available in a digital format, which has made the use of tools and
expertise to manage, retrieve, and search these data essential. The humanities
has become more and more affected by digital materials and tools, as well as by
new modes of expression and scholarly questions evolving around the digital.

This final stage has led to the rise of Digital Humanities in its current
state.9

 

Technological Determinism in Defining DH

 

There are many ways to define
the modern day Digital Humanities, and since the first wave the field has been
predominantly preoccupied with defining itself. From 2009 until 2012 hundreds
of answers to the question ‘How do you define the digital humanities?’ were
gathered by the sponsors of the annual Day
in the Life of the Digital Humanities event. Whereas the answers differed
in specifics, most respondents agreed that the Digital Humanities is
necessarily a collaborative and interdisciplinary field. Furthermore, there is
consensus about the field being comprised of scholarly activities that apply
new technologies to humanities research.10

In his book Big Digital Humanities Patrik Svensson
argues for the definition of the Digital Humanities as an inclusive environment
for the humanities and the digital to meet and interact, and he advocates the
engagement of humanities with the digital on multiple levels. For Svensson,
this embodies the inclusiveness of the Digital Humanities, but whereas he sees
the rise of the Digital Humanities as an exciting development that is full of
potential, he also detects the uneasiness of the move towards a full digital turn
felt by traditional humanities scholars.

Svensson points to the
tendency of the field towards technological determinism as one of the causes of
the reluctance of scholars to engage with the digital, and pleads for a better
balance between this determinism and attention for methodological and
epistemological considerations. He moreover suggests that we need to respect
the integrity of traditions at the same time as supporting the further
intertwining of intellectual perspectives, disciplinary practices, and modes of
engagement in a dynamic contact zone. According to Svensson, this will lead to
changes in the perspectives, people, and traditions it brings together. 11

 

Rigorously New Knowledge

 

In traditional
science the concept of rigorous knowledge
is the ideal for all knowledge. The ideal of rigorous knowledge will be reached
by following the steps of analysis, classification, relation, context, value
and consequences.12 The
Humanities are distinguished from social and natural sciences not so much on
the basis of subject matters, but rather by the means of approaching research
questions. In Humanities scholarship, one focuses on the consideration of
meaning, purpose, and goals, rather than on unveiling the truths of the
physical world.1314

But what happens when we start integrating
big data and digital tools in Humanities research? Does it lead us away from
interpretation, imagination and creativity? Are we slowly moving away from the very essence of
the humanities? And most of all, is the introduction of these new questions, modes
and methods moving our field away from the cultural criticism characteristic
for the humanities?

 

Less is no(t) more – The
Humanistic Paradigm in the age of the Digital Turn

 

The
scientific paradigm is twofold, on the one hand a scholar must determine by who
and at what point in time a fact, law or theory was discovered or invented, on
the other hand he must describe and explain the errors, myths and superstitions
that constrain arguments for this fact. By complementing, dismissing, and
elaborating on theories that where established in the past, science evolves.

When we look at the origin of science, we see that elements of concurring
theories and methods were dismissed or taken over by others. Different theories
complemented each other and led to the knowledge we have today.15

In
any school of science, a paradigm prevails. Contradicting these paradigms is
most often unimaginable until contradictions are proven. Every established
theory has grown from the basis of paradigms, and admitting the paradigm is
flawed, inadequate or has become outdated would be like denying the existence
of the field as a whole. Therefore, scientist working in different paradigms
are believed to inhabit different worlds that could never meet.16

With
the introduction of digital tools and methods, we might say that we can no
longer read what we are writing, and we gradually become dependent of digital
technology both to read and to write for us. In his book What Makes Life Worth Living, the French philosopher Bernhard Stiegler
argues that only when we gain the ability to “think for ourselves”, we
can begin to understand what is a “life worth living,” a
preoccupation traditionally linked to the humanities. According to Stiegler,
the digital challenges the development of attention, memory, concentration, and
intelligence.17

Digital developments pose a challenge for the humanities
that aims directly at the humanistic paradigm that is the foundation for all
research undertaken by traditional humanities scholars on a daily basis. A clear
division has consequently emerged in the humanities, between the traditional
and the digital. It might however be time to begin raising questions about the
“post-digital,” since we are arriving at a turning point where it becomes
increasingly difficult to study culture outside of digital media. In a
post-digital age, the question of whether or not something is digital is no longer
important. Ergo, it is time for us to move away from comparisons between the traditional
and digital humanities.181920

 

Models
as Mediators

The problem of induction is
the question of whether inductive reasoning leads to knowledge in the classical
sense, it focuses on the lack of justification for generalized conclusions
about a class of entities based on a number of observations about that class,
and on presupposing that a sequence of events will occur in the future as it has
before. In the context of statistics this means that there is no justification
for methods that take data as input and return a conclusion. Since the method
of experiment cannot be used in humanities research, conclusions cannot be
tested.21

Models
act as an instrument to investigate the world, our theories, and even other
models. In their book Models as Mediators, Morgan and Morrison define
three categories in model construction. The first involves a partial
independence from theories and the world, but also a partial dependence on them
both; the second category involves models functioning as autonomously in a
variety of ways to explore theories and the world; thirdly, Morgan and Morrison
define the category of models representing either aspects of theories or
aspects of our world, or aspects of both.22

Scientists
from many different fields use visualisations as models for understanding and
discovery. The world of medicine uses MRIs to look inside a patient’s body
before operating, economists model financial activities to see emergent
patterns, and astronomers send telescopes into the sky to look back light years
in time and discover characteristics of the universe that could never be seen
through telescopes on earth. When seeing representations of data, we can better
understand and analyse it. By employing visualisations, we often become aware
of features not apparent before.

One of the challenges the
traditional field of Humanities is facing nowadays, apart from funding-issues
and questions about its usefulness, is the incapability to communicate its findings
with the general public. As digital humanists simultaneously evolve
institutional identities for themselves tied to the mainstream humanities and
explore new technologies, they become ideally positioned to create, adapt, and
disseminate new methods for communicating between the humanities and the
public. Digital humanists are therefore in the unique position to create
technologies that can change humanities advocacy to become successful in
conveying its message. The goal, I suggest, is to build advocacy into the
ordinary work of the humanities, so that research and teaching organically
generate advocacy in the form of publicly meaningful representations of the
humanities.23

 

Cultural Criticism Disrupted

 

The
main criticism that the Digital Humanities is facing in the current stage of
its existence is the lack of integration of cultural criticism in its scholarly
products. Digital humanists develop their
tools, data, and metadata critically, but rarely do they extend their criticism
to society, economics, politics, or culture.

While digital humanists have
the practical tools and data, they will never be in the same league as traditional
humanistic scholars, unless they can move seamlessly between text analysis and
cultural analysis. To be an equal partner, digital humanists will need to show
that thinking critically about data, scales into thinking critically about the
power, finance, and other governance protocols of the world.

 

 

 

Inclusiveness,
collaboration and moving away from technological determinism.

 

The Digital Humanities should no
longer be seen as a development of colliding paradigms, but rather as
complementing and elaborating in relation to the existing humanistic paradigm.

By learning about and using new methods, and by developing new research questions,
we are able to complement the theories from the past, to reach new conclusions
and counter existing errors.

 

Start asking questions that will
help us find the answer to why our conclusions are significant contributions to
the world.

 

Become mediators between the
Humanities and the general public by developing technologies and designing
tools that help visualising and communicating its findings.

1 Svensson, P., Big Digital Humanities: Imagining a meeting
place for the humanities and the digital (2016)

2
https://www.rug.nl/masters/digital-humanities/

3
Drucker, J., “Intro to Digital Humanities: Introduction”, UCLA Center for Digital Humanities
(2013)

4  Terras, M., “Quantifying Digital Humanities”, UCL Centre for Digital
Humanities (2013)

5 Busa, R., Index
Thomisticus: Sancti Thomae Aquinatis operum omnium indices et concordantiae in
quibus verborum omnium et singulorum formae et lemmata cum suis frequentiis et
contextibus variis modis referuntur (1974-)

6 Busa, R., ‘The Annals of Humanities Computing:
The Index Thomisticus’, Computers and the Humanities (1980)

7 Swierenga, R. P., ‘Clio and Computers: A
Survey of Computerised Research in History’, Computers and the Humanities
(1970)

8 Bod, R., “Who’s afraid of
Patterns? The Particular versus the Universal and the Meaning of Humanities
3.0”, Low Countries Historical Review (2013)

9 Svensson, P., Big Digital Humanities: Imagining a meeting place for the humanities
and the digital (2016)

10 Heppler, J., ‘What Is Digital Humanities?’, Day of DH, https://whatisdigitalhumanities.com
(2009-2014)

11 Svensson, P., Big
Digital Humanities: Imagining a
meeting place for the humanities and the digital (2016)

12 Morón Arroyo, C., The Humanities in the Age of Technology
(2002)

13 Dilthey, W., Makkreel, R.A., Rodi, F.,
The
formation of the historical world in the human sciences
(2002)

14 Wright, M., “Narrative imagination and taking
the perspective of others”, Studies in
Philosophy and Education (2002)

15 Kuhn, T., ‘The
Structure of Scientific Revolution’, International Encyclopedia of Unified
Science (1962)

16 Latour, B., Opening
Pandora’s Black Box, Science in action (1987)

17 Stiegler, B., What Makes Life Worth Living: On
Pharmacology (2013)

18 Cramer, F., Post-Digital Print: The Mutation of Publishing Since 1894 (2012)

19 Berry, D., ‘Post-Digital
Humanities: Computation and Cultural Critique in the Arts and Humanities’, Educause (2014)

20 Liu, A., ‘Where Is Cultural
Criticism in the Digital Humanities?’ Debates
in the Digital Humanities (2012)

21 Romeijn, J.W., ‘Philosophy of
Statistics’, Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (2014)

22 Morgan, M. & Morrison, M.,
‘Models as Mediating Instruments’, Models
as Mediators (1999)

23 Liu, A., ‘Where Is Cultural
Criticism in the Digital Humanities?’ Debates
in the Digital Humanities (2012)

 

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