Tag Archives: Debates

19th Century Scholarship For the 21st Century

When David Mimno came to class to discuss topic modeling and MALLET, he first showed an image of the Perseus Digital Library, referring to it as ’19th century scholarship’. Now, Professor Mimno had a hand in the creation of that website, so I wouldn’t think he meant that as an insult. But he did go on to say that technology offers ‘more’ for the humanities than what the Perseus Project has done.

This made me wonder about the implicit criticism of ’19th century scholarship’ versus new computational humanities research. My understanding of the value of the humanities has everything to do with enrichment — that is, personal growth engendered by reading, understanding, and discussing the thoughts of other people exploring what it is to be human. Put another way: increasing wisdom through study. I accept that not everyone holds this view.

If we use MALLET to determine the difference in word use by male and female authors, we have certainly learned something about humanity. But it seems like a different project from the one I understand to be that of the humanities. Does the new, computational approach ‘engender personal growth’? I am ready to believe that it can, but not nearly as obviously as, say, studying Shakespeare’s Sonnets would. So far, the current approach seems to be more concerned with studying humans and human texts in a ‘scientific’, fact-oriented manner.

So that may be ’21st century humanities scholarship’, as opposed to that of the 19th century. But it needn’t be ‘either, or’. We can use Digital Humanities tools and methods to enrich the experience of students who are reading humanistic texts, much in the way done by the Perseus Digital Library, for instance. We can, as my colleague Gioia Stevens points out, use topic modeling to improve discovery of digital texts, which would unquestionably help in the individual pursuit of self-improvement.

The Science/Humanities Gap

A few of the DefiningDH blogs have touched on the disparity between/problem of digital research methods in the sciences and humanities, and how humanists can use technology in their work. Here is a recent NY Times article I stumbled across on this:


Without mentioning Digital Humanities per se, the author (who is responding to another interesting article about how humanists MUST embrace the sciences) believes humanists are well aware of this gap:

Pinker notes the antiscientific tendencies of what he calls “the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness.” But literary studies, the bastion of these tendencies, have long been moving in other directions, including a strong trend toward applying scientific ideas and methods. There is, for example, the evolutionary and neurological study of literature and, most recently, the use of computer data-mining.

There is, then good reason to think that the greater problem is scientists’ failure to attend to what’s going on in the humanities.

In the readings this week, Lev Manovich poses a similar problem in relation to data access and interpretation:

I have no doubt that eventually we will see many more humanities and social science researchers who will be equally as good at implementing the latest data analysis algorithms themselves, without relying on computer scientists, as they are at formulating abstract theoretical arguments. However, this requires a big change in how students in humanities are being educated.

Manovich leaves this question open-ended, and it’s a big one. Both authors seem to be bothered by disciplinary narrowness and a lack of cooperation across disciplines.

I don’t know about anyone else, but part of the reason I was attracted to Digital Humanities was the fact that many of my research and teaching questions can’t be answered by taking more Literature classes.

More DH Debates – DHThis

On September 10, several people launched DHThis to aggregate DH content loosely based on the Slashdot model of voting content up or down. There was a lot of excitement and immediate controversy. Within half an hour a critique of the site was blogged. Much of the back-and-forth is accessible at Twitter hashtag #dhthis. I don’t have time to Storify this, but here is some of the discussion on Twitter from the first few days.

Cordell, Ryan (ryancordell). “I’M unsure whether/how the votes-based #DHthis will avoid the popularity contests it hopes to supplant, but will be happy to be proved wrong.” 10 Sep 2013, 15:16 UTC. Tweet.

dh+lib (DHandLib). “Crowdsourcing the Best DH Content: Introducing #DHThis, the #DigitalHumanities Slashdot http://t.co/kgzi7DeEap | http://t.co/obRzpK1s6m.” 10 Sep 2013, 15:49 UTC. Tweet.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew (mkirschenbaum). “This from @whitneytrettien pretty much sums up why I won’t be registering for a #dhthis account: http://t.co/gtqwWiHQkb +.” 10 Sep 2013, 20:15 UTC. Tweet.

Widner, Michael (mwidner). “”Towards a Front Page for the Digital Humanities”: https://t.co/mrlyBbSi7g My first thoughts about #DHThis.” 11 Sep 2013, 18:06 UTC. Tweet.

Koh, Adeline (adelinekoh). “@mwidner …iteration. Would you be willing to work together with us on building next platform? #dhthis.” 11 Sep 2013, 20:40 UTC. Tweet.

Koh, Adeline (adelinekoh). “@adelinekoh … Issue is that we really don’t have a space outside of twitter for this conversation to occur. #dhthis.” 11 Sep 2013, 20:42 UTC. Tweet.

Widner, Michael (mwidner). “@adelinekoh Scheduled Google Hangouts? Shared documents? Online forum? Lots of possibilities..” 11 Sep 2013, 20:44 UTC. Tweet.

Koh, Adeline (adelinekoh). “@mwidner yup. We started there. But as you point out, without something concrete to point at its hard to imagine/hash out possibilities.” 11 Sep 2013, 20:46 UTC. Tweet.

Huet, Helene (superHH). “A few thoughts on #DHThis as a young scholar http://t.co/TiPuFg1kGM.” 11 Sep 2013, 20:44 UTC. Tweet.

Roopika Risam (roopikarisam). “Best parts of the #DHThis tag: seeing new connections form among people based on what they read on the site & seeing new projects promoted!.” 12 Sep 2013, 15:11 UTC. Tweet.

Recent DH Debates

Hi All —

Here are some of the recent discussions around DH that have taken place over the past few weeks:

1. JDH & peer review
DHNow has a nice round-up of links.

2. DH and Jobs
* Roopika Risam, “Where Have All the DH Jobs Gone?”
* MLA Job Information List

3. Twitter, Cultural Criticism, and the Contours of DH Discourse
* Ted Underwood, “Hold on loosely; or, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft on the web.”
* Steve Ramsay, “Why I’m in It”
* Alan Liu, “‘Why I’m In It’ x 2 – Antiphonal Response to Stephan Ramsay on Digital Humanities and Cultural Criticism”
* Alex Reid, Ramsay, Liu, cultural critique, and DH