Posts Tagged ‘ humanities ’

Are Digital Humanists Relevant?

On October 7, Distinguished Visitor Dr. Howard White presented “Defining Information Science” as part of the SLIS colloquia.

He began his presentation by offering the several traditional definitions of information science (Rubin, 2004; Hawkins, 2001; Borko, 1968), as well as Wikipedia’s definition as an illustration of how difficult it is to pin down, before offering his own much simpler definition:

[Information Science is] The study of literature-based answering.

Given that he was speaking to a room full of future librarians, White elaborated what that meant in the context of reference librarian.  the reference librarian should be able to provide relevant answers to “relevance-seekers” (library users) by giving truthful, novel, on topic, specific, understandable, and timely answers (in that order).  Librarians should be better equipped than Google to filter relevance for a given question; their “equipment” is “literatures”– that is, the library collection.  It’s possible to shorten White’s answer down even more: information science is the study of relevant answers, or simply relevance, given that relevance implies (a) a system (“literatures”) and (b) requirements for answers (truthfulness, novelty, on-topic-ness, specificity, understandability, and timeliness).

What struck me as most interesting, however, were the parallels between White’s librarian/information scientist and the digital humanist.  A digital humanist is, after all, essentially interested in seeking and supplying relevant answers by searching ‘literatures’ with the use of computational methods (Hockey, 2004). Does that make the digital humanist an information scientist?  And does that make the information scientist a digital humanist?

Works cited

Borko, H. (1968). “Information science: what is it?” American Documentation, 19(1).

Hawkins, D.T. (2001). “Information science abstracts: tracking the literature of information science.  Part 1: definition and map.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52.

Hockey, S. (2004).  “History of Humanities Computing.”  A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth.  Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

Rubin, R. E. (2004).  Foundations of Library and Information Science. 2nd ed.  New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers Inc.


Speculative Computing, Digital Media, and Visual Quotation

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

Kolker posits that digital media answers the problem film scholars face in referencing a work by means of quotation to prove or illustrate an argument.  Putting aside for the moment the obstacles film scholars face with regard to programming/computing requirements, available technologies and resources, and copyright and intellectual property issues, how does the implementation of digital media as means of quotation change the way we conduct research/scholarship?  Kolker uses CD-ROM and the Web as examples of how digital media can be integrated in critical analysis; what are some other examples of how new media can be employed to benefit scholarly research and answer the problem of quotation?


From a distance, even a middle distance of practical engagement, much of what is currently done in digital humanities has the look of automation. (Drucker & Nowviskie)

Is this statement true?  I would argue that even a cursory examination of digital humanities should show that it is more than merely about “automation” or computational methods in the service of traditional humanities research.  It seems clear to me already, as it did when I first became interested in issues “cybercultural” (and long before I entered this MA program) that digital humanities is as much about the technologies we use as it is the use of technology (to “theoretically gloss” our discussions, as Drucker & Nowviskie phrase it).


Bonus question:

The requirement that a work of fiction or poetry be understood as an “ordered hierarchy of content objects”… raises issues, as Jerome McGann has pointed out. (Drucker & Nowviskie)

How else can we understand a work or text, if not as an “ordered hierarchy of content objects”?  What are the alternatives?  How else can we conceptualize such works, and how would we formalize these conceptualizations using computational methods?



Drucker, Johanna (and Bethany Nowviskie). “Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities Computing.” A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

Kolker, Robert. “Digital Media and the Analysis of Film.” A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.