Junior researchers who analyse their sources with digital approaches can profit from productive environments where the advantages and potentials of these techniques are well known and established. In Germany, for example, this is the case if they are in the lucky position to work in one of the (fortunately increasing number of) digital humanities institutions in Berlin, Cologne, Darmstadt, Hamburg, Jena, Leipzig, Mainz, Munich, Potsdam, or Trier. I’m pretty sure the list is even longer, but if they don’t work nearby DH institutions, they are often faced with prejudices against their practices. In this post, I want to list five statements revealing biased attitudes, which I constantly hear, and propose answers to refute them.
Vacation time is over and – which is a bit surprising for PhD students – I had much time to think about my dissertation and my academic future. I did some researches and picked up many new interesting fields someone should deal with. However, from time to time, I got angry about an issue which came across a lot. Have you ever noticed how stupid some subject-related databases are? I mean, having them helped us find sources and texts, which enriched our own work, was a wonderful opportunity 10 years ago; but today, 10 years later the relation between the whole bunch of data sets became the focus of some researchers’ attention.
„One can’t go wrong with this,“ I thought. Well – now I know better!
In an academic exercise, I presented some digital methods to teacher trainees. I wanted to enable them to use these methods deliberately later in school. The required tools were as simple as possible. It was important that they were quick to apply (as teacher’s time is very limited) and easy to use (so their pupils could work with them as well – without losing attention on the content of the lesson). Hereby, the content, not the technology, must be emphasized.
When I started my dissertation project a few years ago, I was looking for proper tools to transcribe handwritings like this:
Research about late antique women is often very difficult due to a glaring lack of sources. Letters addressed to women are rare, writings of women even rarer. The correspondence of the bishop of Hippo Regius, Augustine, written between 386 and 430 AD, is no exception. Despite 252 letters written by himself, only 17 are directed to all-female correspondents. Their responses are not extant.
Humanities tend to make things complicated. And that’s a privilege, because they have decided to describe and analyze their topic of research as exactly as possible. Skimming over complex issues leads to a loss of important details and, in doing so, to inaccurate argumentations. As humanists, our medium to transport insights and information is still a language and so – besides scientific research – we artfully string together words and produce rhetorical highly adorned sentences to convince our readers that our assumptions and arguments are unassailable. To describe details, we often need a lot of words (although sometimes we reduce a complex issue to a familiar technical term)!
“Digital church” (#DigitaleKirche) is currently much discussed. It’s inspiring (and sometimes amusing) to follow the debates about digital tools, social media, helpful apps, or the latest means of communication in all fields of ecclesiastical life. Thinking about “blessing robots,” “donation apps,” or “pastoring chat bots” is an important step to usher the church into the daily digital experience of their (potential) members. I think the church has to go that way for communicational and administrative reasons as long as digital technology supports pastoral tasks and doesn’t replace “offline” community. In this way, #DigitaleKirche is an esteem of the communicative fundamental structure of the church and, also, of the ways communication between people has changed.
(auch auf Deutsch!)
“I think, yes, it’s also available with Latin texts,” Ines Rehbein and Josef Ruppenhofer answered during a lecture in one of our InFoDiTex sessions on my request. Immediately, I was electrified – to me this was a magic moment, because in most of the digital humanities conferences and summer schools, I learned to know powerful and valuable tools for English or German text corpora. Yet, my corpus covers a bundle of 252 Latin letters written by St. Augustine around the beginning of the 5th century CE. At least in my experience, useful tools for Latin texts are quite rare (I know there are many more possibilities with some skills in programming, but in this context, I’m thinking of hands-on tools for less technical researchers to start with).
Whoever has studied history has surely heard about the great controversies on historiographical theories and schools with their linguistic and epistemological ideas. It seems to me that the 20th century was full of radical position fights and historians walking from “turn to turn.” But today, they shy away from a theory based “digital turn” or – even a step forward – a “paradigm shift” of methodological thinking and narratives. Therefore, I wonder: do historians really need a “theory of digital history?” Do they even want it? Is it necessary?
A conference report by Matthias Arnold and Christopher Nunn
Immanuel Kant as a protagonist of the digital humanities? If you think this will never happen – well, then you have not heard from the DHd2018 in Cologne, which took place from February 26th to March 2nd. The title of the conference “Kritik der digitalen Vernunft” was applied in many contributions from the initial keynote by Berlin’s professor of philosophy Sybille Krämer to the closing keynote by C. M. Sperberg-McQueen (whom you should know at least as one of the creators of XML and author of the TEI Guidelines).
In the spring of 2016, two graduate students in theology sat together during a coffee break: One of them complained: “It is impossible to find the most suitable method to work with my digitized corpus.” The other nagged: “And I can’t find a theory which fits into my way of analysing sources statistically!”