DDH #7 London debrief

By Claire S Ross, on 23 September 2010

Last night we were discussing Alan Liu’s 2003 paper entitled The Humanities: A Technical Profession. Lui raises questions about the concept of Knowledge, of protocols, organisation and information behaviour and the institutional nature of the humanities.  Liu discusses in his paper,  the idea that humanities scholars are now “knowledge workers” and that a distinguishing feature of “knowledge work” is that it is governed by a set of common norms and values in institutional, disciplinary, communicational, and technical protocols.  This raised questions from the group because it was felt that formal norms and values systems are often difficult to apply to humanities research.  This led on to a discussion about what constitutes ‘excellence’ in digital humanities work, as often it is not as quantifiable as ‘pure’ science or computer science.

The discussion raised some very interesting questions with the group and then sparked some lively discussions on twitter.

Here are some of the questions we raised:

  • Is there a distinction between research and scholarship?
  • Is technology infrastructure like communism? Good idea but actually really prescriptive on the community?
  • Digitised humanities vs born digital humanities. who would win? Is there a difference?
  • Difference between applying techniques and DH scholarship. What is actually different?
  • Is IT now defunct? Would we ever use it as a term now? What for?
  • Why do we separate practioners and academics?
  • Is humanities actually a science?
  • Why do we have so many names and awkward phrases for DH are they different? Is e-humanities the same as DH?
  • Evolved semantics? Does it not mean the same thing as it always did?
  • Should Programming be mandatory for humanities students?
  • Ideas of commodity causing problems in DH?
  • Is Language as a tool taken for granted?
  • How do we identify excellence in digital humanities scolarship?

A selection of the tweets:

In response to: is technology infrastructure like communism?

sdbeck: Technology infrastructure is only prescriptive when its governed by IT staff, not by end users. User governance works.

clairey_ross: does user governance always work? Wikipedia for example I find quite prescriptive

sdbeck: Wel, Wikipedia might be seen as user-governance run amok. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

sdbeck: On the other hand, if the cyberinfrastructure is only run by technical folks, you only get the tools they understand.

clairey_ross: Is there a non amok example of ‘good’ user governance?

sdbeck: I’m thinking more along the lines of core infrastructures (wikis) not specific applications (wikipedia).

sdbeck: wikipedia is proscriptive because it wants to force consistency and standardization. but Dublin Core gives authors ability to develop their own tools, with guides for interoperability.

imagine if all wikis could readily share data without centralization.

Ajprescott: it is striking how in v capitalist countries (USA, japan) the electrical and other infrastructure is v ramshackle.

In response to: should programming be mandatory for humanities students?

PatParslow: A knowledge of programming or software design should probably be mandatory. Don’t need to be software engineers tho, surely?

benbull: “Programming should be mandatory for humanities students? #ddh” -I disagree. because IMHO programming is a discipline which takes years to learn to do well, and that’s if you’re is CS grad. it’s the principles which take the years to perfect, languages come and go. I do see your point, but I just don’t agree.

SdFunkyChick : no, it shouldn’t. I see programming as a particular set of skills & interpretation of humanities subject fields that not everyone can easily get. I see the programming in humanities as a speciality in the field which compliments research by providing tools but … Whether this should be taught to students as compulsory part of their studies, I’m not convinced

In response to: Is IT now defunct? Would we ever use it as a term now? What for?

PatParslow: Technology related to information. I would use it to describe such things, but not what I do, I don’t *do* nouns, per se

re ‘doing’ IT; do you *do* DH? Or do you do things in the conceptual domain of DH?

SimonTanner: sometimes the problem is that we feel IT or DH is “done” to us rather than us doing it ;o)

PatParslow: Does DH take similar grammatical role to “washing up” or “aerobics” there? So it is an activity (a nounal verb??)

SimonTanner: I make my living from IT & DH! But _sometimes_ it’s done cos it’s bright & shiny not cos it benefits R&D outcomes. thus always must focus in on the scholarly benefits & outcomes rather than the tech for tech sake.

PatParslow: you often cannot know what affordances the shiny gives until you play with it. Pedagogy first is rather strange

SimonTanner: research desires objectives – if is “let’s play with tech and see what happens” great, but still needs stating

pedagogy is teaching focussed not research. Research objectives are not in conflict w process of discovery

PatParslow: Pedagogical objectives better not be in conflict with process of discovery either!

SimonTanner: Tech is merely a tool & as such must serve our objectives not dominate them. My concern is dominate = bad research

PatParslow: Research methods, pedagogy – both also only tools (and, indeed technologies)

ernestopriego:…but ‘tech’ can be the object of study itself *and* the tool to study it…

PatParslow: I prefer not to elevate pedagogy (or Res methods) above other tools. Though I may be influenced by shiny :-)

We raised a lot of questions, if anyone has any answers to them please do let us know.