Ray Siemens, and
The Digital Humanities and Humanities Computing: An Introduction
This collection marks a turning point in the field of digital humanities: for the first time, a wide range of theorists and practitioners, those who have been active in the field for decades, and those recently involved, disciplinary experts, computer scientists, and library and information studies specialists, have been brought together to consider digital humanities as a discipline in its own right, as well as to reflect on how it relates to areas of traditional humanities scholarship.
This collection has its origins in the research carried out over the past half a century in textually focused computing in the humanities, as Susan Hockey notes in this volume, found in Father Roberto Busa's adaptation of early computing to textual location, comparison, and counting as part of his work in creating the Index Thomisticus, a concordance to the works of St Thomas Aquinas. Yet even a cursory glance at this Companion's table of contents reveals how broadly the field now defines itself. It remains deeply interested in text, but as advances in technology have made it first possible, then trivial to capture, manipulate, and process other media, the field has redefined itself to embrace the full range of multimedia. Especially since the 1990s, with the advent of the World Wide Web, digital humanities has broadened its reach, yet it has remained in touch with the goals that have animated it from the outset: using information technology to illuminate the human record, and bringing an understanding of the human record to bear on the development and use of information technology.
The first section of the Companion addresses the field of digital humanities from disciplinary perspectives. Although the breadth of fields covered is wide, what is revealed is how computing has cut across disciplines to provide not only tools, but methodological focal points. There is, for example, a shared focus on preserving physical artifacts (written, painted, carved, or otherwise created), that which is left to us by chance (ruin, and other debris of human activity), or that which has been near-impossible to capture in its intended form (music, performance, and event). Yet many disciplines have gone beyond simply wishing to preserve these artifacts, what we might now call early forms of data management, to re-represent and manipulate them to reveal properties and traits not evident when the artifact was in its native form. Moreover, digital humanities now also concerns itself with the creation of new artifacts which are born digital and require rigorous study and understanding in their own right.
Eiteljorg notes that archaeologists, like most other early adopters in the arts and humanities, first used the computer for record making and record keeping, in the knowledge that data in this form would see more flexible utilization, particularly in computer-assisted statistical analysis. More recent applications derive from the introduction of global data-recording standards, allowing large corpora of archaeological data to be navigated, as well as the integration of global information systems (GlS) – derived data to represent standard locational information across these corpora. Art historians, as described by Greenhalgh, use computers to image, order, sort, interrogate, and analyze data about artworks, and increasingly use the Internet as the carrier for multimedia research or teaching/learning projects. Classical studies has always been a data-intensive enterprise, Crane demonstrates, and has seen the development of lexica, encyclopedias, commentaries, critical editions, and other elements of scholarly infrastructure that are well suited to an electronic environment which, ultimately, reflects a natural impulse toward systematic knowledge management and engineering within the field. So, too, is this impulse essential to the understanding of computing's role in literary studies (as noted by Rommel), linguistics (as discussed by Hajic), and lexicography (as charted by Wooldridge). In discussing the discipline of musicology, Fujinaga and Weiss note that the Internet has revolutionized not only the distribution potential for the artifacts that lie at the heart of their consideration but, also, other more analytical applications pertinent to the future of the field. Thomas documents the intense methodological debates sparked by the introduction of computing in history, debates which computing ultimately lost (in the United States, at least), after which it took a generation for historians to reconsider the usefulness of the computer to their discipline. The rhetoric of revolution proved more predictive in other disciplines, though – for example, in philosophy and religion. Today, one hears less and less of it, perhaps because (as Ess notes) the revolution has succeeded: in almost all disciplines, the power of computers, and even their potential, no longer seem revolutionary at all. While this may be true of a number of disciplines, in fields such as the performing arts, as discussed by Saltz, and new media studies, by Rockwell and Mactavish, there is an inherent kinship between the ever-evolving developments in computing and their performative and analytical potentials.
Principles, Applications, and Dissemination
The digital humanities, then, and their interdisciplinary core found in the field of humanities computing, have a long and dynamic history best illustrated by examination of the locations at which specific disciplinary practices intersect with computation. Even so, just as the various fields that make up the humanities share a focus on the examination of artifactual evidence of that which makes us human, so, too, do these fields share a number of commonly held assumptions about the way in which such examination is carried out, both with and without the assistance of the computer. Widely spread through the digital humanities community is the notion that there is a clear and direct relationship between the interpretative strategies that humanists employ and the tools that facilitate exploration of original artifacts based on those interpretative strategies; or, more simply put, those working in the digital humanities have long held the view that application is as important as theory. Thus, exemplary tasks traditionally associated with humanities computing hold the digital representation of archival materials on a par with analysis or critical inquiry, as well as theories of analysis or critical inquiry originating in the study of those materials. The field also places great importance on the means of disseminating the results of these activities and, as Pitti discusses, recognizes that project conception and management can be as important pragmatic concerns as others which are more traditionally associated with disciplinary pursuits.
The representation of archival material involves the use of computer-assisted means to describe and express print-, visual-, and audio-based material in tagged and searchable electronic form, as discussed by Deegan and Tanner. This representation is a critical and self-conscious activity, from the choice of what to represent to the reproduction of primary materials, for example, in the preparation of an electronic edition or digital facsimile (as discussed by Smith) and the exploration of the relationship between digital surrogates to legacy data (Warwick). Related to the process of representation is the necessity of understanding the tools being used, as Laue outlines, and the implications of decisions that we make in the use of those tools and the impact they have on analytical processes (McGann). The growing field of knowledge representation, which draws on the field of artificial intelligence and seeks to "produce models of human understanding that are tractable to computation" (Unsworth 2001), provides a lens through which we might understand such implications. This is especially true in issues related to archival representation and textual editing, high-level interpretative theory and criticism, and protocols of knowledge transfer – as modeled with computational techniques (discussed by McCarty), and captured via encoding and classification systems (Renear; Sperberg-McQueen) and represented in data structures (Ramsay), some of which have great impact on the ways in which we associate human information (Ryan) and interpret the ways in which it has influence upon us (Drucker).
In the digital humanities, critical inquiry involves the application of algorithmically facilitated search, retrieval, and critical processes that, originating in humanities-based work, have been demonstrated to have application far beyond. Associated with critical theory, this area is typified by interpretative studies that assist in our intellectual and aesthetic understanding of humanistic works. It also involves the application (and applicability) of critical and interpretative tools and analytic algorithms, as discussed by Bradley, on those artifacts produced through processes associated with archival representation made available via resources associated with processes of publishing and the communication of results. Manifested in the analysis techniques that Burrows and Ide each discuss – and seeing utility in a wide-ranging array of applications, from authorship attribution (Craig) to cognitive stylistics (Lancashire) – the basis of such analysis is the encoded and digitally stored corpora governed by strategies of knowledge representation that, themselves, are capable of possessing what we might term a "poetics" (Winder). So, too, with digital media such as film (Kolker), and with issues of interface and usability that are, as Kirschenbaum discusses, integral to all materials in electronic form and our interaction with them. Further, efforts toward dissemination have their roots, ultimately, in issues related to re-presentation but are themselves manifested in concerns pertinent to the nature of computer-facilitated communities (Willett): preservation in the electronic medium (discussed by Abby Smith), professional electronic publication (treated by Jensen's chapter, and addressed further by Palmer), and the unique array of challenges and opportunities that arise with the emergence of digital libraries, as outlined by Besser.
The editors intended this collection to serve as a historical record of the field, capturing a sense of the digital humanities as they have evolved over the past half century, and as they exist at the moment. Yet, if one looks at the issues that lie at the heart of nearly all contributions to this volume, one will see that these contributions reflect a relatively clear view of the future of the digital humanities. In addition to charting areas in which past advances have been made, and in which innovation is currently taking place, this volume reveals that digital humanities is addressing many of the most basic research paradigms and methods in the disciplines, to focus our attention on important questions to be asked and answered, in addition to important new ways of asking and answering that are enabled by our interaction with the computer.
What this collection also reveals is that there are central concerns among digital humanists which cross disciplinary boundaries. This is nowhere more evident than in the representation of knowledge-bearing artifacts. The process of such representation – especially so when done with the attention to detail and the consistency demanded by the computing environment – requires humanists to make explicit what they know about their material and to understand the ways in which that material exceeds or escapes representation. Ultimately, in computer-assisted analysis of large amounts of material that has been encoded and processed according to a rigorous, well thought-out system of knowledge representation, one is afforded opportunities for perceiving and analyzing patterns, conjunctions, connections, and absences that a human being, unaided by the computer, would not be likely to find.
The process that one goes through in order to develop, apply, and compute these knowledge representations is unlike anything that humanities scholars, outside of philosophy, have ever been required to do. This method, or perhaps we should call it a heuristic, discovers a new horizon for humanities scholarship, a paradigm as powerful as any that has arisen in any humanities discipline in the past – and, indeed, maybe more powerful, because the rigor it requires will bring to our attention undocumented features of our own ideation. Coupled with enormous storage capacity and computational power, this heuristic presents us with patterns and connections in the human record that we would never otherwise have found or examined.
The editors would like to thank Emma Bennett, Andrew McNeillie, and Karen Wilson at Blackwell for their assistance, encouragement, and support. Ray Siemens would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Karin Armstrong and Barbara Bond with some materials present in this volume, and the Malaspina Research and Scholarly Activity Committee, for their support.
McCarty, Willard. What is Humanities Computing? Toward a Definition of the Field. URL: http://www.cch.kcl.ac.uk/legacy/staff/wlm/essays/what/
Schreibman, Susan (2002). Computer-mediated Discourse: Reception Theory and Versioning. Computers and the Humanities 36, 3: 283–93.
Siemens, R. G. (2002). A New Computer-assisted Literary Criticism? Introduction to A New Computer-assisted Literary Criticism?, ed. R. G. Siemens. [A special issue of] Computers and the Humanities 363: 259–67.
Unsworth, John (2001). Knowledge Representation in Humanities Computing. Inaugural E-humanities Lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities (April 3). URL: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/~jmu2m/KR/.