Posts Tagged ‘digital humanities’

Drawing lines: Digital Humanities and Web Science

One of the discussions I had at InterFace concerned the relationship between Digital Humanities and Web Science. My own opinion is that some things are DH; some are WebSci; some are both; others are neither 😉

Intriguingly, when I remarked upon my surprise about the ‘digital humanities’ positioning of InterFace to a colleague, her response was “well it isn’t Web Science is it?” (This seemed to imply to me that if you are working in an area where technology and the humanities overlap, it must be WebSci or DH! I suspect I misunderstood…)

So: her stance as I understand it is that Digital Humanities can be described as the application of technology in the humanities, while WebSci can be seen as the application of methods from the humanities (and social sciences) to technology.

I’m probably taking the comparison too seriously, but let’s go with this anyway: although there’s an extent to which its true, I think it short changes WebSci in some ways. (I don’t know enough about DH to have an opinion on that half of the equation!)

Web Science does involve use of tools from the humanities and social sciences — but also from Network Science, Computer Science, Biology, AI and plenty of other areas (is Art part of the humanities? Is Politics?). Besides, WebSci — the study of the Web as an ongoing process, and its impact on society, and vice versa — is about the use of tools from those disciplines in the context of the web (and internet), not ‘technology’ in general.

Of course, drawing lines around disciplines can be a bit of a false start anyway: one person may self-describe as a Web Scientist but be perceived by others as a Sociologist or a Digital Humanist. It all depends on context, and it’s all shades of grey.

InterFace’11: good event, surprised by the Digital Humanities positioning

I had the pleasure of attending InterFace’11 last week. It first ran two years ago in Southampton, so it was interesting to return two years on:  This year it was an ambitious 2.5 days event, with a range of activities including things I’d seen at InterFace’09 (lightning talks, ‘speed networking’, keynotes) but also workshops, ‘how to’ sessions and an unconference. I had to duck out of much of the second day, but what I did see was good! There was a good diversity of lightning talks from participants — the ones I caught covered topics from the ancient world to tangible interaction to maps as narrative.

Kicking off the unconference

I particularly enjoyed the keynote from Stephen Scrivener (self-described Computer Scientist and Artist), who spoke about design practice and research. The other keynote was Melissa Terras, who among other things remarked that we can define digital humanities until the cows come home (I paraphrase) — this reminded me of similar conversations in the Web Science community.

I was surprised by a comment by one of the organisers in the closing session: I forget the exact phrasing, but they referred to InterFace as a digital humanities conference, which really isn’t how I perceive it. (There was a strong focus in the area this year, but it wasn’t solely DH.) As I know a couple of the people who were involved in its inception two years ago, I promptly started rummaging around… 🙂

My understanding is that InterFace was originally positioned to avoid being Yet Another Digital Humanities Conference. However, I gather that none of this year’s organisers had attended a prior InterFace (and they also happened to largely be ‘digital humanists’) so almost certainly weren’t exposed to that ethos.

Despite being surprised by the DH-specific positioning, this was certainly an engaging event with plentiful learning opportunities! The organisers did a stellar job, so much kudos to them.

Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School 2011

After visiting Dave de Roure for the afternoon yesterday, I found myself with the chance to attend the final talk of the day at the Digital Humanities Summer School. Ray and Lynne Siemens were speaking on “The Uneasy Pursuit of the Future of the Book” and “Building and Maintaining a Team Approach in a Rapidly-Advancing Area of Research and Development”.

I found Ray’s talk a nice alternative perspective on how we (do not) understand the properties of books as traditional artefacts, let alone electronic books or iPads and similar. I googled the speakers to try and see whether they’ve taken any work to the Hypertext conference as yet, but they have not: perhaps this is some fresh digital humanities blood to recruit 🙂

Ray also asked some very ‘Web Science’ questions, including a pondering about measuring the impact of the web is on how we read and experience information. I asked how he’d document the features of textual forms: he spoke about the ‘architecture’ of the book, and the meaning of aspects such as indexes and page numbers… lots of interesting subjective things going on here.

Meanwhile, Lynne spoke about mechanisms to conduct multidisciplinary work. Like Dave, for me the main takeaway was “Wow, I’m really privileged that such work is a relatively normal affair to me” — it was a good reminder that such work is not necessarily everyday, and that approaches to it are not obvious to everyone.