Through digital reality – part two

(This is a follow-up of the post I published yesterday, trying to take stock of the yearly conference of the association “DH in the German-speaking countries“)

An L, two wings, flying off

A particularly good surprise for me was the comparatively small amount of contributions dealing solely with constituting a corpus, and the greater amount of contributions addressing methodological questions and presenting analysis results. Again, I am not gifted with ubiquity, and this impression might result from me picking the “right” sessions for that.

Topic Modeling (I think this is the right way of writing it, not with 2 L) was one of the methods which I felt were the most fruitful – for non computer-linguistic research, since I did not go to any linguistic section. In the presentations based on topic modeling that I attended, it turned out to be a powerful tool to connect precise literary research questions with corpora pretty large and potentially much larger. Also, the clean statistical tools used in topic modeling make it possible to formulate and discuss methodological biases. Many a discussion dealt with the definition of the topics used in the analysis. My feeling was that these discussions were actually helping the people presenting their research move on to the next step of their analysis. I cannot imagine a presentation at a conference to make more sense than if you go back home afterwards with a clearer vision of your next steps.

What I hope to be hearing more of next year are contributions based on digital-born sources and more epistemological contributions, taking the discussion to the level above methodology. But then again, I did not attend any “theory” session this year: if somebody did and felt that this aspect was well represented, please leave a comment below!


Define me, define you

During the workshops and the first day of the conference, it seemed that we were avoiding definitorial debates (what are DH, what are they not). The storifies show that from the second, and even more the third day on, this aspect became more and more dominant.

This discussion seems impossible to avoid for a discipline that does not exist as such. In fact, I was struck by the variety of understandings of Digital Humanities that got together. In the first days, it came as a cultural shock to me to see that several hundred people and about as many understandings of DH had gathered together. On the one hand, it is depressing to unpack this discussion at every single meeting that is – rightly or not – labelled “DH”. On the other hand, what else is there to expect from getting all of the Humanities (and sometimes Social Sciences, too) together? Whatever the common denominator may be, it must lead to self-definitorial questions, be it only because of the historical and geographical evolution of every one of the disciplines that are brought together. Things would be easier if we were still around 1700. But we are not: there is no such thing as a universal humanist in the year 2015. And so we have to settle, again and again, on our common premises.

Manfred Thaller addressed a series of these questions in his closing keynote, shedding a historical light on them, showing, too, that the history goes on and it is up to us to write it.

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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