[Humanist] 26.175 fundamental research questions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 21 01:20:26 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 175.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (45)
        Subject: fundamental research questions?

  [2]   From:    Mícheál Mac an Airchinnigh <mmacanai at cs.tcd.ie>         (27)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.172 fundamental research question?

  [3]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (86)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.172 fundamental research question?

  [4]   From:    Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>                                 (6)
        Subject: What does it mean, a fundamental research question? Humanist
                26:172


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2012 06:59:03 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: fundamental research questions?


I can think of two responses to Claire Clivaz's posting yesterday, in 
Humanist 26.172, on fundamental research questions, specifically on the 
lack of them, in digital humanities research.

One is that in some if not many cases the research question, and so the 
research, is primarily if not entirely what a traditional researcher 
brings to his or her collaboration with someone from the digital 
humanities. In other words, the lack of such questions in the digital 
humanities points to the passivity of the field when it exists only in 
response to a request for help. In other words, this lack is a symptom 
of a service-orientated activity. Servants, we know, have no significant 
life of their own. Hence Manfred Thaller's recently asked question, at 
the event in Cologne, what about *our* agenda?

My second response is that the privileging of a research question (which 
as director of a PhD programme I enforce all the time) is a symptom of a 
disease of our time, namely to accept without much thought a formula for 
what research is that in fact does not represent fairly the kind of 
research most important to the humanities and the sciences. I think 
that if one looks carefully and closely at the history of research in 
any field, one finds that *research* often begins and for a long time 
proceeds without anything as explicit as a question in mind -- or at 
least not a question that would be acceptable to the director of a PhD 
programme such as mine. I would guess that the question with which 
one begins, if there is anything as explicitly articulated, is not the 
question retrospectively constructed after the fact. The behaviours 
of complex systems cannot, after all, be predicted!

My second response is not, please note, intended to counter the 
first. I think both of them are symptoms of something we had better work 
on curing while we can. One way to begin would be by reading accounts 
of research lives, e.g. published by the (American) National Academies
Press (http://www.nap.edu/topics.php?topic=292) and by the American 
Council of Learned Societies, in the Charles Homer Haskins Prize
lecture series (http://www.acls.org/pubs/haskins/). This is one reason,
I think, why Julianne Nyhan's Hidden Histories project for the digital 
humanities (first fruits of which are soon to be published) is so
important.

Comments?

Yours,
WM
-- 
Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

On Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 4:34 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 172.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>         Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2012 15:44:44 +0200
>         From: Claire Clivaz <claire.clivaz at unil.ch>
>         Subject: What does it mean, a fundamental research question?
>
>
> Dear all,
>
> Scholars reluctant to the DH scholarship often say: "OK... you build
> tools, you are able to deal with a huge amount of data, and what? What
> is the purpose? What do you get as new ideas, results?". As far as I
> can see today, I guess that "fundamental research questions" are
> coming very often at a second time in the DH approach, by nature one can
> say, as I will argue.
>
> With a lot of various scholars, I am also frustrated to see so often
> "fundamental research questions" apparently omitted. For example, I
> was this afternoon to a DH short paper here in Hamburg on "Experiments
> in Digital Philosophy" by Lou Bernard. The paper did not offer a word
> about a fundamental question in philosophy, but only questions regarding
> TEI encoding of texts and new ways to observe the academic production.
> Such a phenomenon occurs often in the DH papers. Why?
>
> In May, an Harvard Magazine article clearly explained that "Scholars
> traditionally begin projects by figuring out what the good research
> questions are in a given field, and connecting with others interested in
> the same topics; they then gather and organize data; then analyze it;
> and finally, disseminate their findings through teaching or publication.
> Scholarship in a digital environment raises questions about every aspect
> of this process. For example, in gathering and organizing data"
> (http://harvardmagazine.com/2012/05/the-humanities-digitized).
>
> Digital Humanities are Humanities *made with the fingers*, the Latin
>  *digitus*. Scholars have begun with a *Homo Faber* step in the
> DH scholarship, by literaly *making* them. I am not arguing that it
> is good or not: it is the present situation. We are facing now a lot, a
> lot of diverse tools, particularly in the field of history, timelines
> and cartography representations, but we have got also a lot of diverse
> tools to analyze textuality. But - at a certain point - that's logical.
> Indeed, as the example developed this morning by Debbie Rabina and
> Anthony Cocciolo in their paper shows, user research and user
> interaction can preceed and lead to theory and Humanities Content
> research
> (http://www.dh2012.uni-hamburg.de/conference/programme/abstracts/uncoverin
> g-lost-histories-through-geostoryteller-a-digital-geohumanities-project/).
>
>
> That's the point: Humanities made with the fingers - "Digital"
> Humanities - open next to the research on the content and to reconsider
> then the produced tools again.
>
> Opinions? Ideas? What do you answer to colleagues arguing that there is
> no *fundamental research question* in DH?
>
> Claire Clivaz, Lausanne (http://cclivaz.wordpress.com)


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2012 22:00:09 +0100
        From: Mícheál Mac an Airchinnigh <mmacanai at cs.tcd.ie>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.172 fundamental research question?
        In-Reply-To: <20120719203426.857EB28575A at woodward.joyent.us>


2012-07-19 (my time zone)

Dear Claire
(copied to all readers)

I am in sympathy with your point of view.

You have already answered your own question:

> Harvard Magazine article clearly explained that "Scholars 
> traditionally begin projects by figuring out what the good research 
> questions are in a given field, and connecting with others interested in 
> the same topics; they then gather and organize data; then analyze it; 
> and finally, disseminate their findings through teaching or publication.

I mean to say: much of the "Digital Humanities stuff" is what we did
in the early days of Computer Science (circa 1979), speaking from
my own experience! :)

BUT today, Google is Queen! Many folks in DH waste a lot of time...
(err... my strictly very very biased personal view)!

I mean to say they are at the punch card level of reality, just now!

Digitization of anything is but a means to an end!
And the end is, of course, to begin to ask the "right" questions!

If I know *nothing*, yet, about the Mathematical works of Euler,
and want to find out, how shall I do it?

Wolfram Alpha already offers much in this field (in English).
What does it offer in Swiss French? or in Bulgarian, or Turkish?

If I continue in this vain I shall have lost my beauty sleep!
:)

Mícheál

PS: too tired to check my own stuff!
:)



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2012 20:07:21 -0400
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.172 fundamental research question?
        In-Reply-To: <20120719203426.857EB28575A at woodward.joyent.us>


Claire surfaces a few points that I was investigating two days ago with a
colleague in our digital humanities center. What is the research question in
some DH initiatives? I share some of Claire's frustration here, but maybe
the solution is in how one can anticipate and envision next generation
humanities research. As pointed out in the quoted Harvard Magazine article,
the concept of digital humanities may shift or expand the notion of
scholarship and the types of questions that are asked.

For example, in the fields of art or engineering, environments or products
(referred to as "tools" by those who may not work in those areas) can also
be scholarly products. Creating a new semantic web repository, a new virtual
flythrough of Queen Meresankh's chapel, and a novel type of building or
bridge are all valid types of scholarship in areas such as the arts,
engineering, and the archival side of DH. This leads to some interesting
points to ponder:

* Not all scholarship need result in "writing"* Areas such as engineering 
might suggest new pathways of humanist scholarship
* Working in archival methods is scholarly research (in case that was in
question)

Perhaps DH is an evolutionary process to expand the sphere of the
humanities to where there is not one cookie-cutter approach to doing 
research.

-p




--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2012 19:57:12 -0500 (CDT)
        From: Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>
        Subject: What does it mean, a fundamental research question? Humanist 26:172
        In-Reply-To: <1981999458.210252.1342744602819.JavaMail.root at mail12.pantherlink.uwm.edu>

Professor Clivaz asks about fundamental research questions. Anthony Kenny in his book The Computation of Style (Oxford, 1982)--long out of print--discussed various ways in which statistical methods could be used to study style. At that time it was quite tedious to use these methods. In my book Icon Programming for Humanists, I showed how Kenny's suggestions could be automated by the computer, which was little used for humanistic research in 1982.

This book has now been republished in an updated edition which includes a discussion of TEI, and also Unicode, both of which have come about since the first edition was published. Icon is an ideal language for dealing with texts, since it was invented by Ralph Griswold with strings in the forefront of his mind, and should be seriously considered for use by humanists. It has many built-in functions which are very relevant to text processing. But even if you use some other language, I feel that my book gives useful food for thought in answer to Professor Clivaz's problem.

The book is available in hard copy from the publisher, Goal-Directed Press, PO Box 8452
Moscow, ID  83843 or you can download a free copy in PDF format from 

http://unicon.org/books/humanist.pdf

Alan D. Corré





More information about the Humanist mailing list