[Humanist] 29.828 search engine with a difference

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Mar 31 07:37:35 CEST 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 828.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:56:04 +0000
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>
        Subject: Re:  29.824 search engine with a difference
        In-Reply-To: <20160330050828.7B5886805 at digitalhumanities.org>


On Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 7:08 AM Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 824.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2016 23:57:06 +0200
>         From: Domenico Fiormonte <domenico.fiormonte at gmail.com>
>         Subject: search engine with(out) a difference?
> Dear Ken,
> you wrote that EPI Search "works by placing blocks of text into the
> engine", but either you and the info availabe on the ISCE web site do not
> specify in which language. So I assumed it would have worked (to an extent,
> of course) also with other European languages. However, the results I've
> got are quite discouraging.
> I've pasted in the query box three foreign paragraphs or fragments from
> different sources (a classical theater text in German, a scholarly essay in
> Spanish, an academic essay originally written in Italian and later
> translated in English):
> 1) the incipit of Bertolt Brecht, Leben Des Galilei (German original text);
> 2) the incipit  of an essay written by a famous Italian scholar, Carlo
> Ginzuburg (Italian text);
> 3) the English translation of the same passage;
> 4) a passage taken from a famous essay written by the Spanish philospher
> Ortega y Gasset (Spanish text).
> As for (1) and (2), I got a "Runtime error page":
> Server Error in '/' Application.
> [...]
> <!-- Web.Config Configuration File -->
> <configuration>
>     <system.web>
>         <customErrors mode="Off"/>
>     </system.web>
> </configuration>
> [...]
> Results for (3) and (4) can be seen at the end of this message... (I've
> omitted Google results included in the EPI Search for Ginzburg (3).
> To be honest, what worries me more is not that EPI does not work with
> non-English texts, but the intrinsic (and well-known) bias of its sources:
> "Epi-search then runs a 'find more like this search' to recommend books
> from the 5000 volume ISCE.edu library shows you how and why the results
> shown were recommended AND provides links to 'good' related searches from 9
> academic databases including: [...]".
> I'm not sure what you mean here for "good searches", but we know that both
> Thompson Reuters Web of Knowledge and Scopus shape institutional and
> individual rankings in the global academic world, reinforcing the _de
> facto_ dominance of the English language within the sciences, social
> sciences, arts and the humanities (thanks to Ernesto Priego for pointing me
> to this resource:
> http://geography.oii.ox.ac.uk/?page=geographic-knowledge-freebase).
> This situation is not just a source of perpetual frustration for non
> English-speakers who struggle -- especially in the Social Sciences and the
> Humanities -- for expressing their ideas on cultural objects and phenomena
> which are certainly not linguistically "neutral", but constitutes the
> biggest threat to cultural and scientific diversity. I'd lke to remember
> that cultural-linguistic diversity and variation are not a luxury we can't
> just afford, but the condition for the existence of what we call "culture"
> on this  planet.
> (Well, and if you are still uncertain, you should know that multiligualism
> is good for your brain:
> http://aclc.uva.nl/news-and-events/events/content2/lectures/2016/05/13-smart-lecture.html
> )
> While I realize that these are all huge issues that cannot be discussed on
> this list, I would like to add that it should be our duty as scholars of
> all disciplines to make explicit and transparent our choices at all levels,
> including (and perhaps especially) at the level of software: the cultural
> and linguistic hegemony of English databases is supported and deployed by
> related softwares, algorithms, and encodings. Of course I think that ISCE
> is doing a great job in making available for free part of its library, and
> the EPI search engine can be a very useful tool. The problem relies in
> *what* we are representing, and *how* we are doing it. It is our
> responsability to preserve cultural diversity, and even relatively small
> players can make a difference by building more inclusive "representations".
> Or is it the destiny of all human culture produced/processed in a language
> different from English to disappear under obscure "runtime errors"?
> All the best
> Domenico

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