[Humanist] 26.184 fundamental research questions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 23 22:07:34 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 184.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Smith <jgsmith at gmail.com>                           (32)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions

  [2]   From:    Claire Clivaz <Claire.Clivaz at unil.ch>                     (27)
        Subject: History of authorship and fundamental question in HD

  [3]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                        (70)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions

  [4]   From:    Stan Ruecker <sruecker at ualberta.ca>                      (232)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions

  [5]   From:    "Mason, Steve" <steve.mason at abdn.ac.uk>                  (147)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.180 on DH2012

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 16:53:42 -0400
        From: James Smith <jgsmith at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions
        In-Reply-To: <20120722201523.C8BE7284635 at woodward.joyent.us>

The following are some of the questions I've been wrestling with. Since they
aren't tied to any particular set of cultural artifacts, they might qualify
as fundamental.

To what extent are the digital humanities seeking an underlying pattern to
the world? Where do the digital humanities sit on the spectrum of Plato vs.

As someone with a physics background, I tend to be a platonist. I see the
platonic ideal as fundamental, so for me, fundamental research has shades of
Plato in it. I think computers push us in that direction since we try to
find the patterns that we can apply to many problems instead of trying to
find a unique computational approach for each problem regardless of how
similar the problem might be to others we've already seen.

To what extent are the digital humanities future thinking? Are the digital
humanities trying to preserve what we've already built, or are they trying
to preserve what we will be building? What's the digital equivalent of acid
free paper?

If we think of the larger world of electronic culture outside of the digital
humanities, what are we doing that will help us access that larger,
non-academic culture in fifty or a hundred years? If we aren't doing
anything now, what will we study then? How are we informing web standards
and programming platforms so that we can ensure that today's electronic
works of art will be seen by future generations? People are producing more
than PDFs, movies, and images. What are digital libraries doing to capture
works that are essentially interactive presentations of mutating databases?

I think the humanities have a lot to bring to the table in these areas. What
social structures last for generations? How have we dealt with non-digital
culture in the past? How do we ensure transmission of non-digital culture?
How does this apply to the digital world?

No answers, but lots of questions.

-- James Smith
Software Architect, 
Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 23:07:50 +0200
        From: Claire Clivaz <Claire.Clivaz at unil.ch>
        Subject: History of authorship and fundamental question in HD
        In-Reply-To: <20120722201523.C8BE7284635 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Ashley,

Of course the question of the authorship is not specific to the DH research,
but the digital culture provokes an amount of transformations in the
understanding of that question.

The first discussions around the digital culture in Lausanne (CH) happened
in 2009 around the history of authorship. My colleague Jerome Meizoz - who
worked with Bourdieu in sociology of the French literature - published in
2007 his essay on the «literary posture» of the authors. He was
considering it as efficient only in modernity. In working together, we
noticed that his theory of the literary postures was efficient already in
Antiquity (I am a New Testament scholar), and that the digital culture was
allowing us to consider the history of authorship in its continuities and
discontinuities. Meizoz explains this shift in his theory in his second
volume (2011), and he prepares now a meeting on the figures of authorship
through centuries in Lausanne (20-21 June 2013;

For all scholars working on «texts» and «writing», the authorship and
its history is one of the most hot questions in the DH, I think. From the DH
culture, we are able to reconsider all the previous products of the printed
«Humanities». With some French speaking colleagues, we have begun to speak
about «les Humanités délivrées» as a possible title of a future
meeting. In French, this double sense expression means that Humanities «out
of the book» (dé-livrées) are «free Humanities», Humanities liberated

I am more and more convinced that DH allow the Humanities to be delivered,
out of the cover of the book. Les Humanités délivrées.

Claire Clivaz

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 15:39:10 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions
        In-Reply-To: <20120722201523.C8BE7284635 at woodward.joyent.us>

Willard offers his own graduate experience as an instance, perhaps, of
serendipity.  Wander first, and find the true Isle of Serendip.  But the
question first bruited puzzles me. In my own case, I was asked to propose a
research topic in 1952 by the assigned Chair of my committee, a genial
professor I liked, who seemed to have read just about everything; yet when
I spent a semester in his class, I could tell very soon that he grasped
very little about any author of book he discussed, let alone understood.
 It was clear as a Very rocket light burst to me, even at 22.  I suggested
that I was interested in 20th century primitivism, which is what nagged at
the edge of my mind...7 years after Berlin fell.  [I shant go into the gulf
between Stalin's USSR "marxism" and Hitler's German Nazism.]
The man suggested I look into Roy Campell's poems.  I read through him and
the available biography, and returned to him a week later to say, No good
researching or writing on Campbell.  Why so?  Because Campbell is himself a
Primitive, whereas his poems are gaudy Georgian work.  Somehow I lit on
major late work no longer in print: D H Lawrence's THE PLUMED SERPENT.  One
had of course read all the popular favored preceding novels, and some other
rare ones like THE LOST GIRL, which like the PS were in Special Collections
as rare.  I soon found that there existed but one! Dissertation in the US,
from Harvard, but it turned out a fine bibliographical investigation,
without a shred or wisp of  commentary on the writings of this man, whom I
ranked as #2 in Modern English prose writings, after, of course an utterly
different master, James Joyce.  One mocking and sardonic book existed then,
William York Tindall's D H LAWRENCE AND SUSAN HIS COW.  The mockery was of
course aimed at DHL's excursion into what in the 60s was the Communalisms
after the Beats.

My director suggested the one tome on Primitivism, which began, say with
Diogenes and came up through Thoreau, both exemplars of "Hard" Primitivism.
 It had not the least note or glance at what I was to define in my work as
MODERN PRIMITIVISM, following DHL's quite clearly prophetical immersion
into the social chaos of the 20th Century, novels, essays, short stories
and this tremendously foresighted bomb, the Mexican fall into a
quasi-Fascist, quasi-Nazi totalitarianism, only in the name of a few Aztec
gods, the Aztecs, like the Incas, having long ago been theocratic
conquering totalitarians.  [No wonder Cortez was forwarded, like Pizarro,
by subjected tribes towards the capitals of both empires, the Mordors of
their age.]

Lawrence in short had commenced his work in 1924, and foreseen the Fascists
[he knew Italy very well indeed], and Hitler, not to be noticed much until
1932, 2 years after DHL was dead.  He dispatched his MS to Secker from
Veracruz in 1925-6, and actually wrote from that port at the same time to
Huxley to tell him about it, and to say, I have finished with and abandoned
the idea of the *Führerprinzip.  *[His very word!]

In brief, until I had an object, that novel and author, I had no research
subject.  The work took me well into the history and sociology of the
period from 1918 on.  Where was any "fundamental" to be found?  In point of
fact, when I returned from New York to Ann Arbor for my committee to be run
through the mill on the book, I found that all those folks, most of them
entering their later 40s and early 50s, and good social friends, had not
the least glimmer of a clue to the Modern Primitivism I was proposing as a
general guiding conception to understanding those times.

It was for me a rather strange two hours, mocking and excoriating those
academics, as if they had been asleep all through the 1930s, and grasped
neither dynamics of Modern Primitivism nor the sources of the terrible
years of WW II.  I had thought that "He who runs may read."  It turned out
that they were learned zeds.  My best senior friends, too!

As for the Humanities, Digitized or not, I will let my definition of a
fundamental research topic, meaning exploration of the unknown? as I
thought to establish MP in 1954 in a mere Dissertation, rest without
offering my single sentence ... for I would hope Willard's myrmidons will
be able to divine it for themselves, rather yourselves, colleagues in
quests and questionings...

Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 21:33:47 -0500
        From: Stan Ruecker <sruecker at ualberta.ca>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions
        In-Reply-To: <20120722201523.C8BE7284635 at woodward.joyent.us>

Hi Willard,

I have been giving some thought to the idea of research questions,
fundamental or otherwise, for some years now, and I think the DH
community has a plethora of good ones. I do take seriously the caution
expressed by Julia and you and others that there is a discourse around
research questions that might not be entirely useful or appropriate in
all fields. However, I also recognize that funding agencies and PhD
programs and publications in many venues like to see them articulated
where possible.

So my approach to this thread has been to review some of the questions
we’ve explicitly raised over the past 10 years on some of the research
projects where I’ve been privileged to be a member. I have been a
co-author with roughly 120 different people in that time, so this list
of 93 questions represents the thinking of a relatively large number
of researchers. The felicity of the phrasing of the questions does
vary quite widely, so please excuse the clumsier ones.

1.	How can we provide humanities scholars with access to textmining tools?
2.	What can we redeploy from experiments in the history of the book to
enhance the affordances of online reading environments?
3.	In what ways can we interactively visualize comparative search
results within and between texts?
4.	Given that we are interested in Ramsay’s idea of “reading machines”
that can support scholarly interpretation, what might those machines
look like and do?
5.	What is a productive overview of XML-encoded material, and how can
it be supported with tools to produce a reading machine?
6.	How can Appleton’s ideas of prospect combine with Gibson’s ideas of
affordances to strengthen the design of human-computer interfaces for
access and use of digital scholarly heritage materials?
7.	How is metadata used by people in rich-prospect browsing environments?
8.	What processes increase the success of collaborative writing of
best-practice documents by industrial safety communities of practice?
9.	How can we produce better human-machine interfaces to support
decision support systems in multi-modal industries?
10.	How can we interactively visualize dependencies in curricula?
11.	How can we visualize repetition in text?
12.	How can we use text itself as the basis for humanities visualizations?
13.	Can an interactive visualization help to support conversation?
14.	In what ways can we productively model conversation in 3D?
15.	How can we supplement existing grid-based visualizations of plot
with experimental 3D visualizations?
16.	What is the role of the aesthetic in experimental interface design?
17.	Can information glyphs encourage collaborative writing?
18.	How can a multitouch environment support collaborative reading of
a variora edition?
19.	How does a prototype make an argument?
20.	How can we support the process of chaining through bibliographies
based on a seed article?
21.	Can we experimentally interrogate assertions about the influence
of citation format on the reading experience?
22.	Can we develop interactive visualizations of citations to enhance
the value of bibliographies at the end of monographs?
23.	How can we provide embedded text analysis features that work
alongside data rather than requiring that users bring their data to
the text analysis environment?
24.	Can certain formal properties of digital photos be associated with location?
25.	Do these properties create meaningful patterns in combination with
related text, such as image titles or folksonomic tagging?
26.	Is it possible to observe within the algorithmic patterns some new
or surprising cultural phenomena only recognizable at this scale?
27.	How does the topical organization of research articles in the
information science domain compare to the reference-based organization
of the same articles?
28.	To what extent have the disciplinary silos of citation in
information science changed over the past fifteen years?
29.	How have citation and topical relationships patterns for articles
in the three interdisciplinary topics changed over the past fifteen
30.	For our three interdisciplinary topics (i.e. online trust,
textmining, and web services), is the topical organization of research
articles more tightly clustered than the reference-based organization?
31.	Could the organizational affiliation of the authors explain the
reference-based clustering? (i.e. does each reference-based cluster
contain articles authored by researchers from a distinct discipline?)
32.	What are the state of the art analysis methods and visualizations
that will best represent and communicate the patterns in our data
(i.e. the three interdisciplinary topics)?
33.	What visualization techniques can be identified that suit the
objects and objectives for researchers working in computer-assisted
qualitative data analysis?
34.	How should the existing Mandala Browser prototype be revised to
accommodate the additional text-related features necessary for
qualitative researchers?
35.	To what extent should the visualization features be modified
according to different forms of qualitative data or different
approaches to analysis?
36.	What are the communicational possibilities of interaction histories?
37.	What can we learn from the comparative evaluation of digital and
print editions of the same works?
38.	What means can we devise of communicating insights into our
research into human-computer interfaces?
39.	How can we support a more phenomenological approach to the
visualization of time than is provided by a conventional timeline?
40.	What visualization techniques can be identified that allow us to
model conflicting reports of historical events, as well as changes in
memory or speculation over time?
41.	What subset of these visual techniques are appropriate for use by
scholars in literary and historical research?
42.	How are people’s current approaches to using digital timelines
limited by the available interface approaches, and can alternative
visualization alternatives reduce such limits?
43.	How should visualization strategies for conflicting witnesses and
changes in memory or speculation be adapted depending on the nature of
the data being presented?
44.	What DH tools are out there being used?
45.	When given a choice, what DH tools do people choose?
46.	How are researchers using the DH tools out there?
47.	Can a recommendation engine suggest DH tools for different needs?
48.	Which web frameworks are being used by digital humanities projects?
49.	What are the technical challenges of building customized modules
for various web frameworks?
50.	How will users interact with tools when those are embedded in
different types of content (e.g. journal articles, text collections,
library databases, blogs, etc.)?
51.	How can analytic tools be presented in staged levels of complexity
for different types of users?
52.	How can we compare designs of experimental systems that do not
share the same affordances?
53.	What kinds of associations can be automatically generated based on
the Orlando textbase, and how does the kind of association influence
the types of scholarly questions that can be addressed?
54.	What visualization techniques related to patterns of association
can be identified that suit the data objects and research objectives
in the digital humanities and also seem intuitive to humanities
55.	How can interface strategies that allow users to search for
patterns of association be adapted to account for the types of
associations being browsed?
56.	How can we use multilingual thesauri to support query enhancement?
57.	What design and visualization techniques can be employed to
develop an interface which provides seamless support for query
formulation, thesaurus browsing and result viewing?
58.	What elements and features of a thesaurus can be incorporated into
the design of the interface?
59.	What multilingual features can be designed to offer a flexible way
for users to switch between and among the languages through
interaction with a thesaurus?
60.	What visualization techniques can be employed specifically to
combine the use of a thesaurus and multilingual features in the design
of an interface?
61.	How do humanities and social science scholars and researchers
evaluate such an interface as a tool for cross-cultural and
cross-lingual studies?
62.	If we think of the printed script on one hand and the full
production of a play on the other, what roles can digital systems
serve in the middle?
63.	What common factors are required in order to transfer the
prototype for Watching the Script to other domains?
64.	How can the Simulated Environment for Theatre (SET) support
archival activities?
65.	What can we learn from the design of SET about the ontology of
text in plays?
66.	What is the rationale for abstraction in avatar design?
67.	How can the design process be used to encourage a research
discourse of exploration?
68.	What are the health-related information behaviours of caregivers,
parents, patients, and other individuals who require information to
manage their own or others’ health-care needs?
69.	What sources do these individuals use to solve their
health-related information needs? What roles do the internet and other
computer-based resources play in their health information activities?
70.	What visually-based design models work best for lay end-users?
What health information would individuals like to access via
visually-based interfaces? What search features suit their needs?
71.	How do individuals’ information needs and design requirements
match (or not match) existing system designs and existing results of
information retrieval studies? How can participatory, qualitative
research approaches that use inclusive, user-centred principles, guide
the design of interfaces?
72.	How is colour associated with recollections of emotion in children?
73.	What role is played by family members in recollections of dream
emotion in children?
74.	What are the affordances of Stonehenge and how can they be interpreted?
75.	What features of domestic landscapes correlate to impressions of civility?
76.	How do students and repeat offenders differ in their sequencing of
cartoon images for good and bad outcomes, and what do those
differences imply?
77.	Can the visually patterned alphabet developed by Nelson and
Frascara support learning of the alphabet by Chinese children?
78.	What are the useful topics to cover in an interdisciplinary
research project charter?
79.	How can structured surfaces support workflows in DH?
80.	What improvements to strategies in design management can increase
the competitiveness of small product development companies?
81.	How does the constructivist benchmarking method of design testing
need to be modified for cases without regulatory requirements
governing the use of the information?
82.	What design lessons for human-computer interfaces can we learn
from Mendeleyev’s periodic table of the elements?
83.	Can we produce a meta-level taxonomy of XML tags, based on the
kinds of information they contain?
84.	How does design sketching differ in pedagogical and practical
terms from artistic sketching?
85.	How can we visualize process?
86.	What are some of the implications of body theory for design research?
87.	Can we successfully crowdsource semantic encoding?
88.	How do we visualize a million links?
89.	Can we support logfile analysis with video reconstruction?
90.	What can we learn about the international DH community from the
Day of DH blogs?
91.	How can we support online networking for pre-existing social groups?
92.	How does folksonomic tagging of blog posts differ from automated
semantic tagging?
93.	How does the development of various forms of private language
support intimacy across distance in correspondence?

In reading over this list, my partner Susan Liepert points out the following:

“Some of these questions are closer to the core practice of humanities
than others. Some are more clearly social science, fine arts, design,
and so on. Some of these questions are nested within each other. Some
follow each other in sequence, with each subsequent question relying
on information gathered from the previous one. Some cover enormous
amounts of territory, while others are extremely focused.

In what ways might these be called fundamental? Is a question
fundamental because it is a large question that contains many
component questions? Is it fundamental because it is the initiating
question in a long chain of linked questions? Is it fundamental
because it addresses more directly issues that are central to the
disciplinarity of digital humanities (i.e. is it more about DH than it
is about design or engineering or health)?

One would hope that it is not simply a matter of scholarly precedence.
One wouldn’t like to think that a question is less fundamental because
it builds on the work of previous scholars like Ramsay or Unsworth or
Moretti. We would not like, I think, to do anything to discourage a
community of inquiry among past or present or future scholars. If you
can’t be fundamental using Ramsay, then that is a disservice to
everyone who might be interested in helping his ideas to hit the road

I hope this is useful. If not, by all means please just set it aside.

as ever,
Stan Ruecker
Associate Professor
IIT Institute of Design

        Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2012 07:15:30 +0100
        From: "Mason, Steve" <steve.mason at abdn.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.180 on DH2012
        In-Reply-To: <20120721224644.3124E285B4A at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Colleagues:

May a long-time lurker weigh in on the question of the question? A colleague
has asked us to consider what constitute 'fundamental' questions in trad-hum
first, thence in DH. Following is my -- perhaps blazingly obvious --
reflection. The issue is important to me because the need for questions is
not self-evident, and I think not understood by many university
administrators, for example, who seem to view courses and lectures as things
merely packaged and 'delivered' (and double or triple-markable by those who
did not share the course or its questions). Knowledge is assumed to be
transferable, as though there could be knowledge without a knower -- a

General. It seems to me that the primacy of the question is a condition of
trad-hum, in both classical and postmodern perspective. I'm a historian and
come to this via Droysen, Vico, Collingwood, and Momigliano, in turn looking
back to Bacon and Kant. But the idea, familiar to everyone, is basically
that evidence doesn't speak for itself. It only becomes evidence in response
to a question. As we all know, historia means first of all inquiry, research
into something, investigation. The past itself can't change, but history
changes -- only -- because of new questions. (Even new discoveries do not
declare their meaning, that is to say; they too must be interrogated every
which way to yield up meanings that we may use.)

Example 1. In Mediterranean towns, children grow up playing at sites with
pillars and old inscriptions, using them as goalposts and backstops.
Christian Europe re-used ancient remains for church construction or even as
stables or refuse areas. Those remains don't call out to people and tell
them what they should know. They respond only to the questions of some
investigator who knows their languages and something of the conditions in
which they were produced, who cares, and who wants to interrogate them
because of a question.

Example 2. Even in natural science (as far as I know), the stuff is always
there around us. What we are learning when we study 'it' does not, of
course, change the stuff. What we change is our thinking about the stuff.
And we change our thinking by asking new questions. To be sure, this is not
a merely linear process, from question (out of a vacuum) to investigation
and answer. We wouldn't know to ask our question unless we had already
experienced the stuff in some way, along with other people's questions and
answers about it. So there is always a dialectical relationship between our
inquiring mind and the evidence. But still it is our question, with all the
baggage behind it, that orders (in a hypothetical framework) the chaos of
being, the potential evidence before us.

Or so it seems to me, very roughly.

Ordinary Applications. Doesn't the primacy of the question run through
everything we do?

1. A student says 'I'd like to write about Hammurabi [or Augustus or Queen
Helena].' We ask, 'OK, what about them? What's your question?' We do this
because students often come with the notion that, because of their
heretofore tiny exposure to these fields, the facts are just sitting there,
to be found in library books and Wikipedia articles. They expect to assemble
these 'data', written by different individuals in different contexts and
responding to different questions, in a way they think will look coherent
and please us. We want them, rather, to think about an approach, an issue, a
question that will give their paper intelligibility.

2. With PhD students in particular it becomes a hazard, as they progress in
their writing, that they want to include all sorts of fascinating things
they have discovered in byways relating to their research. Draft chapters
meander and swell. 'What is the question that you are seeking to answer?' we
might well ask, as a discipline for constructing and representing an inquiry
into something.

3. We construct courses, consciously or unconsciously, according to
questions. Asked to teach a course on any subject (in my case Roman
civilisation, Christian origins, ancient Judaism), we face the perennial
problem of deciding on an angle, which is nothing other than a set of
questions, with consequences for what is included as relevant. Shall we ask
about women and families, laws, political structures, political careers, the
army, provincial administration, popular culture, the economy, religion,
philosophies, great individuals, etc.? And once we choose those questions we
face many others: How best to tackle this area pedagogically, with what
questions? It's not possible simply to teach 'the world of X'. There's
nothing fascistic about making such authoritative decisions, however. We
also expect students -- in book reviews, term papers, etc. -- to formulate
and pursue their own questions. And in general I'm sure that most of us what
to cultivate inquiring minds and move students away from the impossible
notion that they are empty vessels waiting to receive 'knowledge'.

4. When we ask them to read, we encourage them to do that actively, not in
the passive, 'past-your-eyes' mode that seems more instinctive (I'll place
this book before my eyes and see what it tells me). But to read actively is
to ask questions: What's the book about? Where does it fit in a larger
conversation? What's the author arguing or trying to contribute? How do the
several chapters serve the project? What is the argument of each chapter?
How is evidence used? What are the scope, assumptions, possible oversights?

Fundamental questions. I'm not sure what this phrase was intended to mean,
but one can imagine possibilities. I suppose that every field in humanities
has fundamental problems of method. In history, some of these concern the
very nature of the historical enterprise. What does it mean to know the
human past? What sorts of things can we hope to know, and how? Is history a
matter of knowing, actually -- or of insightful story-telling,
scenario-creation, statistical probability judgements, or something else? Is
it safest to direct our attention to social systems, quantitative data, and
general patterns, rules, laws, types of social interactions, in which
(unknowable) individuals or their intentions can have little role? Or do
events move forward also or usually because of extraordinary individuals? If
the latter, may history also legitimately focus on individual biography, and
especially thought? Or do economic-material circumstances render all
individual thought trivial? Does it make a difference whether one is dealing
with the modern past (perhaps the only past worth talking about with any
claim to responsibility) and the ancient? There are many more (problems of
subject and object, history as narrative or as argument….)

But a fundamental question might be understood more simply as the base
question framing a particular investigation, no? Perhaps we might
distinguish between problems (as above) and questions, the latter being more
hopeful of 'answers'? I don't know. But a question driving an investigation
is fundamental in the sense that it creates the possibility of knowing,
selects relevant phenomena and converts them into evidence for the thing
being investigated, and provides the criteria of relevance. And we can ask
an endless number of questions about the same material. The question-set (a)
What does Tacitus mean in describing the Jews before the destruction of the
temple (Hist. 5), and how does this section fit in his larger narrative with
respect to structure, recurring themes, language? is very different from (b)
What might his account prompt us to ask about the actual destruction of the
temple, and are there parallels and overlaps with other evidence that might
encourage us to propose hypotheses about those events? The question driving
an inquiry is fundamental to the inquiry, of course, delimiting scope and

Digital Humanities. As to how this applies to digital humanities, I'm not
sure of the original issues or how they emerged. But it seems to me that
here as elsewhere we work by question-and-answer, even if unconsciously.
Willard observes that much of what we do proceeds without research
questions, and he is surely right in the sense that we do much of our
day-to-day work -- reading, scholarly entanglements -- without consciously
structuring it around questions. But doesn't a project, digital or
otherwise, even a conference, spring from an implicit question? In my areas,
the PHI, TLG, and Perseus projects look very different from each other
because the underlying problems they address, which set the criteria of
relevance as well as the look and feel, are different. Certainly, when I use
their overwhelming volumes of data I can do so only with a question in mind
(even if the search generates new questions). It is the question that makes
it possible to discover truly new things, never before discussed, with this
evidence that may have been familiar (in rolls and books) for 2000 years.
For example, one can discover in 30 seconds with PHI that Pliny the Elder
uses the phrase in toto orbe 19 times in his works, whereas no other author,
and cognates of mirus (amazing) some 760 times. Why does it matter? Well,
these turn up in his description of the Essenes, which has often been
thought to have been borrowed wholesale from a source. Clearly (because of
several other such examples too), it wasn't. Point: the data don't tell us
this. We need to ask the question, and it's a question that can only be
answered with digital databases and intelligent search tools.

I suspect that this is all too obvious for words, in which case I apologise,
and anyway I'll return to silent lurking.

All the best,



Professor Steve MasonSchool of Divinity, History and Philosophy
King's College, University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen AB24 3UB, United Kingdom
+44 (0) 01224 273039
steve.mason at abdn.ac.uk<mailto:steve.mason at abdn.ac.uk>

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