Tag Archives: cch

What is the object of the Digital Humanities?

By which I mean on one level, what is its purpose?, and on another, what is its field of study?

In an earlier post on this blog I listed what I saw as the major subdivisions of the discipline, such as it is, and opined that at the CCH as presently constituted we mostly focus on realising traditional humanities ends in a digital fashion. That is to say, digital humanities as we practice it tracks the other humanities disciplines pretty closely, and ultimately we’re “about” the same things that they are.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach. There’s no question in my mind that most of the scholarly genres — even those most firmly rooted in natural language as a medium — are better realised in electronically than in print. But if that was all there was to the digital humanities — the humanities, but in a more convenient and useable form — then I don’t think I would have bothered switching out from the thoroughly-traditional Classics track my PhD had prepared me for. Because this seems to me an approach to DH that belongs more properly to scholarly publishing than scholarly research.

For me, what differentiates digital humanities from other humanities disciplines and gives it some kind of distinctive value of its own only arises when it turns reflexive and experimental: when it takes as its objects of study not simply those taken by other disciplines, but starts exploring the effects and potential of digital remediation of these objects. When it starts trying to stretch the affordances of the medium and the data and examining their interaction. In other words, I’m interested in the digital humanities in the same way that Vannevar Bush was interested in hypertext, back in the ’40s. As a way of exploring new ways of thinking and understanding. Of reconceptualising our knowledge of our field of study.

To anyone with a memory that encompasses more than a decade in this field, all this will sound wearyingly familiar: do we remember all those many, many unread articles whose titles promised a radical hypertext revolution in the novel/the essay/narrative-modes-of-thought/whatever with the advent of the web?

But the problem with this entire (now-vanished) genre of research wasn’t, to my mind, that its motivations were incorrect. It’s that it was insufficiently experimental. As far as I could ever tell, they were almost always purely theoretical: based, almost all of the time, of a skimming of a McLuhan (or one of his epigones) mixed in with a soupcon of Foucault, Derrida, or, more often than not, Baudrillard. There was never any engagement with the medium, its message, or the material itself.

But here, at the CCH, we have the opportunity to work up close and intimately with the corpus of humanities knowledge, and the skills  to shape and experiment with it using digital technology. We’re in the right place, in other words, to start exploring. And this, to my mind, is what constitutes the purpose of the digital humanities: to create new tools that allow us to open up new understandings. To think better, and think different.

If, of course, we can ever find the bloody time.

Knowledge Representation workshop @ CCH

A couple of months ago or so we started a Knowledge Representation workshop with a few enthusiastic colleagues at CCH. The basic idea is to take a broad perspective on the various topics related to KR, and then focus on the digital humanities so to see how these approaches and technologies can be best applied to our domain.

What is a knowledge representation? Although knowledge representation is one of the central and in some ways most familiar concepts in AI, the most fundamental question about it–What is it?–has rarely been answered directly. Numerous papers have lobbied for one or another variety of representation, other papers have argued for various properties a representation should have, while still others have focused on properties that are important to the notion of representation in general. [continue reading]

Other than that, the scope of the workshop will remain deliberately unspecified so that we are allowed to decide session after session what topics should be discussed. I’ll be posting the slides and research produced in the context of the workshop on this blog, so maybe also others will be interested in taking part in this (either physically or electronically!). if you do, please get in touch 🙂

The slides from our first meeting can be found online on slideshare:

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Among the TOPICS that emerged as needing more reflection:

  • the ontoclean methodology: need more examples and rationale for each of the meta-principles
  • top level ontologies: is it sensible to aim for having only one? If not, what does a ‘relativist’ position entail?
  • the cyc project: why didn’t it conquer the world? where were its flaws?
  • ontologizing ‘humanities’ data: is the subject domain posing specific challenges, or not?
  • implementing an ontology: what are the languages/frameworks available? (we mentioned the possibility of inviting an external speaker on this topic, some time in the future)
  • Finally, some useful bibliography:

  • Doug. Ontologies: State of the Art, Business Potential, and Grand Challenges. Ontology Management: Semantic Web, Semantic Web Services, and Business Applications (2007) pp. 1-20
  • Sowa. Knowledge Representation: Logical, Philosophical and Computational Foundations. Course Technology (1999)
  • Niles and Pease. Towards a Standard Upper Ontology. FOIS’01 (2001)
  • Doerr. The CIDOC conceptual reference module: an ontological approach to semantic interoperability of metadata. AI Magazine archive (2003) vol. 24 (3) pp. 75-92
  • Gangemi et al. Sweetening Ontologies with DOLCE. 13th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW02) (2002)
  • Smith,. Beyond Concepts: Ontology as Reality Representation . Proceedings of FOIS 2004. International Conference on Formal Ontology and Information Systems (2004)
  • Guha and Lenat. Cyc: A Midterm Report. AI Magazine (1990) pp. 1-28
  • Gruber. It Is What It Does: The Pragmatics of Ontology. Invited presentation to the meeting of the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model committee (2003)
  • Doerr. The CIDOC conceptual reference module: an ontological approach to semantic interoperability of metadata. AI Magazine archive (2003) vol. 24 (3) pp. 75-92
  • Guarino and Welty. Evaluating ontological decisions with OntoClean. Commun. ACM (2002) vol. 45 (2) pp. 61-65
  • Stay tuned for the future reports!