Virtuelles DH-Kolloquium an der BBAW, 25.04.2022: „Epistemological Issues in Digital Humanities“

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Im Rahmen des DH-Kolloquiums an der BBAW laden wir Sie herzlich zum nächsten Termin am Montag, den 25. April 2022, 16 Uhr c.t., ein (virtueller Raum:

Michael Piotrowski
(UNIL Lausanne)
„Epistemological Issues in Digital Humanities“

So far, digital humanities has largely contented itself with borrowing methods from other fields and has developed little methodology of its own. The almost exclusive focus on methods and tools represents a major obstacle towards the construction of computational models that could help us to obtain new insights into humanities research questions (which are ultimately qualitative, “why?” questions) rather than just automate primarily quantitative processing.

In the recently started SNSF-funded project “Towards Computational Historiographical Modeling: Corpora and Concepts” we therefore want to focus on two issues we have identified as particularly pressing, and which together constitute a critical research gap:

1. Regardless of the application domain, digital humanities research tends to rely heavily on corpora, i.e., curated collections of texts, images, music, or other types of data. However, the epistemological implications have so far been largely ignored. We propose to consider corpora as phenomenotechnical devices (Bachelard), like scientific instruments: corpora are, on the one hand, models of the phenomenon under study; on the other hand, the phenomenon is constructed through the corpus.

2. Models of complex phenomena generally rely heavily on numerous concepts, e.g., (in history) textuality, feudalism, state, class, etc. Such concepts are effectively references to “submodels,” which serve as building blocks for larger models. Traditionally, these models were largely implicit and not formalized. This becomes a serious epistemological problem in digital humanities, because these concepts are the foundation for selecting data and building corpora. The lack of a formalization of these concepts is currently a major weakness of computational research in the humanities: while the quantitative computational analyses are highly formalized, their qualitative foundations are shaky.

In this talk, I will discuss some of the background and motivations for this project and try to situate it in the larger context of theory formation in digital humanities.


Die Veranstaltung findet virtuell statt; eine Anmeldung ist nicht notwendig. Zum Termin ist der virtuelle Konferenzrraum über den Link erreichbar. Wir möchten Sie bitten, bei Eintritt in den Raum Mikrofon und Kamera zu deaktivieren. Nach Beginn der Diskussion können Wortmeldungen durch das Aktivieren der Kamera signalisiert werden.

Der Fokus der Veranstaltung liegt sowohl auf praxisnahen Themen und konkreten Anwendungsbeispielen als auch auf der kritischen Reflexion digitaler geisteswissenschaftlicher Forschung. Weitere Informationen finden Sie auf der Website der BBAW.

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