Digital Humanities: The dialogue between the Geeks and the Poets

February 2, 2011 at 5:47 am 3 comments

PIC: NY Times
Not long ago, the NY Times published the article: “Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches”. The article mentions the technological exploration of data coming from the humanities under an alliance between what Patricia Cohen calls: The Geeks and the Poets. Upfront, Cohen faces the audience with a bold statement when using the word: unlocking. This idea is pretty strong. The knowledge coming from the humanities seemed to have been “locked”, being a privilege reserved for some savvy scholars.

Today, we live in an era where we, simple individuals, have become very sensible for information. And this seems to be an increasing trend for about fifteen years now. With the rise of the open source technologies and the availability of raw and public data on the net, every human has the right to take well-informed decisions. In another article from the NY Times “A Data Driven Life” Gary Wolf explores the idea of ordinary individuals getting interested in plain data. I make this link in order to intensify my idea that, today, broader audiences are interested in being well informed. This information can be personal tracking for taking decisions, or simply going to “shop” for information on the web. There is a phenomenon of “Data Democratization” happening and the humanities can’t be left behind.

Tim Berners Lee the creator of the WWW has been emphatic in this sense. Raw data should be opened up in the web for the use of common individuals. There, might be the answers for a series of social issues. Berners Lee mentions exhaustively, the idea of having “linked data that is, data that is explicitly defined [be read by a machine] and that can be directly linked to external datasets. This linked data responds to an initiative of standardizing the way data is encoded on the web. Enabling the connections out of the “fishbowls” of each software or disciplinary solution. In the same way, Rommel in his essay: “Literary Studies” found in the book: A Companion to Digital Humanities, indicates that in the case of textual encoding or analysis, different academic backgrounds should seek for common denominators. He mentions the idea of applying common tools in order to have some basic structure that can be read assisted by a computer. TEI [Text Encoding Initiative] is another intent to create common foundations in order to manage the same standards between different textual sources.

In his book “The World is Flat” [2005], Thomas Friedman indicates the need for having agreed technological standards that can erase the boundaries between international knowledge-based organizations. But this seems to be not only a truth for international boundaries, but also for disciplinary ones. It seems to me that the only way that the way Geeks and Poets can communicate is by creating common standards. Nonetheless, those standards should not just be definitions for textual data, but maybe to other types of information like computer-assisted and Human-Driven visualizations.

Not being a new field, Digital Humanities has gained relevance for it is yet an area that remains unexplored in its totality. The dynamism, in which the technological context changes, implies that the humanities will need to readapt and evolve together with these. The potential knowledge is yet to be unlocked and made available for communities outside the scholar ground.


Entry filed under: Data, Digital Humanities, Internet, Media.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by constanza miranda , constanza miranda . constanza miranda said: Humanidades Digitales: El diálogo entre los Geeks y los poetas […]

  • 2. Diego  |  February 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    This topic is very interesting to me, however I’m a little bit more skeptical about the current state of the phenomenon. The general optimistic view on this, lies on the idea that more and more people is eager to be better informed and that if they are able to find and grasp the correct information (or data), we will witness an incredible social change that will affect the way how we understand democracy and/our culture (for good in theory).

    But I guess a few questions emerge out of this viewpoint described briefly in the previous paragraph. For instance:

    – Why are we on a position to say that today there are more people interested into be well/better informed?

    – Can we identify some demographic patters when we refer to this people interested in having more information?

    – Have these interests on information a civic base?

    And I guess that from a socio-technical perspective there are other question which I can see as relevant, for example:

    – Who will be the ones with the power to decide what information must be put available for the public interest? And how this information would be delivered? Would there be filters to construct this deliverables?

    And I think there is also an important difference between information and data. Specially when we talk about raw data. So if the plan is delivering data openly:

    – Who would be able to manage that data and covert it into graspable information? Would this tasks require some specific knowledge?

    If the answer to the last question is at least partially no, so then:

    – Is the plan providing open tools for managing and converting this data into sharable information? If so, would it be the architecture of such tools some sort of filter?

    I think that standardization has many potentials to make some elements more tangible, and thus increasing the amount of measurable data. However it also has the potential to be ignorant on ontologies and diversity, and that’s for sure a threat to the ideal of pursuing democratization.

    I would like to see the word rebels included into this array of geeks and poets

  • […] though a humanities study the human condition, the digital humanities, generally, seems to pay little attention to whom they are framing information for. So even though […]


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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
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