“Saying that computer science does digital humanities because computers are digital is like saying that English does computer science, because CS journals are written in English”

– John Unsworth

Quoting the above conversation in one of his series of blogs, Stephen Ramsay, describes his views about Digital Humanities and how ‘closely’ or ‘unrelated’ the subject is to Computer Science.

While most would agree, few people might still claim on being a Computer Scientist by knowing how to print “Hello World” on their illuminating screens in front of them. If you aren’t one of them, you surely have a reason to smile!

‘Computer Science is not programming!’ and that CS involves far more stuffs to do than merely programming. Basically, programming is ‘just’ a tool to make computers understand and help implement your ideas. By ‘just’ I do not intend to imply that programming is very easy. It simply means that, knowing the tool enables anyone to bring their thoughts to life in Digital World. And so does it equally enables people dealing with Humanities to launch their ideas using this tool without getting their work tagged under the rubric, Computer Science.

So, what is Digital Humanities?

Digital Humanities has been classified into two types by Ramsay, namely, Type-I DH and Type-II DH. The first type of Digital Humanities represents a community of people who formed various organisations like the TEI Consortium, the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, the Association for Computers in the Humanities, and the Consortium for Computing in the Humanities in the early nineties. These organisations were later jointly called as the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). The second type of DH represents a broad group of scholars and is in no way restricted to the community alone. DH type-II put in Ramsay’s words, is a “humanistic inquiry that in some way relates to the digital”

Paul Jaskot, later extending the discussion pointed out three constituencies to simplify the nomenclature by Ramsay, namely, designers-builders-appliers. Type-I Dh involves the ‘designers’ (who create platforms and code to solve some humanities questions) and ‘builders’ (that collect large data-sets useful for Humanities research). On the other hand, Type-II DH involves ‘appliers’ who rather do not code but apply digital initiatives to humanistic questions.

So, what exactly do people involved in Digital Humanities do?

Truly speaking, Digital Humanities is hugely multi-disciplinary and a single DH project may sometimes even exhaust several disciplines one might be aware of! So, for instance have a look at some of the past DH projects.

Michael Cade-Stewart, in his project, used Text-to-Speech software to rewrite English literary history. He used the MARY text-to-speech software, developed by DFKI (German Research centre for Artificial Intelligence) and the Institute of Phonetics at Saarland University. Through his project, he intended to identify the developments and trends in English verses of the period 1800-1900, for their poetic rhythm, metrical forms, sound-patterning, rhyme schemes, and stanza types.

Thomas Lombardi, in his paper, used Network Theory in order to infer the prestige of saints from medieval paintings. He considered the corpus of 236 images of Saint Francis of Italian production from the year 1230 to circa 1320 and constructed a directed-weighted network to capture the co-occurrence of two saints in images. For this, he generated a matrix involving 236 rows (for images) and 102 columns (representing the saints).

DH2014_481_francis_anthony_dyad_prepared_forweb

Fig. 2: Directed weighted links between Anthony of Padua (left) and Francis

For instance, consider the images of two saints: Saint Anthony (in the left) and Saint Francis (in the right). The thick pink line from Anthony to Francis represents a confidence of 1, which means that appearance of Anthony in an image assures appearance of Francis as well. While the thin blue line has a confidence of 0.122, signifying Francis appears without Anthony in many paintings. The difference between the two confidences gives the weight and direction as well. This directed network provided several techniques for calculating structural prestige. The entire directed, weighted network was then analysed to track the shifts of prestige of saints in the medieval period.

Cyril and Prof. Frederic, in their project on analyzing a peer-grading technique for Digital Humanities MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) implemented a prototype of massive grading within their DH101 class of batch 2013. Students were asked to create a blog post based on any three abstracts from the online proceedings of DH2013 conference in Nebraska. Out of 52 students, 47 amongst them actively participated in the grading and each student involved had to anonymously grade five other students on the pre-agreed set of metrics. Two major qualitative observations were made in this experiment. Firstly, the quality of blog post improved as students were cautious enough to create quality post as they were evaluated by their peers. Secondly, when compared to grades given by the professor, the experiment helped to realize that there are possibilities of ‘temporal biases’ in which a professor evaluates a long sequence of work. This experiment could be a pre-step before launching a Digital Humanities MOOC, and the discussion highlights that a mere extrapolation of the experiment to class of thousand students might not always work.

Conclusion

This post attempts to demystify the false notions that a beginner might presume as to what Digital Humanities consists of. In the initial paragraphs, the common misunderstanding of considering projects in Digital Humanities as merely application of Computer Science is dealt with. In the later part, the post highlights couple of perspectives about Digital Humanities put forward by professors. The post illustrates these perspectives with three examples, which according to me; follow the order: designers-builders-appliers.

Lastly, I would like to conclude with the following quote by Ramsay,

“Digital Humanities is not some airy Lyceum. It is a series of concrete instantiations involving money, students, funding agencies, big schools, little schools, programs, curricula, old guards, new guards, gatekeepers, and prestige. It might be more than these things, but it cannot not be these things.”

 References:

1. Stephen Ramsay. “DH and CS”.                http://stephenramsay.us/2013/04/30/dh-and-cs/

2. Stephen Ramsay. “DH Types One and Two”  http://stephenramsay.us/2013/05/03/dh-one-and-two/

3. Cade-Stewart, Michael “Mining Poetic Rhythm: Using Text-to-Speech Software to rewrite English Literary History ”                 http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-640.xml

4. Lombardi, Thomas. “Mining the cloud of witness: Inferring the prestige of Saints from Medieval paintings”                            http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-643.xml

5. Kaplan, Frédéric and Bornet, Cyril. “A preparatory analysis of Peer-Grading for a Digital Humanities MOOC”                          http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-388.xml

6. Stephen Ramsay, “Who’s In and Who’s Out”  http://stephenramsay.us/text/2011/01/08/whos-in-and-whos-out/

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