[-empyre-] Engineering the University : Week 03 : Bettivia and Flanders

Julia Flanders j.flanders at neu.edu
Sat Mar 21 09:21:23 AEDT 2015

The examples I can offer are not "new" in the sense of never having been conceivable before--in fact I think there's strong historical precedent for most of the interesting strands of DH's intellectual history thus far. But they are new in the sense that they are newly visible to the people whose intellectual traditions contributed to the mongrel.

One example is the idea that the systems by which we create and disseminate scholarly information are themselves deeply implicated in the meaning of that information. In traditional scholarly book publishing, a scholar prepares a manuscript for publication and sends it to a publisher who undertakes the process of turning it into a circulating object (the book). The activities that belong to the publisher (page design, typesetting, printing, binding, distribution) are understood to be not only completely distinct from those of the scholar (research, idea formation, writing, revision) but also in a sense to have no bearing on the ideas carried in the book; they may be *appropriate* (the cover design and typography are suitable or unsuitable for an academic book) but they aren't constitutive of the book's meaning. The fact that the scholar is not consulted on these points (and would be unhappy having responsibility for them) shows how little they are considered to have to do with the book's content; there's a strong discontinuity between the two domains. 

In the creation of a digital research resource, it's possible to replicate this separation (a good analogy might be the use of content management systems like WordPress), but in DH there's also a significant research domain concerning the ways in which the representational and production systems that realize digital scholarship are actually continuous with that scholarship. The most well-known example is the Text Encoding Initiative, which is an XML language used to represent scholarly research materials. A scholar creating a critical edition using TEI has to be involved in the creation of the underlying data (since that's where the important editorial decisions are represented), but in addition, the publication systems through which that data is actually realized as a publication and distributed to readers also require scholarly knowledge and intervention, since they too are implicated in the ways that those editorial decisions are actually put into action and become visible to the reader. In other words, there's no point of discontinuity beyond which the scholar is "off the hook" and can simply hand things off to a different expertise category. The emergence of the new "mongrel" or "hybrid" digital humanist demonstrates the kind of expertise one needs to have in order to competently build such an edition. And editions of this type (or indeed any publication which takes seriously its representational systems) will by their nature be qualitatively more important and more powerful intellectual tools than the ones that do not (i.e. those built using tools like WordPress that don't require this level of engagement).

There's an interesting analogy here to the artists' book and to other artisanal forms of publication, in which there's a similar integration between the intellectual structures of the text and its physical realization, which is one reason why I don't see this example as profoundly new. But academics don't think of artists' books as the paradigm for their authoring practices, and I think this is actually quite significant (in class terms) for understanding academics' relation to technology and the domain of praxis. 

The "new understanding" here (arising from the mongrelization of roles or from the estuarine zone I metaphorically prefer) is that in the digital medium, for digital humanities, our representational and production systems are perfused with intellectual significance. Another way of putting this is to say that we can't sequester off the "intellectual content" or "scholarly" portion of our work from all the apparatus that supports it, or the political implications of that apparatus (a point I think I saw in the earlier discussion). Of course this isn't a new understanding at all, but it's one that the modern academy seems not to take on board. I've found that digital humanities makes this more visible, at least partly because it requires the development of new roles that cross those barriers. 

Reading over this I sound like I'm grandstanding, so apologies for that if so--not my intention, but I hope this example is useful. 

best, Julia

> On Mar 18, 2015, at 10:43 PM, Murat Nemet-Nejat <muratnn at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Julia, you may have guessed by now, both Ben and my interests are more in conceptual, theoretical issues, though his and my approaches may come from different backgrounds. Could you be more precise, giving perhaps one or two instances, how the mongrelization that, in your view, occurs in IH leads to new concepts or understandings?
> Ciao,
> Murat
> On Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 10:33 PM, Hamilton, Kevin <kham at illinois.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello all
> I'm guessing that Rhiannon will likely jump in here again soon but as
> Julia introduced so many great directions, and Murat and Ben added yet
> more, I wanted to respond a bit in ways that I thought might connect some
> dots.
> One of the things I gained from Julia's framing so far is that DH offers
> an opportunity - whether "intended" or not - to recognize as substantive
> and intellectual some work that might have previously been seen as "merely
> technical," not bearing meaning, opportunities for argument, history,
> politics, etc. That's a huge transformation, with multiple dimensions that
> Ben and Murat should take courage from, given the other concerns I see
> implicit in their questions.
> (Many folks coming from New Media Art or Art-Science backgrounds might
> wonder how anyone could imagine something such as metadata as "merely
> technical,"  but that's the technocratic world we live in.)
> From Julia's observations as I understand them, DH can afford - if even in
> an opportunistic way, through new training opportunities, new job
> descriptions, etc - a chance to treat as substantive work that has been
> marginalized for all kinds of reasons, to the detriment of everyone
> involved.
> Julia wouldn't remember me I'm sure, but I had the pleasure of taking a
> TEI workshop from her once, in my first (and last) introduction to the
> complexities of standardized markup language for scholarly texts. I
> remember hearing her and the other workshop leader talking about the
> question of gender, for example, and what fields might exist in a
> standardized markup language for indicating the gender of a character in a
> narrative, etc. What a rich opening for newbies like me, to see where
> matters of gender get literally encoded in machine-readable language, but
> also debated through those looking to set standards, arbitrate them,
> comment on them, etc. (Sorry for the broad brush Julia, but something
> stuck in there for me, even if it wasn't what was really going on : )
> I'm arguing here in a way for some closer listening to Julia's
> articulations. It's easy to make DH into a straw man, and Julia has
> already offered some carefully worded address of the possible stumbling
> blocks and distractions within these arguments.
> Kevin
> On 3/18/15 11:25 AM, "B. Bogart" <ben at ekran.org> wrote:
> >----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> >Thank you Julia. I'm not sure if you saw my question that followed up on
> >Rhiannon's question? (Sent on Mar 17, 2015 11:42 am)
> >
> >After reading your responses I'm even more confused as to what DH
> >actually is. You did mention some difficulty in defining it, but the
> >extract from your email below baffles me. Based on this quote, it would
> >seem DH is simply the application of IT skills (meta data, websites,
> >etc.) in a humanities context. This is quite a bit more shallow than my
> >previous conception of DH as science-about-humanities. I fail to see
> >what, as a discipline, we gain if its simply the exploitation of an
> >existing skill set that becomes increasingly dominant and even
> >displacing traditional media. Is DH about making humanities knowledge
> >more accessible, or about applying quantitative and analytic methods
> >from data science to cultural artifacts? (or both? or neither?)
> >
> >What strikes me most is the notion of all the graduates of new media art
> >and design programs could fit under the umbrella of DH (as far as I can
> >glean from the quote below). I keep thinking of the notion of the
> >"creative coder" who knows a lot of design and some coding, and is
> >intended to prototype whole projects and act as a bridge between the
> >design and coding specializations. There has been some backlash against
> >this area because graduates have been seen as lacking the depth of
> >coding skills to balance their design ability, and end up working
> >largely as designers because coders are required to fill in the skill
> >gaps.
> >
> >The reason for my interest in (and challenge of) DH is an apparent move
> >to the quantification of everything and thus the domination of
> >scientific methodologies over all others. Maybe this is an obvious
> >extension of the movement for social science to be accepted by hard
> >sciences in terms of rigorous methods?
> >
> >To get back to the topic of Engineering the University (which is
> >interesting it itself being an apparent optimization or design problem
> >to solve, rather than a dialogue to unfold), I wonder what students end
> >up being DH professionals and what programs do they attend? Is DH IT +
> >humanities training? Is it IT skills taught in the context of
> >humanities? Is it better under the umbrella of computer science as a
> >data science? Is DH a signal of the impending collapse of the science
> >and art distinction, resulting in a unified quantitative methodological
> >framework for science-about-culture and science-about-nature?
> >
> >Ben Bogart
> >
> >On 15-03-17 07:27 PM, Julia Flanders wrote:
> >> A museum might feel a need, without any prompting, for a "web master"
> >> or a "metadata specialist"--but once we have a pool of professionals
> >> who understand how the well-formalized intellectual capital of
> >> metadata can serve as the basis for a dynamic online presence that
> >> engages the public in exploring the museum's collections, that's the
> >> basis for an entirely different kind of professional niche.
> >_______________________________________________
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> >empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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