Cultural Studies in the Digital Age

Hermeneutics has long been the main business of the humanities. Now, with the digital revolution, the empirical survey of culture (Gerhard Lauer) permeates also the practice of the humanities and social sciences: From the retro-digitization of rare manuscripts to the analysis of the changing conditions of the production of knowledge.

To this, the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS), on November 28 and 29, 2013, held a conference in Berne: Who is committed to follow the developments in Europe, will clarify all the legal issues, ensure the keeping of the digital research data – and who is going to pay all that? The main result of the conference, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on December 2, 2013: The political federalism in Switzerland and the multitude of players prevent a quick solution to persistent problems. In short: Policy lags behind a very dynamic reality in science.

Besides, Urs Hafner, for the NZZ, is quite unnerved to observe how little researchers reflect on the methodological consequences of the use of the digital. To what extent the new techniques, then, are useful and relevant in the human and social sciences? There was talk of more practice, more applications, more public, more feedback and more networking – but not of knowledge, the NZZ criticizes. The newspaper agrees with Michael Hagner of the ETH Zurich: If the humanities imitate or emulate, respectively, the natural sciences, they prefere to draw the short straw, he says. A warning heard at the Hamburg Conference in 2012, too.

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So far, a short cut to the outcome of the SAHS Conference according to the NZZ. As a reaction to its critic, researchers wouldn’t reflect on the methodological consequences of the use of the digital, I propose to continue reading this blog. For instance.

For newcomers I recommend to start with the post on Digital_Humanities: THE Book! After this neat introduction to this emerging field of scientific practice, people interested in the Philosophy of the Digital Humanities would read the review of the article of David M. Berry about the Computing Turn, Vilém Flusser’s critique of the computer as well as other posts to the Episteme of the (digital) humanities. Questions about the place have been debated vividly – espacially the reactions on MarcAugé’s book about non-lieux’. Time is a very interesting issue, too; espacially Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s large Big Now. As for (digital) history, the book of Wolfgang Schmale and Patrick Manning’s Big Data in History must, so far, be taken into account.

Please find the Infoclio report on the conference of the SAHS (in German) here: http://www.infoclio.ch/en/node/54469


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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