Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences: Digital Humanities and Web 2.0

Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, Digital Humanities and Web 2.0, Dossier, in: Bulletin, 1/2012, S. 29ff

Review with respect to digital humanities

The Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS) dedicates the first issue of its Bulletin 2012 the Digital Humanities and Web 2.0. The Academy presents its “enterprises” as the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (DDS) for instance and discusses their potential for an innovative science strategy. The Academy believes that users (researchers, students) “nowadays expect digital services of aggregated knowledge”. Therefore, a lack of digital access would mean a loss of significance of the humanities, the Academy says.

Among the projects which the Academy presents are DARIAH-EU, the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities, CLARIN, the Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure, OpenEdition, the portal for electronic resources in the humanities and social sciences, and infoclio.ch the portal of historical sciences in Switzerland.

The Bulletin also contents an interesting article about Digital Humanities as the “other human sciences”: Gerhard Lauer, University of Göttingen, is sure: computers make a difference. Probably the first computer-based project in the humanities was a card-based concordance of all 11 million words in the work of Thomas Aquinas, established 1949. Next came word statistics, bibliographies, then literary and linguistic computing, and finally digital editions. The archeology uses computers for their geographical reference system for quite some time. But, Digital Humanities begins with the emergence of the Internet, Lauer says. It provides access to a huge corpus of material – Google Books now includes 15 million publications. Historical and hermeneutic disciplines are confronted with new approaches: statistics, stemmata, plausibility checks. True Digital Humanities therefore require investments in training (logic, algorithms, statistics …) and infrastructure (repositories) as well us a cultural shift toward collaborative forms of work, Lauer says.

So: What exactly is Digital Humanities? In a narrower sense it is the analysis of digital sources such as the quantitative historical research with the help of databases. It is still open, whether we are really dealing with a paradigm shift in the humanities. Currently it only seems to be a medial extension or enlargement. But portals of integrated information and horizontal functioning networks have a great potential, the Academy says. And that’s true.


Guido Koller

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

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