Pamphlet No 6 – Between Distant and Close reading

Franco Moretti explains the “Operationalizing” of Distant reading in an interesting pamphlet from the Stanford Literary Lab (see below). Operationalization is a process that transforms a concept into a series of operations. This in turn makes it possible to measure objects. In an empirical approach to literature we measure the space which a character occupies in a text. Continue reading

Any room left for freedom in a programmed world? – Vilém Flusser and the Digital Humanitites

Now, if one accepts the basic thesis that the world is experienced, recognized and evaluated in the network of codes, […].

Flusser thinks history as a sequence of codes of an alphabetical order. This suggests a linear historical world. In contrast, Flusser sees the computer as a phenomenon of post-history. It dissolves structural oppositions such as subject and object, nature and culture. Now adays this Decentration is seen as a network phenomena. Continue reading

Virtual History

Bild Ferguson Virtual History2011, Penguin published a book with the promising title: „Virtual History“. There, Niall Ferguson presented 9 articles “towards a ‘chaotic’ theory of the past”. Exciting, the digital historian thinks, and begins to attack the introduction of almost 100 pages. Soon, he finds out that the book deals with questions as the following: What if Britain had stayed out of the First World War? What if Hitler had defeated the Soviet Union? So the point of the book is counterfactual history and not, as expected, virtual digital history. A close look on the circumstances of the publication makes it clear: Penguin has reprinted the book that has first been published 1997 – probably because the editor has become famous. Continue reading

Qualitative Versus Quantitative Research – Visualization in the Humanities

In communicating and teaching humanities visualization become more and more important. One popular visual communication instrument are slides. More and more of them are shared on Slideshare. A very nice example is Sampling in Qualitative and Quantitative Research from Sam Ladner. The Senior Researcher at Microsoft Office shows us sampling methods and let us have a practical how-to-do. Her key themes are quantitative and qualitative assumptions in sampling, types of samplings, ethnographic and interview sampling and content analysis sampling. Continue reading

Forget it !? Memory and the formation of historical meaning in the “broad presence”

Summary of my Intervention at the Colloquium of the University of Lucerne, Zeit-Geschichte-Unterricht, 7. November 2014

Link to the original german manuscript

The intervention wants to make the audience familiar with questions about the current understanding of time and its consequences for history. It examines the assumption of HansUlrich Gumbrecht, according to which we live in a “broad presence”. For that, the intervention presents 4 Tableaux from which it structures the material [1] for three theses. Continue reading

Also digitally produced history needs a shop to sell its products

A contribution to the Debate about Texts and Books in the Digital Age

Production and distribution of books are expensive, which is why researchers are in need of financial support. In Switzerland, so far, researcher counted on the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), which subsidizes such projects. However, the SNSF has now changed its conditions: It finances only work before printing on the condition that the texts after a certain time, for example two years, are accessible online. So, the SNSF confirms its strategic support for the #OpenAccess Strategy in the sciences. But, apparently unexpectedly for the SNSF, parts of the scientific community respond comparatively fierce and critical. The debate was also held in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ, see below) in the last weeks. Continue reading

Digital History in Zurich and elsewhere

For a Workshop about Digital History held on May 13, 2014 at the University in Zurich, reports are now available, notably on HSozKult (in German). Here an English short cut of this report by Christina Rothen:

Christina Rothen: Digital History, 13.05.2014 –14.05.2014 Zürich, in: H-Soz-Kult, 18.07.2014, <>.

Please be aware that any changes I made to the original, including possible distortions in meaning, are solely my own responsibility.

Here an English short cut: Continue reading

Humanities, Texts, Books, Digital Age — The controversy in Switzerland

The Swiss National Science Foundation wants research results freely available on the internet and links the promotion of scientific research closely to this requirement. Does this Open Access Strategy mean that the culture of the book is threatened in Switzerland? A petition in the internet calls for more money for publishers in the  humanities and more freedom for the  authors. Meanwhile, more than four thousand people have signed it. Continue reading

We need Digital Texts — Data that can be processed: About NLP for Historical Texts

Historical texts are more often available in digital form. Digitization should preserve cultural heritage and make documents accessible. Such projects increasingly strive to create digital text—data, that can be searched and processed. Together with the increasing availability of digital historical texts, there is a growing interest in applying natural language processing (NLP) methods and tools to them. Specific linguistic properties of historical texts—the lack of standardized orthography in particular—pose special challenges. Michael Piotrowski’s book gives an introduction to NLP and deals with such problems for historical texts. Continue reading

The Thinking follows the Data

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine of 12th March 2014, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht writes that the humanities are helpless towards the digital revolution. That we must invent new terms to get along with it. That our traditional concepts and ways of thinking are opposed to it – which means that its development and  influence have drifted out of the reach of our intellectual and scientific analysis. Gumbrecht believes, that now only we see the whole significance of the thoughts of Jacques Derrida and those about The Truth of the Technical World of Friedrich Kittler. Gumbrecht forgets to mention Foucault’s L’archéologie du savoir, here. Continue reading

Big Data in History

Patrick Manning, Big Data in History, London 2013

The author, Patrick Manning, is Professor of World History at the University of Pittsburgh. He pursues a big goal: As a Director of the Center for Historical Information and Analysis (CHIA) he wants to develop and build up a world wide historical archive, thinking that time has come to create a coherent record of human social change. He compares his project to those in climate modeling and genetic databases. The small book is an introduction into the project of the CHIA, that exists since 2007. Continue reading

After Literature – Some Comments on the Current Boom in History

Sometimes memories throw long shadows into the future – as in the case of the commemoration of the First World War. Long before the anniversary of its inception in August 1914 the first books on the subject appeared in the stores. A very special one is the view of Philipp Blom on Europe from 1900 until 1914. The tumbling of a continent, he calls his impressions, which he skillfully unfolds before us. He takes them from reports from former newspapers, contemporary novels and essays and interprets them with a whole armada of secondary literature. The result is a panorama of an era, which, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, “was remarkably similar to the our’s”. Continue reading

The Truth of the Technical World

Friedrich A. Kittler, „Die Wahrheit der technischen Welt, Essays zur
Genealogie der Gegenwart“, Berlin 2013

Remarks to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s Edition

Friedrich A. Kittler was a controversial scientist: His enthusiasm for technology, mathematics, psychoanalysis, and rock music and his delight in the eclectic speculation were suspect to many of us. But not to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: For him Kittler’s work is  “idea and promise of a truth” to our technological world. As a history of technology, Kittler’s narrative of cultural history forms, perhaps, a figure of thought, which contributes to the “understanding of the digital present and future”. Gumbrecht, who is interested in the cultural consequences of digitization, therefore wants to expose the potential that lies in this work. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Digital survey of culture and history

Gerhard Lauer, „Die digitale Vermessung der Kultur, Geisteswissenschaften als Digital Humanities“, in: Big Data, Das neue Versprechen der Allwissenheit, Berlin 2013


Digitization is a revolution. It shakes the hierarchy of values ​​in the humanities: Until recently, interpretation and hermeneutics have been everything, computing nothing. Now, Digital Humanities denote a supplement, respectively, a change in methodology. Continue reading