Deep Map

A deep map as for instance the Swiss Storymap anchors historical objects – letters, photos, reports etc. – in time and space, thus allowing us to obtain layers of views on our cultural heritage. Such a  universal humanities GIS (Trevor Harris) would base on a geospatial Web in which participants are both producers and consumers of data. So, geography would situate us on a physical map, history in time. It is necessary to combine both, structure and activity, to cater the “dense contingency” of all social life, David J. Bodenhamer says (please see my review on his input at the Luxembourg Conference to this). He is an expert on the spatial turn in historical research and links it to the potential of Web 2.0.  So, at the end Geographical Information Systems (GIS) can reduce the distance between observer and observed, let the past appear as dynamic and contingent as the present.

In the time of World War One a well equipped patrol of the Swiss Army is making a break. Do you know where the photo has been taken? Locate it on Swiss Storymap.

Copyright photo: Swiss Federal Archives, E27#1000721#14094#2592.

Guido Koller

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

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Did you ever want to know how historians work?

Anne Kwaschik, Mario Wimmer, Von der Arbeit des Historikers, Ein Wörterbuch zu Theorie und Praxis der Geschichtswissenschaft, Bielefeld, 2010 (Histoire Band 19)

Review

How do historians work? At the desk with paper, French historian Lucien Febvre answered this question laconic. He did no longer believe to get facts by reading texts, turned away from the “bookish history” towards a “science of man”. It should be interdisciplinary and team-oriented, just in line with the intention of the editors of the dictionary to be discussed. Therefore, we find here keywords, which have been worked by geographers, sociologists and philosophers and, naturally, historians. It is the result of an effort that has been taken place in a workshop (Marc Bloch), the modern workplace in historical research. In this “production space” (Richard Sennett) technical skills are being taught. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Everyone’s history?! An inventory on writing contemporary history in the digital age

Frédéric Clavert, Serge Noiret (Editors), L’histoire contemporaine à l’ère numérique, Contemporary History in the Digital Age, Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 381 p.

Review

The humanities are subject to a continuous, but recently accelerated change. In the meantime, this change has a powerful name: Digital Humanities. And this name is program – the humanities are to be made ​​ fit for the digital age. To this, in october 2009, a symposium took place, organized by the Centre virtuel de la connaissance sur l’Europe and the University of Luxembourg. The aim was to take into view the new sources, tools and methods of contemporary history. The contributions are now available in a rich anthology, edited by Frédéric Clavert and Serge Noiret, two protagonists of the Digital Humanities in Europe. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Digital_Humanities: THE Book!

Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp, Digital_Humanites, Cambridge 2012

A short cut and some remarks

“Two decades ago, working with digital documents was the exception. Today it is the norm” – Anne Burdick and her co-authors write; and: “If the humanities are to thrive and not just exist in niches of privilege, they will have to visibly demonstrate the contributions to knowledge and society they are making in the digital era”. This extremely interesting book from the MIT studies emerging methods and genres, cases as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), new textual corpuses and virtual reconstructions, deals with “the social life of the Digital Humanities”, confronts us with some “provocations” and ends with a short practical guide to the emerging Digital Humanities. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Digital History. Ready made.

Peter Haber, Digital Past, Geschichtswissenschaft im Digitalen Zeitalter, München 2011

Review

“What happens to the historiography in the digital age”, Peter Haber, Basel University, wants to know. His concern is primarily about three things: The origins of electronic data processing in the historical sciences, the changing of the production of historical knowledge and the emerging of a new “Workshop of the Historian” (Marc Bloch). Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Twitter in the Humanities

Microblogging more and more is an issue in the Humanities, too. ResearchGate, for instance, allows the exchange of short information in research and scienceBut better known is Twitter. Mareike König from the DHI in Paris has published an interesting and detailed guide to the use of Twitter in History (in German). Here an English short cut. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Digital Humanities: Short Outline of a Theory of Practice

Pierre Bourdieu, Entwurf einer Theorie der Praxis. Auf der ethnologischen Grundlage der kabylischen Gesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main 1976 (French original 1972)

Review with respect to Digital Humanities

Preliminary remarks: I have tried to outline framework and parameters for the Digital Humanities in previous posts: the delegitimization of great storiesdecentration in the epistemes, the question of the place (lieux) and of the time (presence), the relevance of the media (book, documents, as well as other archival sources), of algorithms and (Big) Data and, finally, the notion of authorship and the conditions of production (Charles Leadbeater). I have also presented some examples for Digital History (Wolfgang Schmale, Kiran Klaus Patel, Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, Google applications) and, finally, a comment from a specialist of a leading platform of the Digital Humanities to these questions.

It is time, to think about the theory of practice in the Digital Humanities. And who would be better suited as an inspiration to do this than Pierre Bourdieu. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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La place dans les Humanités Digitales – Commentaire

Le billet “The place in the Digital Humanities” du 8 Juin 2012 (revue du livre Non-lieux de Marc Augé) me semble intéressant et je vous donnerai mon opinion, non pas exclusivement depuis la perspective des communautés des humanités numériques et de leurs lieux de vie et de travail mais depuis mon expérience générale des communautés numériques et physiques. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: The analog virtual Humanist

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time, Harvard University Press, 1997

Review with respect to digital humanities (avant la lettre)

A key feature of Digital History are hypertexts (to that, see the post on Wolfgang Schmale about Digital History). The possibility to link informational objects (text, image, video, sound) in a text distinguishes a hypertext from a conventional text. For historians it is actually a long-cherished dream that comes true: they can now combine their text, the result of their research, with the sources, the raw material of their scientific work. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Open up the Workshop of the Historian!

Pierre Mounier, Die Werkstatt des Historikers öffnen: Soziale Medien und Wissenschaftsblogs, November 4, 2011

Review with respect to digital humanities

How digital technologies are changing the work of historians?

Data bases, (retro)digitization and analysis of social networks are important milestones. Digital technology has changed the toolbox of historians and their publishing fundamentally. Digital technology and its social impacts carry all signs of a “permanent revolution” according to Philippe Breton. These are new practices of interconnected communication, which are also broadly reflected in the humanities. The tools of Web 2.0 are characterized by their easy use and their horizontal and immediate nature of communication: Platforms for sharing content (documents, photos, references), blogs and social networks provide an ensemble of social media for scientific use. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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Wolfgang Schmale: A New Practice in Digital History

Wolfgang Schmale, Digitale Geschichtswissenschaft, Wien, Köln, Weimar, 2010

Review with respect to digital humanities

Wolfgang Schmale, Vienna University, wonders whether “digital media are historically powerful”. It struck him that digitization transforms space and time in “flowing, unbounded categories”. The digital image of a medieval manuscript, for example, is something different than its original. Its code in dots per inch (dpi) produces a “presentification” on the screen. This goes along with a focus on the individual. Millions of “private archives” are established. Does arise from this a new “power in history”, a “digital history”?

Digital media and specifically the Web have a “dimension of depth” that increases with the length of experience. This “media revolution” consists of several components. The focus is on technology. The work in the humanities is now obvious on the computer screen. This forms a part of the “process of networking”. But “digital history” is not a fact yet, for the time being only “a potential”, “a way”. It must be more creative, if it wants to be succesful  in the net.

Another important component of the “media revolution” is the “liquefaction and acceleration of communication”. Not just access to but also the exchange of the (processed) information, that is, ultimately, research as such is accelerating. Its infrastructure will be shifting more and more into the network. For historiography is thereby crucial to set standards for the quality of content against the openness of the network. The network changes the relationships between individual, collective and knowledge: The loss of individual authority in terms of knowledge contrasts with the profit of importance in the collective formation of historical sense. The sum of all these factors then results in “digital history”, Schmale says.

Not knowledge but “networking knowledge and people” is power, Vannevar Bush said in his famous essay of 1945 “As we may think”. An impressive evidence of this is Wikipedia, in which knowledge is no longer bound to a specific socio-professional group. For the construction of an encyclopaedia of “historical cultural studies” old and new content should be descriped in such a way that semantic connections between data sets can be found (descriptors). In the foreground stand thus indexing, classify and tagging, as in pastperfect.at, Schmale says.

First and foremost on the wish list of researchers is the access to digital sources. Here much is done in the archives, but “digitizing all record groups would not be justified by any cost-benefit-analysis”, Schmale believes. Another priority issue are “collaborative digital work tools” as in pastperfect.at, where hypertexts are jointly produced. The opening up of the Web is especially exciting for the development of historical science. How do you recount “historical phenomena that have a network-nature”, Schmale asks. The “fluid” can only be handled by hypertexts as medium – here is the place where “digital history” is being developed, he says (see my post to the The place in the Digital Humanities, to this).

And then Schmale starts heating things up in his essay: The world in which the Web gains significant importance is that of the “civilization of metropolises”; here “social relationships mutate from a structure to a network”, to a hypertext so to say. It is not entirely clear why this is so. But: Here we find “history, which takes place on the Net”. And by that the position from where we operate historiography is changing radical. So: What is “digital history”? A “science of historical coherence” in networks with “fluid and volatile individuals”, the (re-) presentation of stories in hypertext, Schmale says; for him digital history is a part of historical science that, as a whole, is going to be a “hybrid science”.

Remark / interjection: Digital History as a collection of stories in the form of hypertexts strongly refers to the concept of bricolage as we know it from Claude Lévi-Strauss (please see my post to this and the concept of decentration from Jacques Derrida).

Reading Schmale consequently one believes that “the end of historical monograph” has come. But, fortunately, no: In his view the book remains the domain of „grand scientific stories“ (see my separate post on The Book in the Digital Information Age to this). How does this work together with the “civilization of hypertexts”? Schmale believes, contrary to Michel Foucault, in the “eminent personal and individual deed of science”. He therefore primarily seems to advocate a renewal of the communication of research results. So, Schmale recognizes the digital revolution. But, where Charles Leadbeater advocates the Pro-Am-Revolution (see Link for the review), he wants to keep and reinforce the place of the historiography and its experts. He therefore counts on the Semantic Web. Schmale’s ideas form an important contribution for a coherent concept of “digital history”. To this please see also my post on Peter Haber’s Digital History.

Post Scriptum:

(1) One popular visual communication instrument are slides. They often are awful boring. But, not this one: QualitativeVersus Quantitative Research – Visualization in the Humanities. It is simple and effective in the best sense, a good example in order to show that visualization in the humanities must not be directed against the text but can very well go with it.

(2) A very interesting project in order to visualize archival sources is Trading Consequences: A Case Study of Combining Text Mining & Visualisation to Facilitate Document Exploration from the Universities of Edinburgh, Saskatchewan and St. Andrews. It has been presented at the DH Conference 2014 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Guido Koller

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

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