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

Guido Koller

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

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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

Guido Koller

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

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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

Guido Koller

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

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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

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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The Book in the Digital Information Age

Michael Giesecke, Von den Mythen der Buchkultur zu den Visionen der Informationsgesellschaft, Frankfurt a.M., 2002

Review for the Digital Humanities

What happens to the book in the digital information era? If there is one to know, it is Michael Giesecke, Professor for Comparative Literary studies at the Erfurt University. The media theorist published a reference work on book printing in the Renaissance. Thereto he links his new book. He diagnoses the collapse of the “book culture” in the post-industrial society and postulates a remedy – a new orientation or direction – with the help of information-theoretical approaches. Both in this “Second Renaissance” is of interest for the Digital Humanities, of course. I will concentrate therefore on two of Giesecke’s many theses: on information as a production factor and on the new forms of collective collaboration in the information society. 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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Digital Humanities and Google: Ancient Places

Google has digitized around 15 million books  and supports researchers in their analysis

15 million books – that is around 10 percent of all books that have been published since Gutenberg. How can so much material be handled usefully? Historians help Google to create “Google Ancient Places”. Which sites play an important role in books about the classic Antique? See http://googleancientplaces.com

Guido Koller

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

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We think: Charles Leadbeater and the Digital Humanities

Charles Leadbeater, We-think, Mass innovation, not mass production: The Power of Mass Creativity, London, 2009 (Updated Version)

Review with respect to digital humanities

Charles Leadbeater is an authority on creativity in organizations in the English-speaking world. In particular he worked on knowledge-driven innovation strategies. Leadbeater is inter alia Member of the influential London think-tank Demos and the Oxford University’s Said Business School. He is considered an important supporter of the Pro-Am [ateur] revolution. The question arises as to the relevance of his ideas for the digital humanities. Continue reading

Guido Koller

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

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