Drucker: “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.”

Drucker, Johanna. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Web.

Key Words
Data visualization

The tools from which the Digital Humanities draw inspiration, methodology, and scholarship are produced by fields which are still moored in positivistic, mechanistic, quantitative, and reductionist frameworks. Drucker asks if humanists can “design … digital environments that embody specific theoretical principles drawn from the humanities, [and] not merely work within platforms and protocols created by disciplines whose methodological premises are often at odds with—even hostile to—humanistic values and thought?” Drucker sees the tools and processes of data visualization to be hostile to the values and goals of the humanities.

Drucker calls for a DH shift away from reading technology and toward making technology. The DH should emphasize readings as interpretive in nature, readings as constructing their own discourse [cf. Barthes S/Z]. Drucker sees the work of data visualization as in its infancy in the humanities, revolving around the processes of quantifying and sorting at present (dealing with what is already known), as opposed to the more complex processes of statistical analyses performed in other disciplines and fields (“Statisticians are concerned with probabilities, not certainties.”). Drucker looks at mapping in particular, and the representational complexities associated with any projection of geography, including (especially) the photographic images presented by such entities as Google Maps. Drucker posits situatednes (primarily framed through individual experience) and enunciation (primarily framed through cultural systems that assemble social selves) as principles which would help shape the DH into a true humanistic enterprise.

Key Quotes
“While it may seem like an extreme statement, I think the ideology of almost all current information visualization is anathema to humanistic thought, antipathetic to its aims and values. The persuasive and seductive rhetorical force of visualization performs such a powerful reification of information that graphics such as Google Maps are taken to be simply a presentation of ‘what is,’ as if all critical thought had been precipitously and completely jettisoned. Therefore, this is a critical moment to identify core theoretical issues in the humanities and develop digital platforms that arise from these principles.”

“I think we can fairly say that the intellectual traditions of aesthetics, hermeneutics, and interpretative practices (critical editing, textual studies, historical research) are core to the humanities.”

“The challenge is to shift humanistic study from attention to the effects of technology (from readings of social media, games, narrative, personae, digital texts, images, environments), to a humanistically informed theory of the making of technology (a humanistic computing at the level of design, modeling of information architecture, data types, interface, and protocols).”

“Statisticians are concerned with probabilities, not certainties. They do not count things; they model conditions and possible outcomes. Data mining in the humanities has largely depended on counting, sorting, ordering techniques—in essence, some automated calculations. Statistical modeling has factored less, at least to date, in the analytic tool kit of critical digital work with texts. Stylometrics, attribution studies, natural language processing, and other higher level analyses have long made use of these sophisticated modeling techniques, but graphing ambiguous and partial knowledge is still in its early stages.”

“The theoretical underpinnings of humanistic interpretation are fundamentally at odds with the empirical approaches on which certain conventions of temporal and spatial modeling are based. All maps are constructions, and the history of cartography, like the histories of other graphical forms of knowledge, is filled with productive debates about the ideological and rhetorical force of mapping techniques.”

“The primary strategy for undoing the force of reification is to introduce parallax and difference, thus taking apart any possible claim to the self-evident or self-identical presentation of knowledge and replacing this with a recognition of the made-ness and constructedness that inhere in any representation of knowledge.”

“Humanistic conventions for the graphical production of spatial knowledge and interpretation would spring from the premises of situatedness and enunciation. “

“The question is not, Does digital humanities need theory? but rather, How will digital scholarship be humanistic without it?”

Further Reading

Moretti, Franco. “Conjectures on World Literature.” 2000.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. 2008.

McGann, Jerome J. Radiant Textuality. 2001.


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