Data, Disciplines, and Dialogue: Lessons for Project Design

In: Asiascape: Digital Asia
Gerry van Klinken Royal Netherlands Institute for Caribbean and Southeast Asian Studies (KITLV) Reuvensplaats 2, Postbus 9515, 2300 ra Leiden The Netherlands

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A common assumption in Digital Humanities (dh) project design is that ‘data’ is simply there, ready to ‘drive’ the research. The funders of a dh project described in this paper adhered to this positivistic assumption in their founding White Paper. They saw disciplines as blinders, best left behind in order to better see ‘patterns’. However, positivism was not a real-world option for the social scientists, mathematicians, and information scientists engaged in this ‘blue sky’ project, which investigated digitized historical newspaper texts. Far from being a hindrance to their work, disciplinary traditions were central to any success they achieved. Instead of moving ‘beyond’ disciplines, they developed a pluralist, cross-disciplinary dialogue. Each participant contributed out of the epistemic convention that had proven fruitful in their discipline. The approach required an intellectual and emotional commitment to dialogue, and produced tantalizing rather than wholly satisfying results. But it holds promise of more.

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