• Would you like fries with that?

    No, I’m not talking about employment and DH or #alt-ac anything like that… I’m picking up a conversation that Tom Scheinfeldt addresses in his blog post “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” The post, republished in Debates in the Digital Humanities, equates DH to the role Robert Hooke played for 40 years until his death in 1703. As someone whose job it was “to prepare public demonstrations of scientific phenomena for the fellows’ meetings,” Hooke demonstrated scientific curiosities that at first had no apparent purpose. Answers did come, eventually, but not until the 18th and 19th centuries.

    I raise this in light of what many of us will be doing in the workshops (and having read about research other THATCampVAers have discussed–GIS, sound, image modeling, etc–as well as my own work with visualizations) and I wonder if at some point we all don’t address a similar question: “What do visualizations in the humanities really do?” Are we at a point where we could argue that visualizations produce “new” knowledge? I am coming at these questions from two perspectives. First, as someone who uses visualizations to explain ways to reconsider the structural underpinnings of a particular genre of poetry. Readers’ expectations of digitally enabled visualizations are often that they should “tell us something new.” And yet, most visualizations don’t–not yet, anyway. Most tell us what we already know, differently.  Secondly, I work in a disciplinary area intimately concerned with the historical tensions between meaning-making in spatial and temporal forms of representation. Western thought creates a binary relationship between images and words, and images are frequently viewed with suspicion. How do we know what they say? For this reason, images on their own aren’t really considered “scholarship.” That’s something that might change, but hasn’t yet. However, as we make spatial arguments to address humanities questions, what role can we see visualizations having in the changing climate of scholarly conversation/publication?

    So, I guess what I’m saying (rather circuitously) is that I’d like to have a session in which we think through what visualizations in humanities do. Considered in conjunction with the workshops and the “show and tell” sesson on Saturday afternoon, I’m interesting in thinking about: What are visual analyses? What can we reasonably assert is their value now and their potential value? What is the value in displaying humanities data if it doesn’t tell us something we don’t already know? Are visualizations the “fries” to the DH burger, or are they a meal of their own? (Ok, I’ve extended that metaphor *way* too far… and now I’m hungry.)

    Looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend!

2 Comments


  1. Profile photo of cforster cforster says:

    This is a conversation I would love to be a part of; and, at the risk of unduly complicating things, to my mind it recalls that other infamous Tom Scheinfeldt question: are we experiencing the sunset of ideology?

    I see these questions as connected insofar as what is at stake is what counts as knowledge. How do we know we’re doing humanities research? (Note, spectres of theory.) Are visualizations (etc) just new tools to answer old questions?

  2. Eric Rettberg says:

    Also a conversation I’d like to have… and also, perhaps, a chance to get into some of the theory/practice discussions that have been so prominent in DH lately.

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