‘Digital humanities’ means nothing

Los Angeles Review of Books” has launched series of interviews with theorists related to digital humanities. In the first part Melissa Dinsman talks with Franco Moretti, professor at the Stanford University and initiator of the Stanford Literary Lab.

His seminal books Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (2005) and Distant Reading (2013) are the core of theories of digital humanities. First one presents a scientific approach to literature, namely the use of visualization of data in literary studies. Such approach is a result of his geographical research conducted in the 90. when he published Atlas of the European Novel (1998). Quantitative methods turned out to be helpful and relevant with mapmaking. Around 2005 he met Matt Jockers who joined Stanford University as a technology specialist. From that moment they started to work together. His last book is about visualization methods in humanities and to be more precise, a way of reading the visualization. Moretti coined the term “distant reading” as opposed to “close reading”. While “close reading” focuses on studying particular, small part of text, “distant reading” makes possible to read and analyze massive amounts of data. His motto to not read books provoked a storm in the humanities. However, it is only solution to deal with data deluge and to learn from them something that it is unreachable through “close reading”.

The series of interview conducting by Dinsman is devoted to digital humanities, covering “computational research, digital reading and writing platforms, digital pedagogy, open-access publishing, augmented texts, and literary databases, media archeology and theories of networks, gaming, and wares both hard and soft” etc. Digital humanities has become an umbrella term. Therefore, it is not surprise that Moretti claimed that “‘digital humanities’ means nothing”. The conversation touches issues such as definition of digital humanities, its role at the time of crisis of humanities, and making the humanities relevant for the 21st-century university by focusing on “practice-based project” etc.

The interview available here.

3D-printed Rembrandt

The Next Rembrandt” is astounding 3D-printed Rembrandt painting designed by a team of developers with the technical support of Microsoft and backing from Dutch bank ING. The aim of project was to create new work “made by Rembrandt” by using data from his existing paintings. Designed software system recognizes Rembrandt based on his use of geometry, composition, and painting materials. Then software replicates his style and also generates new facial features what was probably the biggest challenge. Distilling the artistic DNA from piece to create new work shows again incredible capabilities of new technology, software system, digital tools and “big data” in the art and humanities.

ACLA 2016!

In this year the American Comparative Literature Association’s Annual Meeting took place at Harvard University in Cambridge on March 17-20. Big conference gathered nearly 3000 people from over the world. Nearly 270 seminars were divided into four streams. The various topics of seminars were related to different studies at the crossroads of the humanities and other fields, such as affect studies, queer studies, global studies, trauma studies, immaterial studies, sleep studies, popular culture, digital humanities, big data, data surveillance, animal studies, zoopoetics, dance, capitalism and slavery, performance, photography, postcolonialism, cartography etc.

My own presentation was the part of the seminar “Public Humanities in the Digital Age”. I was talking about bringing categories from science into humanities practice and its implication for the public humanities. It was nice to see that my topic attracted listeners’ attention and encouraged them to comments and discussion. This is the first part of my research devoted to the shifts in the humanities, ‘scientification’ of the humanities and  laboratory-based model for the humanities work. Nowadays, I have prepared an article for publication, based on my presentation. I hope it will be released successfully very soon. Next, I plan to investigate new methods of humanities research, conducting not in ‘office’ anymore, but in the ‘humanities labs’ implying new ways of work. So stay tuned!

Researchers in the humanities have been looking for new tools and strategies to overcome what has been called, in recent years, a crisis. According to these efforts, it is possible to change prevailing views that the humanities represent arcane or irrelevant fields by changing frames in ways that show the humanities to be useful, accessible, and actionable. Specifically, researchers have been claiming for the humanities frames and concepts from the sciences – for example, the idea of humanities ‘labs’ – that signal quantifiability, verifiability, and functionality. Increasingly, this ‘scientification of humanities’ is a crucial strategy to obtain grant funding and public support for research. (For example, NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants require a ‘data management plan’, a fairly novel requirement for humanities research.). Following the lead of Lev Manovich’s question “The Science of Culture?”, this paper examines the effect upon the humanities of the importation of terms from science such as laboratory, project, data, collaboration, data visualization, and analytics. The digital humanities, more than any other domain of the humanities, illustrates the processes by which the humanities in the 21st century seeks to become ‘public’: accessible (the publication of work-in-progress on the Internet), functional (providing digital tools for research), comprehensible, and attractive (aesthetic data visualizations).


Humanities and computer science are not two separate worlds anymore, what is visible in dynamic and developing field of digital humanities (DH). Although digital humanities is not an academic discipline, there is no study devoted merely to DH, some universities have introduced additional courses or PhD studies in the scope of digital humanities. Digital humanities is the area of research conducting at the intersection of the humanities and computer science, and its aim is to elaborate digital tools to collect, organize, present and analyze texts for research in the humanities. DH is located in centers or laboratories that gather researchers from different academic fields. Therefore, it is interdisciplinary and collaborative field, two keywords of digital humanities.

Digital humanities does not solve all challenges that may be taken up by high-school students who have to choose between studying the humanities and computer science. Then, the question rises: how can we combine the humanistic spirit with a passion for programming? I believe this dilemma will be more and more common among next generations; surely in the US where president Obama released, couple weeks ago, a new initiative, called “Computer Science for All”, the goal of which is to “increase access to K-12 computer science education”.

Nowadays, if humanists want to delve into the secrets of programming, they can participate in seminars and workshops such as Digital Humanities Summer Institute, or study computer science on your own. It seems that a good solution would be to introduce practical courses (not only theory) within the humanities, focusing on practical using digital tools in research. Nevertheless, such strategy does not tackle all problems, since in this case, the humanities is the major field of study and computer science is only a supplement. So, how can we merge the humanities and computer science to put stress on them equally?

Stanford University has initiated a new program, informally known as “CS+X”, Computer Science+X, where “x” means one of 14 disciplines in the humanities, including history, art, and classics. As a result, you can choose, for example, “CS+Music”, studying either music cognition or acoustic technologies. It seems that the advantage of this program is strict focus on one field and an acquirement interdisciplinary knowledge. According to Jim Kurose, assistant director for computer and information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation, “CS+X degrees may not be meant for students who want to do deeply technical work as programmers, but rather for those who want to use data collection to analyze topics such as politics, society, and the environment”.

By looking at current, what has been called in recent years, a crisis in philology and literary studies, program “Computer Science + Philology” would reanimate philology, and in particularly, prove that this discipline, contrary to appearances, has been one of the most significant field. Digital collections, editing and digital reproduction of books, to name just a few, are essential research in the age of digitization of culture. You cannot (or should not) work on digital editions without philological knowledge. It is worth recalling Jerome McGann’s thought that a “philological system is fundamentally a system of social software” (“A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction”, 2014). This idea calls to mind also David M. Berry (“Understanding Digital Humanities”, 2012) who, in turn, claims that understanding culture is in some sense understanding digital technology.


Humanistyka i informatyka to już nie są dwa oddzielnie światy, czego dowodem jest dynamicznie rozwijająca się humanistyka cyfrowa (digital humanities – DH). DH nie jest jednak dyscypliną naukową, nie ma bowiem studiów poświęconych wyłącznie humanistyce cyfrowej, choć już niektóre uniwersytety wprowadziły studia doktoranckie z zakresu “Text and Technology”, albo proponują studia podyplomowe czy kursy w obszarze DH. Humanistyka cyfrowa jest obszarem badań, prowadzonych na przecięciu humanistyki i informatyki, których celem jest wypracowanie cyfrowych narzędzi metodologicznych do zbioru, organizacji, prezentacji i analizy tekstu. DH zlokalizowana jest w centrach czy laboratoriach, skupiających badaczy z różnych dyscyplin naukowych. Jest zatem “interdyscyplinarna” i “kolektywna” – dwa kluczowe pojęcia humanistyki cyfrowej.

Humanistyka cyfrowa nie rozwiązuje jednak problemów, z którymi mogą się zmagać uczniowie szkół średnich, wybierając kierunek studiów z obszaru nauk humanistycznych lub informatycznych. Jak bowiem połączyć humanistyczną duszę z pasją do programowania? Wierzę, że takie rozterki będę pojawiać się coraz częściej w kolejnych pokoleniach, a już na pewno na gruncie amerykańskim, gdzie kilka tygodni temu prezydent Obama ogłosił nowy program “Computer Science for All“, którego celem jest wprowadzenie edukacji informatycznej już od szkół podstawowych.

Obecnie humanistom, pragnącym zgłębić tajniki programowania, pozostaje uczestnictwo w kursach, warsztatach, bądź indywidualne studiowanie “komputerów”. Rozwiązaniem może być wprowadzenie na studiach przedmiotu “humanistyki cyfrowej”, nastawionego na praktyczne nauczanie zastosowań narzędzi cyfrowych w badaniach humanistów. Strategia ta nie rozwiązuje jednak wszystkich problemów, gdyż w tym przypadku studia humanistyczne są kierunkiem podstawowym, a informatyka pewnym dodatkiem. Jak zatem połączyć humanistykę i computer science w taki sposób, by nacisk na nie był równomierny?

Stanford University zaproponował nowy kierunek studiów, nieformalnie nazwany CS+X: “Computer Science + X”, w tym “x” oznacza jedną z 14 dyscyplin humanistycznych. W efekcie można studiować, np. “CS+Music”, ucząc się zarówno kognitywistycznych aspektów muzyki, jak i wykorzystania technologii w akustyce. Zaletą takich studiów jest ścisłe skoncentrowanie się na jednym obszarze badań i uzyskanie wiedzy interdyscyplinarnej. Jak stwierdza Jim Kurose z the National Science Foundation, CS+X nie ma na celu “wypuszczenie” na rynek programistów, ale studentów, którzy potrafią wykorzystywać narzędzia cyfrowe i zbiory danych do analiz socjologicznych czy politycznych.

Czy takie studia sprawdziłby się w Polsce? Kierunek “Filologia + Informatyka” mógłby nie tylko “zreanimować” filologię, ale i udowodnić, że dyscyplina ta, wbrew pozorom, nigdy nie była tak istotna jak teraz. Cyfrowe kolekcje, edytorstwo czy reprodukcja cyfrowa książek są bardzo ważnymi obszarami badań w dobie digitalizacji. Nie można bezkrytycznie przygotowywać edycji cyfrowych bez posiadania wiedzy filologicznej. Zgadzam się ze słowami Jeromego McGanna, który w swej fascynującej książce A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction (2014) stwierdza, że “system filologiczny jest zasadniczo systemem społecznego oprogramowania”. I tu przychodzą też na myśl słowa Davida M. Berry’ego, z Understanding Digital Humanities (2012), o współczesnej kulturze, którą można zrozumieć tylko poprzez zrozumienie cyfrowych technologii.

Listen to Multifractal “Finnegans Wake”

It says that “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce is the most difficult and mysterious novel in the history of literature. Lately researchers at Poland’s Institute of Nuclear Physics investigated a structure of “Finnegans Wake” by using statistical methods to analyze sentence length. The results of their research, published two weeks ago, are fascinating. It turned out that the novel has a complex ‘fractal’ patterning of sentences, put differently, the basic unit of novel is fractal, mathematical object in which each fragment, when expanded, has a form resembling the whole. Besides complex “multifractal structure”, “Finnegans Wake” is distinguished by using 60 different languages, thereby creating “a book impossible to read”. However, Joyce claimed that his novel can be understood by anyone who reads it correctly and aloud. Thus, “Finnegans Wake” is not only book to read, but also (maybe particularly) – book to listen.

Waywords and Meansigns: Recreating Finnegans Wake” is amazing project aimed to translate the entire Joyce’s book to pieces of music. A group of researchers, translator (among them Krzysztof Bartnicki, the author of the polish translation), and artists collectively worked to prepare 35-hour-long audiobook, consisting of 17 songs, and each of them corresponds to the book’s 17 chapters. Multifractal structure of “Finnegans Wake” is captured in various musical compositions, recorded by different musicians from different backgrounds – from amateurs to professional producers. How does each song reflect the significance of each chapter? Without a doubt, this is interesting research for humanists, and precisely for media comparatists.

Posłuchaj multifraktalny “Finnegans Wake”

“Finnegans Wake” Jamesa Joyce’a określa się najtrudniejszą i najbardziej tajemniczą książką w historii literatury. Badacze z polskiego Instytutu Fizyki Jądrowej PAN w Krakowie (IFJ PAN) niedawno wykazali, wykorzystując między innymi statystyczne analizy długości zdań, że budowa powieści Joyce’a opiera się na strukturze multifraktalnej, w której jednostką podstawową jest fraktal – samopodobny matematyczny obiekt, w którym każdy jego fragment, w momencie jego powiększenia, zyskuje strukturę przypominającą obiekt wyjściowy. Oprócz skomplikowanej budowy “Finnegans Wake” cechuje się także wykorzystaniem 60 różnych języków, tworząc tym samym “książkę nie do przeczytania”. Joyce uważał jednak, że jego dzieło może zrozumieć każdy, kto poprawnie i głośno je odczyta. “Finnegans Wake” nie jest zatem tylko książką do czytania, ale (może i głównie) do słuchania.

Waywords and Meansigns: Recreating Finnegans Wake” jest to niesamowity projekt, polegający na wydaniu całej powieści Joyce’a w formie utworów muzycznych. Grupa badaczy, tłumaczy (między innymi Krzysztof Bartnicki, autor polskiego przekładu “Finnegans Wake”) i artystów wspólnie przygotowała 35-godzinny audiobook, składający sie z 17 utworów odpowiadających kolejno 17 rozdziałom. Multistrukturalność “Finnegans Wake” znajduje swoje odzwierciedlenie w odmiennych muzycznie kawałkach, zrealizowanych przez różnych wykonawców: od amatorów po producentów muzycznych. W jaki sposób utwór muzyczny współgra z danym fragmentem powieści? Kolejny ciekawy temat badań dla humanistów, a dokładnie komparatystów mediów.

Hello world!

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