“The Humanities Scholar, the Meanings of Data, and the Radical Potential of Digital Humanities”
Miriam Posner, University of California Los Angeles
Thursday February 2, 5:30 p.m
Norlin Library N410
Digital humanists have no particular problem talking about data. We use it, trade it, and think about it constantly. Many “traditional” humanists, though, bristle at the notion that their sources constitute “data.” And yet humanists work with evidence, and they speak of proving their claims. So is this just a problem of terminology? I’ll argue in this talk that our data trouble is more substantial than we’ve acknowledged. The term “data” seems alien to the humanities not just because humanists aren’t used to computers, but because it exposes some very real differences in the way humanists and scholars from some other fields conceive of the work they do.
In this talk, I’ll outline the specific points of tension between the notion of data and the ways that humanists work with sources, and I’ll explain why I think this epistemological divide actually suggests some incredibly interesting avenues of investigation. In particular, could humanities scholars bring their concern with nuance and uncertainty to the data discussion? What would maps and data visualizations look like if they were built to show us categories like race or gender as they have been experienced, not as they have been captured and advanced by businesses and governments?