Computational Problems in the Digital Humanities
Scholars in the (digital) humanities and in computer science have much to gain from direct interaction with each other. Many computational techniques have been roundly demonstrated to apply to research questions in the humanities; computer science research questions, in turn, are often provoked by challenges in other disciplines. This course is an experiment: what happens when computer scientists and humanists (not that these are distinct categories) spend a semester together in dialog? What new insights might be gained? What new research questions formulated? Boundaries challenged? Collaborations forged?
This course is open to all students with scholarly affinities anywhere along the following spectrum
(on one end, the) Humanist:
You are a scholar of the humanities
with an interest in using computational methods
to support your research. You seek novel arguments, novel processes, and novel collaborations.
(and on the other, the) Technologist:
You are a scholar of computation
with an interest in applying computational methods to novel problems. You seek novel problem domains, novel solutions, and novel collaborations.
A new “science” emerges where a new problem is pursued by a new method.... [L]iterature is not an object, it’s a problem, and a problem that asks for a new critical method: and no one has ever found a method by just reading more texts. That’s not how theories come into being; they need a leap, a wager—a hypothesis, to get started. (Moretti, Distant Reading)
In this course, we will consider literature and other problems of the humanities. We will collectively wager on the potential energy of diverse scholarly preparations brought into close proximity. Perhaps, we will bring into being new theories and new methods, both computational and humanist.
For this course, our most valuable assets will be not what we know, but how well we can say, “I don't understand.” Our task will be not to perform our knowledge for others who share it but to communicate it effectively across “disciplinary” boundaries.
Ideally, this course will address problems in both computing and the humanities, and, through those problems, uncover both new techniques and new problems in both domains.
The topics we address will be largely determined by student interest, research questions, etc. Because we will examine our topics from both humanistic and technological perspectives, we will limit ourselves to five or six. Some possible (very broad) topics:
1. Text Encoding
2. Text Analysis
3. Natural Language Processing
4. Network Analysis
5. Mapping and Geographic Data
6. Computational Musicology
Learning Objectives and Course Activities
Upon completion of this course, students will have gained experience:
1. engaging in scholarly discourse with scholars and texts outside their discipline/specialization
2. formulating and carrying out a collaborative multi-disciplinary research project This experience will come from three primary activities:
1. Reading and discussion of both humanities and computing texts, with an emphasis on trans- disciplinary conversation.
2. Presenting on (or, hopefully, teaching) a reading.
3. Collaborative research project.
Students will also keep a reading/research journal in which they will record their impressions of, responses to, and questions provoked by the readings, as well as reflections on the research component of the course.
Moretti, Franco. Distant Reading.
Works published in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Journal of Digital Humanities, and similar sources. Works published in venues associated with computer science.
Other tools, case studies, etc.
Course grades will be assigned based on:
Discussion Participation 20%
Course project 40%
Scott Dexter received his PhD in Computer Science and Engineering from The University of Michigan in 1998. During his graduate studies, he was a leader in the Graduate Employees Organization (the union representing Graduate Student Instructors). Most of his fellow leaders were humanists, so he had an unusually high extracurricular exposure to humanist methods of inquiry. He began teaching at Brooklyn College immediately after receiving his PhD, striving in vain to satisfy his curiosity about what humanists do. He has taught courses in software design and development, technology ethics, cryptography and security, and artificial intelligence. He has co-authored two books: An Introduction to Programming Using Java: An Object-Oriented Approach, 2e (Addison-Wesley, 2003), with Gerald Weiss and David Arnow; and Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software (Routledge, 2007), with Samir Chopra. His writing has also appeared in Culture Machine, Ethics and Information Technology, Mind & Society, and Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.