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Shoot with Many Guns: How Can the Digital Aid the Humanities?

Report DH Benelux 2015, Antwerp

by Jesper Verhoef and Melvin Wevers

Photo by Sally Chambers

Photo by Sally Chambers

During the annual Digital Humanities Benelux conference, this year in Antwerp, it became clear that the focus of Digital Humanities (DH) has shifted in recent times. Earlier conferences and workshops on DH were dominated by the question whether tools should be put to use in humanities research in the first place. In 2015, the attention seems to have shifted to trying to answer how tools can be put to use within different disciplines of the humanities. On the program, there were not only humanists that wanted something from computer scientist, but also projects that had successfully combined the skills of humanists and computer scientist, and presentations by computer scientists that also inspired the humanists in the audiences. 

A returning topic was that the researcher should strive to use as many tools and techniques as possible. Antal van den Bosch described this approach as shooting with many guns. After an exploratory phase, one could then compare and contrast the outputs, which directs the researcher towards new insights or hypotheses. In our own presentation, we advocated a similar approach. We stressed that there is no “one size fits all.” Every scholar, historians not in the last place, has access to a freely available digital toolkit, with which a corpus can be created, queried, and analyzed. Like a carpenter building a table, a historian needs multiple tools to construct a historical narrative, while at the same time gauging the applicability of the tool (tool criticism) and the historical relevance of the source (source criticism). We coined this process the Digital Humanities Cycle – an updated version of the empirical cycle. Based on experiences from our own Translantis project, we presented how we went about our historical research following an iterative process of heuristics, hermeneutics, tool criticism, corpus faceting, and source criticism.

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