Annotated Bibliography: Digital Humanities Methods

I feel like this annotated bibliography should come with a disclaimer: this isn’t any sort of definitive digital humanities methods collection. That’s not an expression of self-deprecation, but a sincere reflection on how difficult it is to frame a research method in DH when there isn’t one. If I could put digital humanities simply (and this is of course a too flattened depiction of the work), the research methods are the ways of doing DH work, and there’s any number of ways to do DH work based on variances in tools, textbases (text collections), and purpose. Going into this project, I was aware that I was going to encounter some difficulty in selecting core texts to the discipline about research methods. While digital humanities isn’t new per se, and there is an abundance of texts at varying scales and scopes and domains, I was looking for resources that attended to the tools and ways of doing digital humanities work that also cared for the methodological (or epistemological) impetus for the work, while not neglecting visualizing the work being done—not leaving it in theoretical abstraction.

I am fortunate enough to be taking Rhetoric, Composition, and Digital Humanities with Collin Gifford Brooke this semester, whose syllabus served as a conduit for finding sources. While some of the resources are texts (collections) we discuss/encounter in class, many of them were located vis a vis these texts. I found that Collin’s class functioned, for me, as the anchor in Cheryl Geisler’s “Anchoring in Literature” approach to finding good sources. As someone who identifies as a scholar of digital humanities, as he puts it “I’m a digital humanities person, back from before there was a digital humanities”, his knowledge was entry into locating texts in the discipline. Looking at my collected sources, it can be seen that Johanna Drucker comes up as three different sources, and that two collections—Debates in the Digital Humanities and the MLA Commons volume “Literary Studies in the Digital Age”— house a large percentage of the other collected resources, serving as foundational texts. Here, though, I would like to unpack what makes these foundational texts foundational, even though they don’t quite follow Cheryl Geisler’s cited reference search process (image page 3 from “Anchoring in the Literature”)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.35.18 PM

Many of these texts are digital and were designed to be digital—that is, many of these are not digitized version of print texts, but texts designed to be interacted with (though to varying extents and with different tools) through layered textual features. These foundational texts, while being foundational due to their being collections of selected works, seem to retain a certain fluidity that keeps them from becoming “The Collected Works of DH, edition 2013”—they’re responsive and responding to developments in the discipline.

I approached collecting these sources thinking about them as tags or keywords within a digital humanities cloud—representations of tools, interfaces, ethics, durability, text materials, etc. With further (or maybe closer and more distant reading) reading, I would like to visualize these texts more as an interface to doing digital humanities work, treating these texts as a textbase to apply DH methods to. What I would like this annotated bibliography to become is less an inventory of “big names” or key articles, and more a representation of what DH work can do.

Bianco, Jamie “Skye”. “This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. By Matthew K.. Gold. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota, 2012. Print.

“The digital humanities is one subset of computational and digitally mediated practices, though its current discursive regime articulates itself as an iteration of the one world, a world both felt and real. But work in computation and digital media is, in fact, a radically heterogeneous and a multimodally layered—read, not visible—set of practices, constraints, and codifications that operate below the level of user interaction. In this layered invisibility lies our critical work.”

Bianco is calling our attention to the “layered invisibility” of DH work that goes beyond consideration of context. It is the goal of DH research to reach broader publics outside of institutional academic, which takes on complicated considerations of ethics at every level of the research—the textbase created, how the textbase will be “read” for what interpretations, how the interpretations will be represented, collaboration, and access.

Clement, Tanya. “Text Analysis, Data Mining, and Visualizations in Literary Scholarship.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Literary Studies in the Digital Age. MLA Commons. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

Clement opens with an oft evoked resistance to digital methods in humanities research based on the interpretation of “these tools seem too objective or deterministic—digital tools seem to take the “human” (e.g., the significance of gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, and history) out of literary study”.  Clement sets out to challenge this resistance by “presenting several computer-assisted modes of scholarship that depend on differential (close and distant, subjective and objective) reading practices, technologies of self-reflection and collaboration, and the value of plausibility, all of which have always been crucial to literary inquiry”.

Clement offers a rich sampling of projects using a variety of digital tools, and explores the complex negotiation between the human and nonhuman actors in DH research as co-actors, or extensions of one another. Clement reveals work that connects method to methodology.

Cooney, Charles, Mark Olsen, and Glenn Roe. “The Notion of the Texbase: Design and Use of Textbases in the Humanities.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Literary Studies in the Digital Age. MLA Commons. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

Cooney et al. define textual database as “a term that denotes a coherent collection of semi- or unstructured digital documents – any realm that produces written discourse”. They explain that

“Textbases all cohere in some manner. Unlike their cousins, large repositories of digitized texts like Project Gutenberg or Google Books, textbases exist as corpora of documents assembled around some specific unifying principle” and are built to enable text-centered scholarly research. Cooney et al. work to describe a selection of humanities databases with attention to their design principles that inform how they can be used, as well as scholarly approaches to work that can be done from textbases. This exploration between design of a textbase and what it dis/allows provides a more nuanced look at data mining, patterns, and visualization.

Davidson, Cathy N. “Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. By Matthew K.. Gold. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota, 2012. Print.

Davidson explains that “Humanities 2.0 is distinguished from monumental, first-generation, data-based projects not just by its interactivity but also by an openness about participation grounded in a different set of theoretical premises, which decenter knowledge and authority.”

There are a number of texts that seek to define digital humanities and differentiate, to varying degrees, how DH is distinct (or not) from humanities. Davidson’s text calls attention to the need of our attention—that technological changes have transformed the humanities (massive computational abilities) and that the discipline should be critically considering the implications on working and the future of work:
“Perhaps we need to see technology and the humanities not as a binary but as two sides of a necessarily interdependent, conjoined, and mutually constitutive set of intellectual, educational, social, political, and economic practices”.

Drucker, Johanna. “Graphesis: Visual Knowledge Production and Representation”. Poetess Archive Journal 2.1 (2010): 1-50. Web.

Ducker carefully explains the conceptual use of a methodology of data visualization explaining that “How we know what we know is predicated on the models of knowing that mediate our experience by providing conceptual schema or processing experience into form” (15). Visualizing our materials (the texts of our discipline) as a data set “is concerned with the creation of methods of interpretation that are generative and iterative” which have the potential  “of producing new knowledge through the aesthetic provocation of graphical expressions” (41). This text carefully articulates descriptive critical language for the analysis of graphical knowledge and makes the case for studying visualization from a humanities perspective. Given that much DH work involves visualizations of data from some textbase, this text seems a useful exploration of the conceptual use of visualizations both in terms of creating and reading them.

Drucker, Johanna. “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5.1 (2011): n. pag. Web.

Like Drucker’s Graphesis, which is working to situate quantitative visualizations not typical to humanities research, she continues to carefully explain the use of conceptual borrowing of natural and social sciences methods of graphical displays of information, but the limitations it carries into humanities work. Due to the nature of knowledge in humanities work as interpretive and co-dependent with the observer, Drucker is making the case for a humanities terming of data as constructed, and for expression to show ambiguity and complexity.

This has potential for DH work in that Drucker is working to make the quantitative methods humanities research is borrowing more fitted to humanities research—that is, moving from objective to interpretive. Although DH uses nonhuman agents in its research as ways of doing work, the human element, the semantic, is essential.

Drucker, Johanna. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. By Matthew K.. Gold. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota, 2012. Print.

Drucker frames her project  with the question – “Have the humanities had any impact on the digital environment? Can we create graphical interfaces and digital platforms from humanistic methods?”

She sets out to articulate digital methods and theory that fit the humanistic value of humanities research, instead of explaining how digital methods might be applied to humanities research.

“We can cast an interpretative gaze on these instruments from a humanistic perspective, and we can build humanities content on their base; but we have rarely imagined creating computational protocols grounded in humanistic theory and methods. Is this even possible? Desirable? I suggest that it is essential if we are to assert the cultural authority of the humanities in a world whose fundamental medium is digital that we demonstrate that the methods and theory of the humanities have a critical purchase on the design of platforms that embody humanistic value.”

Drucker’s project is useful to DH research in that the methods or tools used should appropriately fit the purpose of the project to assert validity, authority, and value in the research.

 Jockers, Matthew L. and Julia Flanders. “A Matter of Scale”. UNL Digital Commons. Accessed on 5 February 2014. Web.

These slides and accompanying script represent the keynote lecture of the Boston Area Days of Digital Humanities Conference at Northeastern University on March 18, 2013. The keynote was a staged debate between Julia Flanders and Matthew Jockers addressing the “matter of scale” in DH research. While scope is something that is addressed in designing humanities research projects, scale needs to be considered for DH projects—how closely or distantly the textbase is being “read”. Scale, or the micro or macro approach, influences the patterns, what is uncovered, that can be represented. Scale dis/allows patterns to be seen.

Lang, Susan and Craig Baehr. “Data Mining: A Hybrid Methodology for Complex and Dynamic Research”. College Composition and Communication 64:1 (2012): 172-194.

The process of data mining works to move from the lore, or anecdotal evidence of relative small sample size as justification and evidence of our assertions in scholarship (174) to uncovering, or making visible, interesting information in large amounts of data – the texts produced (176). They are cautious to note that data mining cannot provide simple answers from noticing, but is a methodology that operates as exploratory, descriptive, and predictive of patterns (177).

Lang and Behr work to define data mining as a research methodology—a move toward quantitative research that cares for the qualitative, or narrative, aspects of humanities research. This source is useful to illustrate how DH methods that seem unhumanistic because they are graphically based and are absolutely co-dependent on humanistic interpretation.

Moretti, Franco. “Graphs: Maps, Graphs, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History”. New Left Review: 28 (2003): 67-93.

Moretti is considered one of the key, or originating scholars in DH due to his work on distant reading, or reading a large textual corpus from a distance with computational aid. Instead of closely reading a text for meaning, Moretti explores what meaning might arise from a collection of texts if they can be represented at the level of patterns across a corpus. Moretti calls us to question not just how we interact with our materials in scholarship, but at what scale. Distant reading alters the scale at which we encounter and interact with our materials by moving away, that is gaining distance from, the manner in which we read, understand, question, and act Moretti described as the impetus to his work, that “a field this large cannot be understood by stitching together separate bits of knowledge about individual cases, because it isn’t a sum of individual cases: it’s a collective system, that should be grasped as such, as a whole” (68).

Moretti’s distant reading models of literary historiography serve as a representation of DH research projects: creating a textbase, establishing a cultural significance or purpose in looking across the textbase, creating a means to mine the textbase to identify patterns, and creating a visualization that allows the patterns to be seen as emergent from the corpora.

Poole, Alex H. “Now is the Future Now? The Urgency of Digital Curation in the Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.2 (2013): n. pag. Digital Humanities Quarterly. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

Poole concludes his article with the call of “now” that served a simpetus for his work:
“In 2009, Christine Borgman asserted that “Digital content, tools, and services all exist, but they are not necessarily useful or usable” [Borgman 2009]. Despite obvious progress in digital curation in the humanities, she issued a “call to action” to stakeholders and insisted the “future is now.” Three years later, we may — we must — ask the same question, lest we are reduced ultimately to exclaiming, along with Michael Buckland, “What a waste!”

Poole sets out to:

  • define and situate the digital humanities and both data and Big Data
  • probe digital curation
  • discuss the professionals who curate data, the key issues in data curation and how best to approach them, the importance of a lifecycle approach, the machinations of sharing and reusing data, and the role of data management planning.
  • explore reports on and case studies of digital curation undertaken
  • consider the trajectory of digital curation efforts
  • assess the state of digital curation in the humanities in 2013

While Poole is not alone in raising concerns over durability of DH work, this resource looks at digital curation for research that is being undertaken.

 Powell, Daniel, Constance Crompton, and Ray Siemens. “Glossary.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Literary Studies in the Digital Age. MLA Commons. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

While a glossary might not seem useful in terms of an account of research method, there is usefulness in having a collection of tools, textbases, DH projects, and potential methods for research. This glossary does represent keywords in the discipline, but not as definitions, more like a resource collection.

Radzikowsa, Milena, Stan Ruecker, and Stéfan Sinclair. “Information Visualization for Humanities Scholars.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Literary Studies in the Digital Age. MLA Commons. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

Radzikowska et al. define their project as creating “A primary index to the quality of visualizations for humanities scholars is the quality and originality of scholarship that the systems support. In each of the projects mentioned here, we have been working with humanities researchers in an effort to produce a useful visual form of the data. Since humanities scholarship is often exploratory, we have also come to believe that interactive formats are in most cases preferable to static ones, since they allow the person using the system to add and subtract elements, experiment with different forms, pursue hunches or insights, and so on.”

The usefulness of this work, of which they have created two, is a change in the interface of available materials to do DH work from. Interactive visualizations work to explore available information by visual grouping instead of hierarchical classification schemes.

Rogers, Richard. Digital Methods. Cambridge: MIT, 2013. Print.

“This is not a methods book, at least in the sense of a set of techniques and heuristics to be lugged like a heavy toolbox across vast areas of inquiry. It is also not the more contemporary exemplar of the instruction manual or list of answers to frequently asked questions…Rather, this book presents a methodological outlook for research with the web” (1).

Rogers is setting out to term “methods of the medium”, what he explains as methods embedded in online devices, to think along with online methods and digital objects. Rogers is setting out to argue that thinking along with devices and the digital objects they handle that digital methods as a research practice will work to follow the evolving methods of the medium (1).

This text, while not definitively DH, nor a text on methods, holds potential for research that repurposed methods of the medium for research that is not exclusively about digital or online culture—using methods and tools for what they make visible in topics of cultural interest.

Witmore, Michael. “Text: A Massively Addressable Object.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. By Matthew K.. Gold. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota, 2012. Print.

Witmore’s text explores what it means to be a text as evidenced in these excerpts:

“What does it mean to be an “item” or “computational object” within this collection? What is such a collection? In this post, I want to think further about the nature of the text objects and populations of texts we are working with”


“I would argue that a text is a text because it is massively addressable at different levels of scale. Addressable here means that one can query a position within the text at a certain level of abstraction.”

This resource has potential as it opens up texts to better understand how and why they are sites for researching. Understanding texts as addressable at different levels of scale helps conceptualize the how textbases and text corpora can articulate a purpose or interest for DH research. While the data mining approach (how one is sifting through texts) and the visualization (representation of what is uncovered) are important, many texts seem to focus on those aspects of research, and not how the projects come to light in the first place—their textual origins—from what we can envision DH projects.


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