- 2 – It is precisely this kind of dialogue— the exchange between Powers and the other contributors— that Switching Codes aims to facilitate. The impediments to such a dialogue have often been referred to collectively as the “two cultures” problem, a phrase that first gained currency through an influential 1959 lecture by C. P. Snow. Snow, himself both a scientist and a novelist, argued that in the modern world scientific and humanistic discourses were becoming increasingly isolated from one another, to the detriment of both (1961). 1 At the time— thirty years before the birth of the World Wide Web— digital technology was in its infancy and the revolution it would precipitate was but a twinkle in the eye of rare clairvoyants like Vannevar Bush (1945).
- How might the “two cultures” problem be connected to DH’s definitional and disciplinary setbacks?
- With the spectacular expansion of information technology (IT) in the past four decades, the “two cultures” problem has become considerably more complicated. In ways that Snow could hardly have anticipated, the culture of arts and letters is now permeated by science in the form of information technology, from word processing and semantically structured research networks to computer-generated imagery, interactive cinema, and creative machines. The very idea of “information science” indicates how “deeply intertwingled” the two cultures have become (Nelson 1987). Yet mutual incomprehension persists. Generally speaking, scholars and artists understand little about the technologies that are so radically transforming their fields, while IT specialists often have scant or no training in the humanities or traditional arts.
- Switching Codes is conceived as a response to this problem, an attempt to bring scholars and artists into more robust dialogue with computer scientists and programmers. There are, to be sure, an increasing number of individuals who have real competence in both domains— indeed, some of them have contributed to this volume. But these cases are still rare. And so, for the most part, we have sought out specialists from each side of this digital divide who are open to and interested in genuine exchange. We have asked them to choose topics that they are actively researching, issues that are vital in their own disciplines.
- 3 – Switching Codes is thus designed to exemplify the kind of conversation it seeks to facilitate and promote. To understand how digital technology is transforming thought and practice in the humanities and the arts, it is necessary to cultivate cross-cultural communication, to establish points of reference, and to develop a shared vocabulary. Given the globalized and decentralized nature of digital culture, this cannot be mandated from the top down, as it were, but must be cobbled together from the bottom up and on the fly. The intention here is not to compile an authoritative survey— truly a quixotic endeavor in such a rapidly changing landscape— but to model and catalyze a conversation.
- 4 – Surveying the volume as a whole, several themes seem particularly salient. To start with, it is evident that in the field of what has been called the “digital humanities,” the effort to develop ways of amassing data and making it widely available over the Internet has been terrifically successful. As a result, scholars are, now more than ever, confronted with the challenge of ordering vast quantities of information. How will the information be organized, filtered, and made meaningful? What will count as authoritative and how will authority be established? How much of information processing can be automated, and what is gained or lost in that automation?
- No less profound in its effect has been the shift in recent years toward collaborative and collective modes of working in scholarship, the arts, and culture generally. Many of the authors here address this development in one way or another: we read of scholarship becoming less of an individual, more of a social, activity; of “open scholarly communities on the web”; of the effort to leverage the knowledge of social networks; of interactive cinema and “cumulative creativity.” As becomes evident in these essays, this trend has implications as much for the understanding of what constitutes “a work” (of scholarship, of art) as it does for the conception of social organization.
- 6-7 – The essays in Switching Codes constitute not only an exchange between individuals but also a coming together of cultures— the scholarly and creative cultures of computing, the humanities, and the creative arts. The volume builds a conversation between these cultures, introducing those in information technologies who are conceiving of electronic tools and environments to those in the humanities and arts who use digital technologies, often in ways not imagined by their inventors.
How Computation Changes Research – Ian Foster
- 33 – In other contexts, computation can consume rather than liberate intellectual energy, as when superficial questions that just happen to be amenable to computational approaches distract attention from more important problems. Just because we can write a program to analyze a thousand or a million or a billion instances of an object of study does not mean that we should— our time might be better spent in other pursuits. In the terms of the Ruskin epigraph, it may be that we “will see it no better for going fast.” (He was speaking of the railroad, but the sentiment seems equally applicable in this setting.)
- The impact of computation on research cannot be reduced to a simple formula. Certainly there are disciplines, such as biology and physics, in which computational methods have been transformative. Those studying climate change or the spread of epidemic disease or developing more efficient devices for energy storage and transmission have advanced civilization in ways that would not be possible without computational methods. Yet there are also fields in which computational methods, at least at present, have had little to add. The scholar of Old Norse literature, for example, will never have vast quantities of data. (But perhaps simulation studies of language evolution and cultural dissemination will ultimately help answer open questions even in that field.)
We Digital Sensemakers – Mark Stefik
- 38 – “Digital sensemaking” is sensemaking mediated by a digital information infrastructure, such as today’s web and search engines. While the amount of information continues to expand rapidly, our innate human capabilities to make use of it are approximately fixed. Digital sensemaking counters the growth of information by harnessing ever faster computing. Web search engines have greatly improved our ability to find information. However, tools for sensemaking still fall far short of their potential. Sensemaking on the web is often frustrating and onerous, requiring one to wade through off-topic and poorly written pages of questionable authority.
- Is humanistic inquiry just sensemaking? — making sense of historical documents, literary texts, philosophical disquisitions, objets d’art?
- Can we think of humanities work as two-part sensemaking? Making sense of these texts for ourselves, through research, collecting, and analyzing, and then, secondly, making sense of it for others through publication, explication, presentation, performance? In which case there are essentially two different digital augmentations to humanistic work and, it seems, much more emphasis in DH has been placed on the digital augmentation of humanistic sensemaking for self, rather than for others.
Scholarsource: A Digital Infrastructure for the Humanities
- Amazing 20 page platonic dialogue between humanist and technologist on the creation of a digital scholarly infrastructure.