By Daniel O'Donnell

In the course of the last decade, I formulated what I consider to be something of a law concerning the use of computing in Humanities research:

The novel and non-trivial application of computation to humanities research problems inevitably requires an examination of first principles including the social, political, economic, and disciplinary rationale for the research itself.

The point is that you can never simply copy a technique from the pre-digital Humanities into the digital without addressing fundamental questions of why you are doing what you are doing, what it is that you think you are doing, and whether what you are doing actually does what you think it does.

This law is related to the New Media concept of “remediation,” the process by which works are refashioned when they move from one medium to another.

It stems from the contrast between digital and non-digital methodologies. In the non-digital space, we can work by analogy and intuition. In the digital world, however, we must work by design and algorithm if we are doing something non-trivial. It is possible to simply replicate pre-digital formats (e.g. the PDF); but taking advantage of the fundamental power of computation requires us to work programmatically.

Examples in action include John Unsworth's study of "Scholarly Primitives" and much early digital editing theory.


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Daniel O'Donnell



Published: 13 Mar, 2016

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