Highlighted Selections from:

Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities


DOI: 10.1093/llc/fqt068

Williams, D A. “Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities.” Literary and Linguistic Computing (2013): n. pag. Web.

p.1: One such difficulty is that, in taking methods for a department of knowledge in and of itself, practitioners in the digital humanities risk mistaking means for ends, approaches to questions for answers, ways of acquiring knowledge for knowledge itself. And, if our concern does become essentially one of practice, we must then ask at what point diverse and disparate digital methods (promoted by the phrase ‘digital diversity’) cease to belong to a coherent or cohering discipline, however interdisciplinary it is conceived as being. -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.2: Thus Arnold’s description of literary creation now seems equally applicable to criticism: it is the work of ‘synthesis and exposition, not of analysis and discovery’ (Arnold, 1864, p. 5). That is, literary criticism relies partially but crucially on acts of reading, which partner the critic and the text in a mutual creation of understanding. -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.3: The critical point about the diverse, often idiosyncratic sourcing and selection of evidence quotations in OED2 is that the dictionary was conceived ‘on historical principles’, meaning that the quotations it cites are not merely illustrative, as they had been in Johnson (1755), though they are also that. More importantly, the 5 million source quotations (more than twice the number reprinted in the dictionary) formed the body of linguistic evidence from which lexicographers working in Oxford would deduce senses and write definitions. -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.4: Among the many things that can be quantified by counting or sampling quotations, substantial attention has been given to nineteenth century reading habits and the social assumptions and prejudices that underlie them (such as an overrepresentation of nineteenth century texts, the importance of Shakespeare, and the underrepresentation of women authors) (Brewer, 2008a, pp. 122–30, 184–90; McConchie, 2012). -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.7: All this is potentially valuable knowledge for the critic, especially if the research question investigates the role of dictionaries in the making of poems. And if such evidence of direct influence of a dictionary on a poem can occur here, the critic must wonder where else it has occurred, and how much will have to be read, looked-up, and cross-referenced, before another example is found. -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.8: Willard McCarty has argued that ‘Humanities computing lives and deals in that gap’ (McCarty, 2002, p. 104), and it is true that the development and refinement of the method, along the lines of McCarty’s idea of modelling, is an intellectual activity that is ‘neither solely computational nor autonomously human but a combination or interaction of both—a thinking with, and against, the computer’ (McCarty, 2002, p. 104). In each iteration, a program’s results will show both things of relevance to the question, and also the ways in which the program has failed to address the research question. Improving the method’s results may require technical improvements or corrections, but it is at least as likely that the researcher will be lead to reflect more fundamentally on the way the intended outcome has been described in the grammar of the method, how he or she has abstracted and translated this intended outcome, or modelled the thing being investigated. -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.9: Driving home the point, he asked his reader to consider, ‘In what sense or senses is the computer acquainted with original sin?’ (Hill, 2008, p. 279). -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.10: the computer gives the impression that it is making a discovery, yet it is only reminding us of something already known—texts that have been read, selected, compiled, abstracted, and indexed by the reading public and lexicographers. There is nothing that the computer will do to think through, as we must, the implications of Hill’s sense or senses of ‘original sin’. Nothing in the computer will think, as Hill does in his poem, about the sense or senses of ‘mystery’, ‘grammar’, and ‘tautology’, and how these may relate to one another, and how the poem relates them together. -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.11: but rather ‘in what unfamiliar forms and grammars will we encounter our own thoughts, the more familiar we become with our digital methods?’ And, ‘at what point does our familiarity with digital methods itself produce habits of perception, which must themselves be broken?’ And finally, related to this perhaps, ‘at what point if any must we break off this acquaintance, returning (with new insight, perhaps) to the disciplinary ways of discovering and understanding that brought us to the method in the first place?’ -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014

p.11: Hill has articulated such a view: ‘I think there are things built into the information culture which are destructive of the very things it seeks to gain information about’ (quoted in Sperling, 2011, p. 334). -- Highlighted mar 11, 2014