Scholars reluctant to the DH scholarship often say: “OK… you build tools, you are able to deal with a huge amount of data, and what? What is the purpose? What do you get as new ideas, results?”. As far as I can see today, I guess that “fundamental research questions” are coming very often at a second time in the DH approach, by nature one can say, as I will argue.
With a lot of various scholars, I am also frustrated to see so often “fundamental research questions” apparently omitted. For example, I was this afternoon to a DH short paper here in Hamburg on “Experiments in Digital Philosophy” by Lou Bernard. The paper did not offer a word about a fundamental question in philosophy, but only questions regarding TEI encoding of texts and new ways to observe the academic production. Such a phenomenon occurs often in the DH papers. Why?
In May, an Harvard Magazine article clearly explained that “Scholars traditionally begin projects by figuring out what the good research questions are in a given field, and connecting with others interested in the same topics; they then gather and organize data; then analyze it; and finally, disseminate their findings through teaching or publication. Scholarship in a digital environment raises questions about every aspect of this process. For example, in gathering and organizing data”.
Digital Humanities are Humanities «made with the fingers», the «digitus» in Latin. Scholars have begun with a «Homo Faber» step in the DH scholarship, by litteraly «making» them. I am not arguing that it is good or not: it is the present situation. We are facing now a lot, a lot of diverse tools, particularly in the field of history, timelines and cartography representations, but we have got also a lot of diverse tools to analyze textuality. But – at a certain point – that’s logical.
Indeed, as the example developed by Debbie Rabina and Anthony Cocciolo this morning in their short paper shows, user research and user interaction can preceed and lead to theory and Humanities Content research (see the pattern below).
That’s the point: Humanities made with the fingers – Digital Humanities – open next to the research on the content and to reconsider then the produced tools again.