If Kant used a computer… #DHd2018 (“Digital Humanities im Deutschsprachigen Raum”)

Immanuel Kant as a protagonist of the digital humanities? If you think this will never happen – well, then you have not heard from the  DHd2018 in Cologne, which took place from February 26th to March 2nd. The title of the conference “Kritik der digitalen Vernunft” was applied in many contributions from the initial keynote by Berlin’s professor of philosophy  Sybille Krämer to the closing keynote by  C. M. Sperberg-McQueen (whom you should know at least as one of the creators of XML and author of the  TEI Guidelines).

Since its inaugural Conference  2014 at Passau the Digital Humanities in the German-speaking area have grown significantly in terms of professionalism, depth of research and scope of subjects. So, for example,  Gerhard Lauer introduced Cultural Evolution of literature in contrast and as critique to literary history, which provoked a lively debate.

DH as discipline is now at a state where researchers begin critically questioning of methods from the field. Some even go as far as to state „digital methods are neither digital not innovative” (Raunig/Höfler,  Conferenceabstracts DHd 2018: Kritik der digitalen Vernunft, 181-184. Therefore, four sessions of the conference featured research about “Theory of the Digital Humanities“.

To be a self-confident discipline, the digital humanities have to ask themselves (according to Kant) what they can know, what they should do and what they can hope. For example,  if we trust in black boxes, we lose our digital rationality. “Non-transparent algorithms deprive us from the right of decision”, concludes Sperberg-McQueen wisely alluding to Kant.  Eckhart Arnold warns in his talk from another widespread problem of the digital humanities: We shouldn’t use a certain method just because it’s hot stuff. Gephi-Networks for example are pretty – but what are the new insights behind them? We have to ask ourselves if a certain method really supports our question or if it’s only a sign of a ‘positivistic fetishism of methods’. Digital humanists must have the ‘courage to make conclusions’. If not, they bargain away their digital rationality.

The conference with more than 600 participants was the most visited since its founding in 2014. What were the main topics discussed in  97 lectures, 62 posters, 11 panels, 17 workshops and more than 3’700 tweets  (#dhd2018)? Besides the arctic temperatures in the lecture halls it was – in our view – the new format of an academic fightclub on Wednesday evening at the “Kölner Arttheater”, the problems and opportunities of research data management, the “seeing” computer and the many different topics around the poster slam.

In the fightclub panel  Mareike König,  Hubertus Kohle,  Henning Lobin, and  Heike Zinsmeister had to convince the audience of their opinion about different aspects of digital humanities within just three minutes. This was a panel the participants will never forget (especially a digitally generated love letter by Henning Lobin) and we hope it will find repetitions in the future.

Another memorable conference format took place on the next evening. It was not only possible to watch and discuss the impressive amount of 62 posters, but there was also the possibility to vote for the best poster. Slam-champions were Simone Gerhards, Svenja A. Gülden and Tobias Konrad with their poster “Aus erster Hand – 3000 Jahre Kursivschrift der Pharaonenzeit digital analysiert”.

Research data management was especially addressed in two panels on Thursday afternoon and shed light on a different set of problems. The aim should be the FAIR-principle: Data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. The main research infrastructures  DARIAH and  CLARIN provide platforms to store and work with these data. It is important that researchers contact these infrastructures very early in order to find the right way to store the data (format and so on). A highlight for Heidelberg was the contribution of  Maria Effinger who presented the Heidelberg University publishing activities ( heiUP,  heiDATA) as a kind of best practice example. To cite a  tweet of Fabian Cremer: “Maria Effinger stellt das umfangreiche Portfolio der UB Heidelberg vor. <…> Glücklich wird hier, wer sich zur Uni Heidelberg oder FIDs Kunst, Asien, Altertum zählt (transl.: Lucky is who is a member of Uni Heidelberg or the FID [Specialised Information Service] Art, South Asia, Classical Archaeology).” Affiliated to Heidelberg we only can say: Yes, we are lucky! 😉

Interestingly enough, besides the “Theory of the Digital Humanities” only one other subject was also presented in four full sessions: The “seeing“ computer. This broad subject introduced research from “visual stylometry” to “distant viewing” and discussed computer-based film- and videoanalysis as well as the use of computer vision for image science. This spectrum shows another aspect of a matured discipline where research about and with objects has its own standing.

Last but not least, we want to mention the pre-conference days. Eleven workshops provided participants the possibility to learn about different tools and methods by using them directly. For example, the  CRETA-Hackatorial from different members of the University of Stuttgart provided a very insightful introduction in machine learning. The participants were enabled to search for entities by finding the best combination of features in different corpora (Parzival, Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, and Bundestag debates from 1995 to 2005). The one who found the most entities won a signed book by Fotis Jannidis. Other workshops introduced workflows to share data with the research community and to sustain research data, for example by using and actively expanding  WikiData. As Fabian Cremer wrote:  @thstaecker: CC0 für Quellen, CC-BY für Edition. Und: am meisten interessiert die Nutzer der #Downloadbutton. #dhd2018

The DHd 2018 was a great opportunity to win an overview in current practices of digital humanities. We enjoyed it a lot. A big “Thanks!” to the organizers for making this conference possible.

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