The Political Dimension of Scholarship in Times of Great Upheaval

Even from the abyss of horror in which we try to feel our way today, half-blind, our hearts distraught and shattered, I look up again and again to the ancient constellations that shone on my childhood, comforting myself with the inherited confidence that, some day, this relapse will appear only an interval in the eternal rhythm of progress onward and upward.

― Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday(1)

Reading those words now, words that Stefan Zweig wrote in his memoir, a memoir he send to his publisher one day before taking his own life in 1942, is strangely eerie. He, the Jewish intellectual who fled the Nazis in 1934 and spend the last decade of his life in exile; who reminisced about the “golden age of security”(2) in Europe before World War I; who sought to oppose the nationalism of his time with a “consciously apolitical Europeanness”(3) – he could not hold onto his optimism long enough to see the “dawn after the long night”(4). He bequeathed that hope to his friends, in his farewell letter, and told them that he, all too impatient, would go ahead.(5)

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Ist das Wissenschaft oder kann das weg?

Erkenntnishorizonte: Zu Fragen der Wissenschaftstheorie im digitalen Zeitalter.(1)

Abstract: This German long-form essay poses the question whether the Digital Humanities can be considered an academic discipline in their own right. It focuses on hermeneutical issues. Due to the epistemological nature of the debate and the significant differences not only among the disciplines but the concepts surrounding those systems in differing languages, the exact same essay could not have been written in English. This, unfortunately, limits accessiblity but might also be telling of some of the difficulties involved.

Man pflegt heute häufig von »voraussetzungsloser« Wissenschaft zu sprechen. Gibt es das? Es kommt darauf an, was man darunter versteht. Vorausgesetzt ist bei jeder wissenschaftlichen Arbeit immer die Geltung der Regeln der Logik und Methodik: dieser allgemeinen Grundlagen unserer Orientierung in der Welt. Nun, diese Voraussetzungen sind, wenigstens für unsere besondere Frage, am wenigsten problematisch. Vorausgesetzt ist aber ferner: daß das, was bei wissenschaftlicher Arbeit herauskommt,  w i c h t i g  im Sinn von »wissenswert« sei. Und da stecken nun offenbar alle unsere Probleme darin. Denn diese Voraussetzung ist nicht wieder ihrerseits mit den Mitteln der Wissenschaft beweisbar. Sie lässt sich nur auf ihren letzten Sinn  d e u t e n , den man dann ablehnen oder annehmen muß, je nach der eigenen letzten Stellungnahme zum Leben.(2)

Alles, was man zum Sinn und Zweck der Wissenschaft sagen könnte, hat Max Weber schon einmal gesagt, nur besser; was ja ohnehin auf vieles zutrifft. Obwohl sein Vortrag über die “Wissenschaft als Beruf” mittlerweile mehr als 100 Jahre alt ist, hat er doch wenig von seiner Aktualität eingebüßt. Es geht dabei um Fragen, die sich jeder Wissenschaftler früher oder später einmal stellt: Was ist Wissenschaft? Ist das, was ich mache, wissenschaftlich? Und warum hat mich das überhaupt zu interessieren?

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The Quote That Never Was

About the Pitfalls of Wikipedia & Scholarly Misconduct.

[1] Now, I’m sure that most people are aware that Wikipedia is somewhat unreliable. The same is actually true for traditional encyclopedias.(1) Mistakes happen – spelling errors, lapses in attention to some miniscule detail, misattributions. That’s human. That’s fine. Chances are that these errors will be found and corrected eventually and the proponents of Wikipedia argue, of course, that that’s more likely to happen when the swarm intelligence of the web is involved. Any scholar worth their salt will be diligent enough in their research to not let that impact them, right? So far, so good.

[2] Except that’s not the whole truth. Many scholars use Wikipedia as their first source of information and, unfortunately, in some cases, their last. I have now come across an example that illustrates this rather beautifully and with a rare kind of clarity. It involves a quote attributed to the philosopher Hans Vaihinger (with the citation of a book and page number) that really does not exist at all in that shape and form. It also involves a number of scholars using that exact quote in their publications with the exact same citation, among them a professor for the history of science which I find slightly awkward, to say the least.

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Thinking in Practice: Workshop Report

A few thoughts on the interdisciplinary workshop Thinking in Practice, hosted by the Modelling DH project at Schloss Wahn in Cologne, 19-20 January 2017.

(a speaker list can be found at the end of this entry; for a full schedule of the programme, please visit the project’s website:

[1] At the end of this gathering that saw a great range of collective wisdom assembled, one might have been tempted to think of Brecht’s closing words to The Good Person of Szechwan (1943):

Wir stehen selbst enttäuscht und sehn betroffen
Den Vorhang zu und alle Fragen offen.

[2] These two lines crossed my mind at the very least, as I am loath to admit, for they may betray more about my own lack of comprehension than the actual lack of results. Indeed, it would be a gross misrepresentation of the event to take the above quotation (“the curtain closed and all questions open”) literally and pretend that no insight into the matter at hand was gained at all during the proceedings. Questions may not have been answered but questions were asked and added, refining the discourse in a valuable way that doesn’t close the book on Modelling in DH but rather suggests its potential table of contents.

[3] In the following, I will briefly review some talking points, brushing past most sessions without great detail, focusing rather on the overarching themes:

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Humanities = Geisteswissenschaften?

Some thoughts on a philosophy of science lost in translation.

(Or: "Digital Humanities" in Germany.)

[1] There have been many attempts to define Digital Humanities. Although I’m not historically entwined with the field for lack of age and thus missed out on a lot of debate, I think I have a fairly good grasp on the different directions this can take. But in all the gruntled soul-searching, ranging from manifestos to half-abandoned thoughts, I have yet to come across a simple point that I would like to raise:

[2] If DH is an international and interdisciplinary discipline, are we sure that we are all talking about the same thing and not just close-enough-that-no-one-notices-thing? Since disciplines have different traditions in different countries that cannot always be equated, maybe their point of intersection shouldn’t be either.

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To Be in DH Is To Be Under Attack

Spontaneous reply to a polemic.

(please note that I am not from the Anglosphere; that might or might not be relevant in this context)

To be in DH is to be under attack. Everyone is, in some way, of course, at least everyone in academia. Some call it discourse. It sometimes ascends to that level.

Now let me revise that first sentence. To be in DH is… something that I cannot quantify or make any educated claims about because there is no one “Digital Humanities” and I only have my very limited experience to draw from, making for a very poor basis for generalized statements. That is not to say that generalizations never have any merit whatsoever. They escalate an argument to the point of poignancy, in the best of cases, and spark an outraged rebuttal, in the worst. Polemics, to that end, achieve a very similar goal. They are useful when they are right and they are useful when they are wrong and that assessment of course entirely depends on a person’s point of view and the strength of the arguments attached to that. So what I will do here is present my point of view and the arguments attached to that, happy to be refuted and learn something in the process.

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Explorer, Trader, Conqueror? On the Role of the Digital Editor

Poster presented with Frederike Neuber at the DiXiT Convention 2 in Cologne.

Program | Abstract

(poster behind the cut)

Poster Slam (1 Minute)

Digital Humanities might be a sea
That carries us over its waves to be
The tissue connecting two worlds or more
By heading for islands and going ashore.
The islands are disciplines in this case
And one of them used to be our base
But the farther we get, the more we are lost
Raising the question: what is the cost
Of going where no one has gone before?
(Or maybe they did and were shown the door.)

For some of the old-established we’re freaks,
Serviceable only as technical geeks,
While others lament our lack of expertise
When it comes to computers or scholarly needs.
So do we trade or negotiate, assimilate or acerbate,
Colonize or recognize that journeys are themselves the prize?
To discuss this further, if you find that you care,
Come to our poster, we’ll be there.

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