On Killing Metaphorical Birds with Statistical Stones


All this talk of DH stats (and the many emails and tweets I am firing off to gather up the evidence DH can muster) has both distracted me from posting anything from the back catalogue, and reminded me of a paper I wrote trying to articulate what Digital Humanities is by analysing the conference attendees and abstracts of the ALLC/ACH conferences (which is now known as Digital Humanities).

Its a bit of a right of passage that those working in DH attempt, at some time or other, to write a paper on what is Digital Humanities, or Humanities Computing as then was. My attempt was prompted by the fact I had to achieve a Postgraduate Certificate on Learning and Teaching in Higher Education as part of my probation when I first joined UCL. We had to write a 10,000 word dissertation on some aspect of learning and teaching. I have to say, undertaking that course in the first couple of years of an academic role was a bit of a millstone – it used up huge amounts of time at a time when I was writing whole courses from scratch and trying to turn my thesis into a monograph. I’m not one for wasted effort, so I tried to see if I could write a dissertation that would then become a publication. Killing three birds with one stone, I got the PGCLTHE, a conference paper, and a journal paper out of it. Bingo. To be honest, I would never have written the “what is humanities computing?” paper without having to do a dissertation for my teaching qualification.

I looked at trying to define the scope of our discipline, and therefore what we should be teaching, with the available evidence to hand. This was the conference abstracts from 1996-2005 of ALLC/ACH, plus the archive of postings to Humanist. I then number crunched them using the usual statistical methods that we teach as DH. Heh heh. Using DH to analyse DH! Again, birds with one stone. Why teach a methodology if you cant use it for your own dissertation? It was a quick win for me.

We can see, from the graph above, that Humanities computing research up to 2005 was pretty much text-o-centric. So we should be teaching that in our programs, goes the theory. Discuss. And you have the paper.

I wonder how much has changed now, actually. It would be fun to do another analysis.

This year I missed DH2011 as I was on maternity leave with the boys. I woke up one morning to find lots of new followers on twitter – always a sign that someone has been talking about you – to find that Lisa Spiro had cited this paper and methodology in her Making Sense of 134 DH Syllabi paper. A nice surprise – you never know if what you are working on is ever useful to anyone else.

And here it is:

Terras, M. (2006). “Disciplined: Using Educational Studies to Analyse ‘Humanities Computing’.” Literary and Linguistic Computing, Volume 21. 229 – 246. PDF.

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