Joris en Karina’s Holistisch Letterkundig Onderzoeksbureau | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 135 Number 4
  • ISSN: 0040-7550
  • E-ISSN: 2212-0521



‘By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve certainly learned something about it yourself.’

– Douglas Adams, (1987)

The Digital Humanities myths of being ‘revolutionary’ and preoccupied with ‘making’ and ‘building’ are in fact shibboleths that hamper the under-standing of Digital Humanities as a field that in reality is thoroughly grounded in theory. We argue that computational work in the Digital Humanities goes well beyond some utilitarian service to a perceived ‘humanities proper’. It is proper academic research in which computational models are expressions of theory. We explain that it is often hard for humanists to appreciate such forms of theory as they are indeed very differently expressed than more conventional abductive humanities reasoning. Nonetheless, thorough and viable theories result from Digital Humanities intellectual work, which includes the labor to produce software and computational models. We propose that all these forms of theory should not be separate from each other. Instead we strive for a strong reciprocal relation between new computational modeling and existing hermeneutics. This is a holistic approach inspired by the New Sociology of Art in which we relate the computational analysis of text immanent features to sociological processes and existing literary theory. We demonstrate this approach with an example from our current project ‘The Riddle of Literary Quality’. We explain how this is an approach of many small analytical steps carefully building upon each other. Finally we suggest that many of the unproductive misunderstandings between computational and conventional research approaches could be mitigated by increased attention in curricula syllabi for currently developing methods.


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