About the Event

“Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities” was a three-day workshop of invited participants, made possible with generous funding from the DFG/NEH Bilateral Digital Humanities Program, and held on March 14-16, 2012 at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The workshop included presentations, panels, and discussion sessions focusing on questions of data modeling for the humanities. The entire event was videotaped and streamed live to permit virtual participation via twitter and the video footage has been edited and is available for viewing. In addition, all of the video footage has been transcribed to permit easier skimming and searching, and we have also created glossaries of names and terminology to help contextualize the proceedings for those unfamiliar with the topic. A summary of the workshop is also being published as a white paper.

Background and Goals

“Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities” brought together a small group with a range of backgrounds for an intensive consideration of information models for humanities research materials. The focus of the event was on the modeling of text and documents, but discussion ranged widely within that domain to consider scholarly editions, historical documents and archives, literary and thematic collections, linguistic corpora, and other forms of scholarly digital text resources.

Our goal in organizing this workshop was to foster a more expert, synthetic and interdisciplinary discussion of the information models that underlie the common tools and technologies of digital humanities research and structure our representations of the fundamental materials of digital scholarship.

These models lie at the heart of our work as digital humanists, and yet the theory and practice of information modeling is still treated in the literature primarily as a technical topic rather than as constitutive of humanities research and practice. We sought to use this event to consider how digital models of knowledge representation in the humanities have developed and how the various models now available to us—including relational databases, XML, RDF and linked data approaches, and non-hierarchical markup systems like LMNL—shape and inflect the research objects we create and the research we undertake with them.

We wanted to bring to bear on these questions a variety of perspectives from communities with differing approaches to information modeling—some with very explicit and well-theorized ideas of what information models are and how they work, and some whose modeling practices are embedded in disciplinary practices and methodological assumptions. Through the encounter between these perspectives we hope the event has helped to shed new light on questions that are common to all communities represented. We also hope that it helped create a clearer shared sense of the important research questions for digital humanists in this domain.

The workshop was animated by a set of framing questions:

  • Why do certain ways of modeling humanities data feel natural to us, and what hidden assumptions (about texts, artifacts, usage, and scholarship) do they reflect?
  • Do data models reflect real information structures or create them?
  • What are the practical and strategic advantages of specific models in specific contexts?
  • What are the latent or explicit politics of knowledge representation systems?
  • What do we learn from changes in representational models over time?
  • What new developments in information modeling might hold value for the humanities?
  • What are the most urgent and compelling research questions in information modeling for the humanities? where are these being addressed?
  • Where are information modeling issues visible in the work of digital humanities scholarship? what is their practical impact and where can insights into information modeling improve the effectiveness or quality of these projects?
  • How do information models and humanities scholarship intersect, and where do we see them exerting mutual pressure on one another? what can information modeling learn from humanities scholarship and vice versa?


“Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities” was co-sponsored by the Centre for Digital Editions at the University of Würzburg and the Brown University Center for Digital Scholarship, and co-organized by Fotis Jannidis (University of Würzburg) and Julia Flanders (Brown University). Post-event work on editing, transcription and annotation was carried out at Brown University and at Northeastern University by teams of students:

Brown University

  • Elizabeth Piette
  • Chase Culler

Northeastern University

  • Elizabeth Hopwood
  • Charles Lesh
  • Kate Simpkins
  • Dave DeCamp
  • Malcolm Purinton
  • Kasra Ghorbaninejad
  • Sarah Connell

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