Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities: An ongoing conversation


In March 2012, a three-day workshop was held at Brown University on data modeling in the humanities, sponsored by the NEH and the DFG, and co-organized by Fotis Jannidis and Julia Flanders. Attended by approximate 40 experts with diverse disciplinary backgrounds, the event included theoretical presentations, case studies, panels, and wide-ranging open discussion. What we present here is a record of the event, with links to slides, video footage, and transcriptions of all presentations and discussion. In order to open up the conversation to a broader audience, the transcriptions have been extensively annotated to elucidate informal references, and to provide links and glosses on the many projects, tools, standards, people, and specialized terms that were referenced in discussion.

March 14

Keynote presentation: Wendell Piez, “Data Modeling for the Humanities: Three Questions and One Experiment” (paper, slides, video, transcription)

Panel discussion: Data models in humanities theory and practice (video, transcription)

Stephen Ramsay, Laurent Romary, Kari Kraus, Maximilian Schich, Desmond Schmidt, Andrew Ashton; Julia Flanders and Fotis Jannidis (moderators)

Theoretical perspectives I

Case studies: Critical editions

March 15

Open discussion: Key themes (video, transcription)

Case studies: Research ontologies

  • Daniel Pitti, “EAC-CPF” (video, transcription)
  • Stefan Gradmann, “Objects, Process, Context in Time and Space – and how we model all this in the Europeana Data Model” (slides, video, transcription)
  • Trevor Muñoz, “Discovering our models: aiming at metaleptic markup applications through TEI customization” (slides, video, transcripition)

Panel discussion: Data modeling and humanities pedagogy (video, transcription)

Elisabeth Burr, Elizabeth Swanstrom, Susan Schreibman, Elena Pierazzo; Julia Flanders, moderator

Theoretical perspectives II


March 16

Open discussion: Key themes (video, transcription)

Case studies: Historical archives

Theoretical perspectives III

Closing keynote presentation: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen (video, transcription)

Continuing the discussion

We know there will be continued interest in the topic of data modeling in the (digital) humanities. For a record of this event, including video footage of all the sessions and links to slides and presentation notes, please visit the workshop site at the Women Writers Project.

Thanks to all who participated in Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling!

About the Workshop

“Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities” brings 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 will be on the modeling of text and documents, but will range 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 is 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 want 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 seek 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 to shed new light on questions that are common to all communities represented. We also hope to emerge with a clearer shared sense of the important research questions for digital humanists in this domain.

Data Modeling in the Humanities

The Centre for Digital Editions in Würzburg and the Brown University Center for Digital Scholarship are convening a symposium entitled “Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities: From relational databases to RDF”, to be held in Providence, Rhode Island on March 14-16, 2012.

This event, sponsored by a generous grant from the DFG/NEH Bilateral Digital Humanities Program, brings together digital humanists, humanities scholars, and information theorists to consider how digital methods of knowledge representation in the humanities have developed during the past thirty years. It will also explore how the various models now available to us shape and inflect the research objects we create and the research we undertake with them. The symposium will include theoretical papers, case studies, and discussion (including remote participants via twitter).

To frame the presentations and discussion we will also keep in mind a set of larger theoretical and strategic questions, which will be the focus of the white paper arising from the symposium:

  • 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?

The white paper and a detailed record of the event and its presentations will be published online. More information on how to participate remotely will be posted closer to the time. Save the date and plan to join us!