[…] Digitize Me, Visualize Me, Search Me takes as its starting point the so-called ‘computational turn’ to data-intensive scholarship in the humanities.
The phrase ‘the computational turn’ has been adopted to refer to the process whereby techniques and methodologies drawn from (in this case) computer science and related fields – including science visualization, interactive information visualization, image processing, network analysis, statistical data analysis, and the management, manipulation and mining of data – are being used to produce new ways of approaching and understanding texts in the humanities; what is sometimes thought of as ‘the digital humanities’.
The concern in the main has been with either digitizing ‘born analog’ humanities texts and artifacts (e.g. making annotated editions of the art and writing of William Blake available to scholars and researchers online), or gathering together ‘born digital’ humanities texts and artifacts (videos, websites, games, photography, sound recordings, 3D data), and then taking complex and often extremely large-scale data analysis techniques from computing science and related fields and applying them to these humanities texts and artifacts – to this ‘big data’, as it has been called.
Witness Lev Manovich and the Software Studies Initiative’s use of ‘digital image analysis and new visualization techniques’ to study ‘20,000 pages of Science and Popular Science magazines… published between 1872-1922, 780 paintings by van Gogh, 4535 covers of Time magazine (1923-2009) and one million manga pages’ (Manovich, 2011), and Dan Cohen and Fred Gibb’s text mining of ‘the 1,681,161 books that were published in English in the UK in the long nineteenth century’ (Cohen, 2010).
What Digitize Me, Visualize Me, Search Me endeavours to show is that such data-focused transformations in research can be seen as part of a major alteration in the status and nature of knowledge. It is an alteration that, according to the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, has been taking place since at least the 1950s.
It involves nothing less than a shift away from a concern with questions of what is right and just, and toward a concern with legitimating power by optimizing the social system’s performance in instrumental, functional terms. This shift has significant consequences for our idea of knowledge.
[..] In particular, Digitize Me, Visualize Me, Search Me suggests that the turn in the humanities toward datadriven scholarship, science visualization, statistical data analysis, etc. can be placed alongside all those discourses that are being put forward at the moment – in both the academy and society – in the name of greater openness, transparency, efficiency and accountability.