Readings in “value” June 2015 (2)

Benneworth, P. (2015). Tracing how arts and humanities research translates, circulates and consolidates in society. How have scholars been reacting to diverse impact and public value agendas? Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 14(1), 45–60.

This article was part of a series concentrating on impact and value, and published in the journal Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. Benneworth argues that our history of social progress over recent centuries has been driven by research and technological developments. More recently this has changed, with “a shortening of the time span deemed socially (read: politically) acceptable between state investments and public results.” (Benneworth 2015, 46). Continue reading “Readings in “value” June 2015 (2)”

Readings in “value” June 2015 (1)

Olmos-Peñuela, J., Benneworth, P., & Castro-Martinez, E. (2015). Are sciences essential and humanities elective? Disentangling competing claims for humanities’ research public value. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 14(1), 61–78.

Olmos-Peñuela et al. (2015) argue that it is incorrect, and perhaps even illogical, to argue that the humanities are a luxury. Continue reading “Readings in “value” June 2015 (1)”

Readings in DH, November 2014 (1)

Hsu, W. F. (2014). Digital Ethnography Toward Augmented Empiricism:  A New Methodological Framework. Journal of Digital Humanities, 3(1). Retrieved from

This paper addresses issues around digital ethnography, what does this mean as a method? Hsu’s paper is an attempt to address methodological aspects of digital ethnography, which she finds under-developed.

Computers offer not just new ways of looking at things, or new realms in which to examine them (the virtual, for example) they also change the scale at which we can sample when looking at culture(s). Hsu mentions approaches such as “ethnomining” and “Thick Data” (coined by Wang, a term that refers to the context of Big Data). However, this paper does not just address ideas of Big Data, computation methods can also be used to extract “boutique data”. (Aside: this is an accurate reflection of the kind of data that I am dealing with in my research.) Hsu suggests instead that small amounts of quantitative data (gathered digitally?) can be used to trigger questions that are then investigated using qualitative methods.

One thought that struck me as I read this article; I am not used to ideas of ethnography and empiricism together. This is probably because I associated empiricism specifically with quantification (and not with the collection of qualitative data). And because I always understood ethnography as a method of collecting data that defies quantification, as if that was its particular merit, I never associated empiricism with qualitative material. Yet empiricism is really about collecting data (of any type) based on experience or experimentation. However, it appears that qualitative researchers often feel that they don’t match up to empirical methods. [Berry (2011, 12) cites Latour as the authority that identified sociology as a discipline that seeks to become quantitative, but cannot achieve its aim.] Presumably the desire to carry out quantitative analysis is driven by the idea that such data is neutral (pure?). Yet any kind of data can be subject to collection biases (and so on). Hsu suggests that in conventional data analysis, quantitative data plays a passive role.

“To use a Foucauldian metaphor, data is disciplined by the principles of scientific method and its underlying positivist ideology” (Hsu 2014).

This sets up the opposition with new digital ethnographic data, where data is “active” and can facilitate the imagining, re-contextualizing, and extending of empirical knowledge. However, I remain uneasy about the idea that data, any data, can truly be regarded as passive.

Digital is not, however, only a means of gathering data, it is a means of exploring it, using the digital to discover new relationships. In Hsu’s case, she has explored ideas around music and place/space through web-scraping and mapping. This is a good example of where qualitative data can be used to gather spatial patterns in music (and trends amongst music fans) and where qualitative work can then take that further to go beyond space, to reveal details of relationships to place.

Digital is also, however, a means of data deception. Algorithms, working behind the scenes on websites, unseen, can affect how empirical knowledge is produced and transmitted, created. To counteract this, ethnographers need to:

“give serious considerations to software as infrastructure and materiality at the sites of …research”. (Hsu 2014) (My emphasis.)


Berry, D. (2011). The computational turn: Thinking about the digital humanities. Culture Machine, 12. Retrieved from

Hsu, W. F. (2014). Digital Ethnography Toward Augmented Empiricism:  A New Methodological Framework. Journal of Digital Humanities, 3(1). Retrieved from

Readings in DH, October 2014 (part 2)

Nowviskie, B., McClure, D., Graham, W., Soroka, A., Boggs, J., & Rochester, E. (2013). Geo-Temporal Interpretation of Archival Collections with Neatline. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 28(4), 692–699. doi:10.1093/llc/fqt043

This paper describes a tool for humanities data, Neatline, which was built with the declared aim of enabling expression of the “geo-temporal dimensions” of humanities datasets. It is a visualisation tool specifically for highly interpretative results; they can be presented as exhibitions or as a means of telling subjective stories, designed as the anti-thesis of big data visualization (Nowviskie et al. 2013, 692).

Neatline was devised as a plugin for the exhibition builder, Omeka, adding to an open source project that has a wide community of users and support.

This paper outlines some ambitious aims behind the development of Neatline, including the demonstration of “the value of archival metadata to interpretative scholarship” and re-inserting “visual, incremental knowledge production, or graphesis, into the digital design process for humanities interpretation” (Nowviskie et al. 2013, 693).

One interesting aspect of this article on Neatline is that the creators want it to be used as a tool that allows users to build arguments as they use it. They do not see Neatline merely as a presentation tool for research arguments that have already been decided, instead the process of working with digital tools is seen as integral to the process of research (“method is a path to argument”; Nowviskie et al. 2013, 693).

Update: 3 November 2014

There is some interesting additional discussion around ideas of visualisation as interpretation at

Readings in oral history, October 2014 (part 3)

Freund, A. (2014). “Confessing animals”: toward a longue durée history of the oral history interview, Oral History Review, 41(1), 1-26.

This paper by Freund presents some initial research exploring the link between the oral history interview and the development of a culture of confession in the late twentieth century.

The origins of confessional culture are traced to the medieval practice of confession and the inquisition, a trajectory that is traced through heavy reliance on Foucault’s treatise on confessional practice in The History of Sexuality. The focus of Foucault’s work, in relation to confession, was psychoanalysis, Freund extends this to the development of the oral history interview and suggests that this means that there is a link that ties the modern oral history interview to torture. This is identified as the dark side of the field. To my mind this link is tenuously demonstrated, and in a manner that is overly reliant on Foucault. Nevertheless, some of the points Freund raises, particularly when moving away from Foucault, are worth exploring further.

For example, there is a discussion of the idea of oral history as a vehicle for the democratisation of history; providing a voice for the voiceless. The flip side of this is an increase in information about normal life, an increase in surveillance. Freund also discusses the oral history interview as a way in which the interviewee constructs a version of the self and asserts that the role of the interviewer in this has a dark potential (since the oral history interview is a dual construction, and interplay between interviewee and interviewer). Because of this, the interviewer needs to examine his or her role, and potential for power and dominance, when it comes to the construction of the self of the interviewee. On the other hand, I suspect that  the construction of the self is a constant process of build, knock down and rebuild as we assess our own position in relation to other individuals and to society in general: to do so in relation to an oral history interviewer is simply another way, somewhat more formal than normal interactions, in which the self is formed.