Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's new?

Let me get back into the blogging swing with a (too long—this is why I can't handle Twitter, folks) reflection on an offhand comment. Don't worry, there's some data stuff in the pipe, maybe including some long-delayed playing with topic models.

Even at the NEH's Digging into Data conference last weekend, one commenter brought out one of the standard criticisms of digital work—that it doesn't tell us anything we didn't know before. The context was some of Gregory Crane's work in describing shifting word use patterns in Latin over very long time spans (2000 years) at the Perseus Project: Cynthia Damon, from Penn, worried that "being able to represent this as a graph instead by traditional reading is not necessarily a major gain." That is to say, we already know this; having a chart restate the things any classicist could tell you is less than useful. I might have written down the quote wrong; it doesn't really matter, because this is a pretty standard response from humanists to computational work, and Damon didn't press the point as forcefully as others do. Outside the friendly confines of the digital humanities community, we have to deal with it all the time.