CUDAN@ The Third Conference of Chinese Digital Humanities CDH2021

When: 2021-11-06 8:30-9:30
Where: online via zoom
Conference number:816 7200 3856 passwd:635340

Abstract – CUDAN Research Fellow Mila Oiva gave a lecture at the Chinese Digital Humanities conference CDH2021.

What are the Elements of Circulating Knowledge?
An Example from a Study on Russian Historical Narratives Online

Humanities scholars are well-trained at qualitative close reading. With close reading analysis we can reach very nuanced understanding of the cultural phenomena we are studying. Simultaneously it is widely known that the increasing number of digital data opens new possibilities to study bigger amounts of data and to cover longer time periods or larger phenomena in the study. Taking this opportunity thus promises new opportunities for the humanities scholars, but poses us with new methodological challenges. Digital humanities studies have been criticized, for example, for not thoroughly thought selection of objects of study and bypassing the good practices of statistical studies leading to null or wrong conclusions (Da 2019). When taking the step from close reading of small samples into distant reading large datasets, we need to think carefully how to do it without falling into the gap of studying elements that in the end do not tell anything meaningful about the cultural phenomena we are studying.

Taking into consideration the criticism, this paper explores how we could use distant reading in a way that would lead into better understanding by suggesting that part of the response could lay in more thorough considerations of what are the elements of the phenomenon to be studied. The underlying idea is to begin by looking at what seem to be the constitutive elements of the studied phenomenon based on close reading and then thinking of how they could be captured in the digital data and analyzed algorithmically. The process of “translating” close reading into distant reading might help us to create hypotheses on the constitutive elements of the studied phenomena to be studied algorithmically. This is not to suggest abandoning the combination of close and distant reading that many scholars find the most fruitful approach, but to explore the possibilities for complementary approaches.

The paper discusses the topic by taking as an example a study on Russian historical narratives circulating online, based on collaboration of scholars at universities of Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia). Understanding historical narratives as a form of knowledge the study uses the conceptual approach of “circulation of knowledge” as a starting point. The paper explores how the “translation” process of the close reading of circulation of knowledge into computational distant reading done in the project can help to determine the components of knowledge circulation.

European Commission logo Tallinn University logo