Computer Science and the Humanities

In the last three years, since the beginning of my PhD, I have been reading a lot of stuff about Digital Humanities, a lot of definitions, a lot of introductions (in more than one language), and I have been discussing several times with many people, but I am still not satisfied, I am not convinced that a useful and satisfactory guide that explains in full the connection and the relationship between computer science and humanities has been as yet produced. I am not, obviously, saying that I will be the one who will write such a thing, I am still trying to find my way into it, but I am willing to try an experiment and see what comes out of it.

To explain what I mean I will quote the ending of a previous post I wrote some times ago, in which I was addressing a similar question:

DH people routinely ask themselves if we should eventually drop the word digital, because what we are actually doing is the very same thing that we always did as humanists. I don’t disagree with this position. But, looking at the Italian label, informatica umanistica [humanities computing], I think that, given the interdisciplinary nature of informatica [computing] itself, we could also reverse the claim, dropping the adjective umanistica [humanities].
The question I am now asking to myself (and to anyone else who dare to answer, of course. Comments are welcome) is:

Should we perhaps say that, as digital humanists, what we are actually doing (in fact, what we have been doing for a while already) is pure a simple informatica [computing, or computer science], with no humanistic or scientific label attached? would this be too daring, too far-fetched?

Following this train of thoughts (actually, if you haven’t read that post, you should read it now. Hopefully it will put this one in perspective), what I am proposing is to start from Computer Science as it is and see to what extent it can be considered humanistic. In practice, what I will do in the following weeks is to read Brookshear’s Computer Science: an overview (Pearson 2011) and comment, chapter by chapter, on this blog, highlighting in what sense humanities are involved, putting together a list of topics and a reading list (using what I read in these three years) with material that could complement what is said in the book, summarising, rephrasing and rewriting the topics from the humanistic point of view, etc.

As I said, it’s an experiment, but as far as I know (actually I am quite sure about this) such an approach has never been tried before, so I am very curious where it could lead.

[UPDATE: I just want to add that this experiment is not necessarily aimed at saying something new about anything,  it will mainly be a way to put order in my brain. Sometimes you need to do that if you want to move forward.]


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