Databases and Inquiry

The first thing I noticed about the two documents (one and two) that introduce and explicate the ongoing trend in the humanities to move from an exclusively “document-centric ideology” to include a “data-centric viewpoint” is the manner in which the information is presented. What was most likely intended as a quirky, fun mode of speech that was meant to relate to the target audience might also be construed as hubris-driven egoism. With a background in analyzing and deconstructing TEXTUAL OBJECTS (rather than, say, ahem, datasets), this piece of rhetoric is not without its own dilemmas.

While the documents tout a query-driven state of affairs within the humanities, they fail to present any viable questions, for example. The cheeky tone is on full display in its purposeful acknowledgment of copyright infringement, use of Simpsons cartoons, and the syntax and diction implemented. While admittedly, these concerns might be seen as non-entities in a didactic, elucidating document, it triggers my own radar in terms of questioning the rhetorical position of the text.

I also found instances wherein the textual choices were ripe for parody. The fact that the document which explains the move in the humanities from document-centric to include data-centric viewpoints was entirely textually oriented, for example, helps to show that this trend hasn’t exactly been put on display—again, while this is probably an unsound basis for argument within a document that is meant merely to highlight a trend and explain it to dilettantes like myself, it still seems worth noting.

No doubt, datasets and meta-data are extremely useful tools moving forward within the field of humanities. What one should refrain from nixing entirely from the conversation, though, are the basic tenets that have carried the field into its current state—namely, humanist concerns and rhetoric.