torsdag 9 februari 2017

On Digital History

* Denna text är baserad på mina anteckningar för det kommentarstal jag höll på Gösta Mickwitz seminariet den 9.2.2017* History is always written in its own time. In our time, when we write history and expand our knowledge of our past, when we build knowledge, we are also shaping our own time, our culture and society. And as we formulate truths about ourselves and our history, we also shape our future. We create the concepts and dependencies that are the building blocks of our future. The truth in history is also the truth of today and creates a scaffold for us to we shape our future. Questions of guilt and identity are never far away. Who we are, and who we can be. Questions of meaning, questions of human understanding. Those are important questions. Burning issues. Technology does not solve anything on its own. We need the humans, people to act as agents. In a time of digital media, statements, information and definitions are fluid, an ever changing play of meaning, representations and interpretation. The way we see ourselves and our society is complex and interconnected. People understand and structure these through stories, through narration. That is how we can explain complex phenomena and grasp them. But complictaed stories and truths also become extensive. They are long, slow. They take their time to be written, to be told and taken in. History is slow. It takes time to research, analyse, understand and explain. This is a serioius challenge in our time: not only to catch the attention of people, but to keep it. At the same time we have so much of the answers to offer, so many explanations and intellectual tools to deliver. Digital science and research can be Open science. It can share and engage, transform and live on. Today we have heard four fantastic presentations about the essence of digital culture. Let's reflect on them and let them inspire us. Here are some of my own reflections. Timo Honkela: Turning quantity into quality and making concept visible using computational means? Artificial intelligence can help us with meaning and complexity. We are just in the beginning of creating ways to represent meaning in an digital enviroment. Neural networks can help us understand and model concepts, these are questions Timo has worked with for many years and he gave a presentation about the split between word and concept, sign and meaning. He talked about how meaning can emerge in learning processes. My reflection was how the historian in his or her long narrations gives the words more solid meaning. More solid than any N-gram. Timo is hopefu thatl machines can help us understand each other better. Algorithms could point out differences in our understanding. What I came to think about was how the choice of source data will effect the outcome. Twitter of millions of people produce text different kind of text than one of a specific author, but it can tell us something about a certain culture, however we choose to define it. But the algorithms can also help us to find the cultures. Timo also came to mention the power dimension. Who owns the data and who defines the questions we ask. He also talked about the co-evolution of computers and human culture. The one does not exist without the other. Henrik Summanen: Digital potential i historiskt material Henrik, too, demostrated, how we are only in the beginning of digitization. We are still mimicing old media, often unable to see the difference between the stable and the fluid, streaming data and information. We still build silos and treat document as if they were disconnected entities. Henrik talked about linked open data. The fact is, that all data information is structured, and we could be a lot smarter in the ways we do it. That would help us find relevant questions and maybe even some answers. My thoughts were on how difficult it is to express uncertainty and missing data. Henrik also discussed the difficulties we have with sustainability and versioning. This, I'm sorry to say, is sadly very true especially in the GLAM sector. Hannu Salmi: Virality and Culture: Towards the Study of Digital History Virality is not a new phenomenon per se, as Hannu showed with wonderful examples from the 19th century. He talked in the most delightful way about digital methods and sources. He demonstrated how data and tools affect our research. One immediately hade many ideas: what if we could combine the different ideas and methods presented today? I was particularly happy to hear that he is drawing from bioinformatics in his research. The problems are many times the same when handling data. What is it we are researching, when studying old newspapers of a nation if not the DNA of its very culture! Hannu also used visualisation, which for historians is a new tool, when we use its dynamic and interactive features. How could we take advantage of them to create our on viral information? I loved Hannus conclusion, that boundaries and differences between past, present and future are overrated! Samir Bhowmik: The Materiality of Digital Heritage Samir gave an amazing talk. I was very happy to get this perspective included. The idea of digitisation of only information being "virtual" is a children’s disease of the early digital age. Materiality is important, since technology defines the culture. It is exactly the coevolution Timo talked about. The physical aspects and ramifications of our new media culture should not be forgotten or disregarded. They should be actively incorporated in our work. This is difficult, but important. Jussi Parikka is really a researcher that should be much more broadly studied among humanists. I liked Samirs ethical approach. The tension between sharing and openness on the one hand and the challenges of propriety technologies and technical skills as a commodity on the other, is something we should be very aware of. The opaque media is outside of our control. Samir talked much about black boxing in different ways. It is a crucial point, because it is a question of power. The black box is incomprehensible and out of our reach, outside our understanding and influence. Samir also talked about the challenges of capturing culture, without killing it, freezing it. The questions about the rupture between the cultural heritage conservation and the very dynamic essence of culture becomes distinctively clear in the digital environment. All in all the seminar was inspiring and I'm so excited about everything we heard today. As historians we are making our past digital but we also need to address the questions of preservation and sustainability. The digital world is not primarily one of technology, it is in the realm humanity. Never have historians been more important than today.

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