Historical Roots of Information Sciences and the Making of E-Humanities.

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Christine Borgman in Scholarship in the Digital Age. Information, Infrastructure and the Internet (2007) distinguishes between data of the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. This distinction has been used as one of the arguments to explain why scholars in the humanities and social sciences make less use of digital tools and infrastructures than those in the natural sciences. This is remarkable since the roots of library and information sciences can be found in the humanities and social sciences. For instance important classifications of knowledge, such as Dewey’s Decimal Classification system are based on the philosophies of Bacon and Hegel, while Paul Otlet (1868-1944), who together with Henri La Fontaine designed its European counterpart, the Universal Decimal Classification, mentioned for instance Thomas van Aquino and Kant as sources of inspiration. Furthermore, the order of the sciences made part of discussions within the emerging disciplines of the social sciences and psychology (Comte, Spencer, Baine, Fouillée, Wundt). We will demonstrate how in library science by the end of the 19th century a more philosophical universe of knowledge based upon books, gradually made place for an order of what we nowadays would call data, based on scientific orders in physics and chemistry. While new discoveries such as relativity theory and quantum mechanics via the philosophical discussions of Russell and Whitehead also influenced theorists of knowledge organization, such as Otlet , the Indian mathematician/classificationist Ranganathan and Ted Nelson, who coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia, their multidimensional representations of knowledge were gradually translated into more pragmatic terms, such as dimension reduction to serve information retrieval. Humanities scholars (and social scientists) more and more were forced to adapt to often technology driven interpretation of the sciences. The paradigm of computational (applied) sciences has conditioned the thinking about digital approaches in the humanities and cultural heritage for a long time. Only recently e-humanities researchers have questioned reductionist approaches in collaborations with computer/ICT scientists and pleaded for the development of humanist methodologies in e-humanities research. At the same time large players in computer technology and ICT development, such as IBM, try to incorporate the complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty of humanities data, methods and practices in their software designs. Both contribute to the use of digital methods in the humanities.(
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Making of the Humanities Volume III The Modern Humanities
EditorsRens Bod, Jaap Maat, Thijs Westeijn
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9789048518449
ISBN (Print)9789089645166
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameThe Making of the Humanities
PublisherAmsterdam University Press


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