Modelling between Digital and Humanities: Thinking in Practice

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Arianna Ciula

    University of Surrey Roehampton

  2. 2. Øyvind Eide

    Universität Passau, Universität zu Köln (University of Cologne)

  3. 3. Marras Cristina

    National Research Council: Institute for European Intellectual Lexicon and History of Ideas (CNR-ILIESI)

  4. 4. Patrick Sahle

    Universität zu Köln (University of Cologne)

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This poster will present the rationale behind as well as the work in progress of an international collaborative project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (scheme
“Original – isn’t it?”
New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Studies,
Funding Line 2 Constellations), 2016-2017. The project aims to link scholarly modelling as a formal and informal reasoning strategy across disciplinary boundaries, and to bridge between modelling in research and teaching.

In Digital Humanities (DH), modelling is a creative process of reasoning in which meaning is made and negotiated through the creation and manipulation of external representations. Through the lenses of critical humanities traditions and interdisciplinary takes on making and using models, the project
Modelling between digital and humanities: thinking in practice
builds on the novelty of DH research in making explicit and integrating existing diverse models of cultural phenomena (e.g. texts; events) with the aim to:

explore possibilities for a new interdisciplinary language of modelling;
analyse modelling in scholarship as a process of signification;
develop connections between modelling as research and learning strategies.

By modelling we intend the creative process by which researchers create and manipulate external representations (“imaginary concreta,” Godfrey-Smith, 2009: 108) to make sense of the conceptual objects and phenomena they study. In order to integrate diverse theoretical frameworks around modelling (McCarty, 2005, 2009; Mahr, 2009; Frigg and Hartmann, 2012; Morgan, 2012; Kralemann and Lattmann, 2013; Flanders and Jannidis, 2015) with a practical dimension, the project makes use of DH as an interdisciplinary departure to study modelling as anchored both to computer science and to the humanities.

Research focus

Our working hypothesis is that in DH research, implicit and explicit
models of
cultural phenomena are integrated into external metamodels, e.g. graphical representations, which often embed natural language and are informal. These metamodels are iteratively translated towards computable implementations via a variety of more or less formal models:
models for.

Two case studies are used to reflect on modelling in practical terms:

Textuality, standing for the complexity of cultural objects and activities addressed by a plethora of subject-specific approaches. Sahle (2013) proposes a metamodel to chart and relate single models of textuality from several disciplines. The metamodel acts both as a
model of
the phenomenon of textuality and as a
model for working with texts to inform the development of text technologies, digitisation practices, and rules for transcription and annotation.

Events. While textuality mediates the world we live in, events are central to an epistemological perception and description of the processes shaping this world. Many disciplines contribute to theoretical reflections on and practical applications of the modelling of events (see, e.g., Le Boeuf et. al., 2015). The project aims at combining contributions from philosophy, literary studies, history, linguistics, and computer science with cultural heritage documentation and the news industry in the transition from
models of events as things to perceive and talk about to
models for event detection and description.

The analysis of modelling practices in the areas outlined above will aim at gaining new insights in the epistemology of modelling:

How are theory and practice blended in these modelling efforts?
What role do formal and informal metamodels play in translating models of cultural phenomena into implementations?
What shared terminology can help us gaining an integrative and non-reductive understanding of digital modelling?
Can we define the methods of digital modelling informed by such an integrative and non-reductive approach?

Societal resonance
The rationale of the project places the practice of DH within a broad understanding of how humans think through things. Models are ubiquitous in our contemporary society as powerful tools to schematise the complexities of our universe, from genes to climate, from the economy to the stars. By linking DH practices to the craft of computer science as well as to the critical humanities tradition, this project tackles issues at the centre of the construction and deconstruction of (digital) models. It also advocates for a critical DH research offering the instruments to unpack the rhetoric of digital and data models, so as to contribute to a pedagogy of the digital age and to act at the core of a new cultural literacy.


Over 18 months, the project aims at producing: 1) an open access book about modelling, and 2) An international workshop devoted to selected controversies around the theorisation and practice of modelling (e.g. fictions vs. non-
fiction; theory vs. data), which will give important input to the book. A consulting group will be set up to discuss draft chapters and ongoing work.


Boeuf, P. Le, Doerr, M., Ore, C. E. and Stead, S. (2015). Definition of the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model. Version 6.2. (accessed 18 February 2016).

Flanders, J. and Jannidis, F. (2015).
Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities. White paper flanders_jannidis_datamodeling.pdf (accessed 18 February 2016).

Frigg, R. and Hartmann, S. (2012). Models in science (Ed.) Zalta, E. N.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University (accessed 18 February 2016).

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2009). Models and fictions in science.
Philosophical Studies,
143(1): 101–16.

Kralemann, B. and Lattmann, C. (2013). Models as icons: modeling models in the semiotic framework of Peirce’s theory of signs.
190(16): 3397–420.

Mahr, B. (2009). Information science and the logic of models.
Software & Systems Modeling,
8(3): 365–83.

McCarty, W. (2005).
Humanities Computing. Basingstoke [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

McCarty, W. (2009). Being reborn: the humanities, computing and styles of scientific reasoning. In Bowen, W. R. and Siemens, R. G. (eds),
New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe, Arizona: Iter and the ACMRS, vol. 1: 1–23.

Morgan, M. S. (2012).
The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think. Cambridge University Press.

Sahle, P. (2013). Digitale Editionsformen. Zum Umgang mit der Überlieferung unter den Bedingungen des Medienwandels. Teil 3: Textbegriffe und Recodierung. [Preprint-Fassung] Universität zu Köln Ph.D. (accessed 18 February 2016).

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2016
"Digital Identities: the Past and the Future"

Hosted at Jagiellonian University, Pedagogical University of Krakow

Kraków, Poland

July 11, 2016 - July 16, 2016

454 works by 1072 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (11)

Organizers: ADHO