Hello again, my fine digital-humanist friends! It’s a delight to be back in the Scholars’ Lab this year!
For those who don’t know me, my name is Christian Howard, and I am a PhD Candidate at UVA in English literature and one of the 2017-2018 Praxis Fellows. If you do happen to know me, you might also know that I was fortunate to work in the Makerspace of the Scholars’ Lab last year. In any case, I’m excited to combine the knowledge that I gained there working on hands-on, material projects with finer computer skills and the even greater conceptualizations into which I expect our Praxis team will delve.
I’ve recently been rereading Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production, and I want to reflect briefly on one of Drucker’s points, which I think is especially central to our Praxis team this year. Drucker brilliantly exposes “data” as constructs, constructs that cannot “pre-exist their parameterization.” As such, Drucker opts for the alternative term, “capta,” stating: “Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (128). Capta comes from the Latin verb capio, capere, which, translated literally, means “to capture, take, seize.” Yet in a more figurative sense, capere could also mean “to take in, understand.” It is partly because of this pun that I find Drucker’s redefinition particularly apt, for it is precisely the act of “capturing” information that facilitates our understanding of that information. In other words, every decision to define the parameters under which “data” will be taken is itself an interpretive strategy.
So what does this mean for humanists, and digital humanists in particular? I’ll quote Drucker again, this time at length:
“To expose the constructedness of data as capta a number of systematic changes have to be applied to the creation of graphical displays. That is the foundation and purpose of a humanistic approach to the qualitative display of graphical information. That last formulation should be read carefully, humanistic approach means that the premises are rooted in the recognition of the interpretive nature of knowledge, that this display itself is conceived to embody qualitative expressions, and that the information is understood as graphically constituted” (128-129).
It is this recognition – namely, in the fundamentally interpretive nature of data-as-capta – that distinguishes the humanities as a discipline.
As a Praxis cohort, we are still working to define the shape that our project will take; nonetheless, in developing our charter or mission statement, we have unanimously agreed that transparency is of the utmost importance to us. As such, we are committed not only to sharing the result of our collaboration with the public, but also to showing the processes through which our project develops, thereby enabling anyone to trace the interpretations and assumptions underlying our own work.
Well, that’s all the heavy-lifting for today. For those of you who found this introductory post too lengthy, I’ve provided a handy summary for you below:
TL;DR: Born at a young age, I have pursued my education in order to justify my caffeine-dependency. Most recent greatest achievement? I’ve just beaten my all-time personal record of most consecutive days lived! Time to celebrate with some coffee and chocolate.
Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.