‘Digital humanities’ means nothing

Los Angeles Review of Books” has launched series of interviews with theorists related to digital humanities. In the first part Melissa Dinsman talks with Franco Moretti, professor at the Stanford University and initiator of the Stanford Literary Lab.

His seminal books Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (2005) and Distant Reading (2013) are the core of theories of digital humanities. First one presents a scientific approach to literature, namely the use of visualization of data in literary studies. Such approach is a result of his geographical research conducted in the 90. when he published Atlas of the European Novel (1998). Quantitative methods turned out to be helpful and relevant with mapmaking. Around 2005 he met Matt Jockers who joined Stanford University as a technology specialist. From that moment they started to work together. His last book is about visualization methods in humanities and to be more precise, a way of reading the visualization. Moretti coined the term “distant reading” as opposed to “close reading”. While “close reading” focuses on studying particular, small part of text, “distant reading” makes possible to read and analyze massive amounts of data. His motto to not read books provoked a storm in the humanities. However, it is only solution to deal with data deluge and to learn from them something that it is unreachable through “close reading”.

The series of interview conducting by Dinsman is devoted to digital humanities, covering “computational research, digital reading and writing platforms, digital pedagogy, open-access publishing, augmented texts, and literary databases, media archeology and theories of networks, gaming, and wares both hard and soft” etc. Digital humanities has become an umbrella term. Therefore, it is not surprise that Moretti claimed that “‘digital humanities’ means nothing”. The conversation touches issues such as definition of digital humanities, its role at the time of crisis of humanities, and making the humanities relevant for the 21st-century university by focusing on “practice-based project” etc.

The interview available here.