DH09 Wednesday, session 4: hermeneutics, transcription and dead projects

in DigiLib BLog
June 24th, 2009

First up, Stan Ruecker and Alan Galey (Stan presenting), “Design as a Hermeneutic Process: Thinking Through Making from Book History to Critical Design.”

Stan’s specialty: interface design; Alan’s: book history. So they’re thinking: what does it mean to evaluate interfaces? They looked at tool building traditions and interpretive traditions of both UI design and book design. Prototypes are theories, and editions (some say) are theories. In what ways can the UI design process interact with critical interpretation? What does the UI try to convince me of, and how do I engage with that?

Materialist Hermeneutics. People are distinguishing between computer and computing, and — in book history — authoring and manufacturing.

Digital objects can be remediated, born-digital, single-author and and collaborative, patterns related to cultural analysis, human-computer interfaces, visualization tools. Not all digital objects are making an argument.

Design comes in different flavors too: critical design (around the notion of the chair: how about several different chairs you can’t sit on?); hermeneutic design.

This is an opportune moment to be having this discussion about design: there are now scholarly journals (such as DHQ, frex) where you can access digital objects. So tools and other objects can support your argument, and a reader might jump out of the article, view the object, and come back.

What’s an argument? It’s contestable; defensible; substantive; has a cultural warrant (conventions). See also Booth, Collomb and Williams, The Craft of Research.

How does an object argue? Probably not syllogistically; it doesn’t have words. Maybe with visual rhetoric; through being situated within what we already understand. As with verbal arguments, visual arguments require unpacking, testing, ruminating, which can be done with words or other visual arguments. Not everyone will know all applicable contexts, like with texts.

Designers, like authors, are not always the best critics of their own work (and arguments).

Stephanie Posavec created a literary organism. She went through Kerouac’s On the Road and drew flowers in different colors and in clusters, to represent themes in the book. What arguments is she trying to make? An infographic can be both meaningful and beautiful; and, a prospect on the whole text is a worthwhile thing to have.

Is her argument contestable? Oh yes: writing without words. Is it defensible? Stan doubts it: access to the words is a significant factor that should be included. Is it substantive? Stan says, a perspective without tools (like pie charts) is of limited utility.

Another example: Throwing Bones, by Kirsten Uszkalo. Arguments it makes: a tool, like a website, should be customized, and the customization should help attract domain experts. She also says that for early modern English witchcraft researchers, the piles of images that are at the core of the tool are appropriate.

Her argument is somewhat contestable (there are other custom tools); potentially defensible (visual evidence may not be sufficiently compelling); and substantive: it could represent a new approach to the design of research tools.

Another example, by Cheok: Poultry Internet. A way to interact with your pet chicken when you’re away from home. Chicken has a jacket, you have a doll; you stroke the doll, the chicken feels it.

Arguments it’s making: tech can be used to intervene on cases of previous inhumane action. Tech should support animal-human relationships. Warm-heartedness is a research objective. (Apparently, the chickens do enjoy this, experimentally.)

Contestable: yes. Defensible: perhaps not, this is an ideological work. Substantive: yes! Insofar as animal-human relationships are significant (and it’s far). Certainly made Stan think: I’ve never done a thing for chickens!


Michael Sperberg-McQueen, “What is transcription? (part 2)” [Oh, I am NOT going to do justice to this. A lot of it is going to be over my head.]

Describes the state of progress of an ongoing project aiming to represent concepts as formulae through some formal logical notation.

We read a transcription, and learn about the exemplar it transcribes. How does that happen? Propositional content changes hands, and the transcription makes assertions or licenses inferences from the exemplar. Authors model these assertions, and model disagreement as logical contradiction. But contradictions need to be made harmless by being relativized, so the authors add a second level in which there aren’t any contradictions, only different readings.

Assertions model 1: transcriptions *convey* logical content.

Assertions model 2: document level. Documents have tokens of particular types. Tokens are basic or compound. Types are basic or compound. Disagreement among transcriptions is contradiction in their assertions. Assertions may under specify the document.

Assertions model 3: readings level [that second level mentioned above]. Readings *attribute* tokens of particular types to documents. A reading of a transcription generates a reading of the exemplar.

The document level: it’s a level of description; it’s a language for talking about documents, provided by the documents themselves (see above).

Tokens and types: basic tokens map to basic types (letters of an alphabet); token sequences map to text flows (word sequences?); and regions map to structural units (texts?). These notions can be formalized (and have been; anyone have the URL?)

In an ideal world, every documents are determinate and univocal. Tokens are easily distinguished, maps to exactly one type, token sequences have exactly one sequence per set of tokens each, etc. But in fact, some documents are indeterminate. A single token may map to more than one type, and that’s not always because we are ignorant of something; sometimes that’s intentional. (See Scott Kim’s Origami.)

How do we solve this? We might postulate special kinds of types, which are themselves a disjunction or conjunction of other types.

There follow a bunch of very technical examples of formalized readings. I’ll point you to the slides later. Am in way over my head.

In conclusion: a lot of further work to be done, and today is Quebec Day. Bonne fete, Quebec!


Geoffrey Rockwell and Shawn Day, presented by both, “Burying Dead Projects: Depositing the Globalization Compendium.”

Geoffrey first. How do you end a digital project? Today we talk about the end of a particular compendium project, Globalization and Autonomy.

Project background: got a Major Collaborative Research Initiative grant of 2.5M in 2002. Major print outcome is a 10-volume academic edition. Funding ended 2007. But is the project really done?

Objective: to investigate the relationship between globalization and the processes of securing and building autonomy.

Process: Word documents submitted; document encoded and linked; references checked; document uploaded to server; full articles generated. Technologies: XML (TEI), MySQL, HTML, CSS, XSLT. There’s a perpetual issue of updating the links to glossary issues, and another of maintaining the bibliography; massive iteration problem. Operating questions: what’s the Compendium? What do we deposit?

The problem: What is the legal requirement? “All research data collected with the use of SSHRC funds must be preserved and made available for use by others within a reasonable period of time.” Oof, hard. How can we do this better? We can design for closure.

Shawn Day’s turn. The Questions: What do we deposit? Where do we deposit it? Project authors documented their thinking process here.

First, they identified the deposit components: content; code; process; user experience. The deposit package wants the best of these components; with the code, this isn’t very clear (though the fact that it’s being extracted for documentation and not for preservation probably made that easier). They’re not depositing a working system; databases not stored in native format; no tarball of the whole site. Instead, they gave enough info to recreate the whole compendium if needed. The purpose of deposit is not only this, but so that people can study the compendium and use it in perhaps unexpected ways.

They’re trying to recreate the experience in as simple a form as possible, and so captured the user experience in HTML and PDF files. Interaction is limited, but you are *able to gain the interactive experience*. Archiving the project in a more tech.complex way might become obsolete sooner, and you wouldn’t have any interactive experience.

So, in the end, here’s the deposit solution: create deposit package; document the experience; have it in multiple formats and multiple deposit locations. And bury it; sever your emotional ties; go on to the next thing.

There’s a problem with funding, where people run out of money and time before they’re done, and projects get undead; so maybe that’s a good argument for adequate funding.

Talk about undertaking and cemeteries as services for long-term preservation; repositories. People seem to like that comparison.

Tagged ,

Post Your Comment