ACO*HUM Formal Methods in the Humanities

Description of the working group goals

The working group on Formal Methods in the Humanities was established on Nov. 2 by the steering committee of the thematic network project on Advanced Computing in the Humanities (see the minutes of the meeting). During the Granada meeting it was agreed that such a group should be formed to raise the methodological consequences of computing in the humanities to the level of a common teaching field and study its European basis.

The new working group is to be a horizontal working group, i.e. a working group whose activities cut across a range of disciplines covered by other working groups (see the diagram with the overview of working groups).

The working group is led by Prof. Tito Orlandi and consists further of members of each of the other working groups in order to secure cross-linking in its concepts and activities. The mandate of the working group is to discuss the following two distinct themes:

  1. How does the very nature of humanities scholarship change due to the incorporation of formal and computational methods? How does the adoption of such methods (e.g. the digitalization of language and art, the application of artificial intelligence, the use of computer simulation methods) have an impact on the humanities, from a philosophy of science viewpoint?
  2. What are the theoretical and practical problems involved in the integration of advanced computing in humanities curricula, accross the various disciplines involved? Can common modules be identified offering formal and computational methods for all humanities students? In which respects must humanities computing be taught differently than other computing?

The above questions will be addressed in a humanities-wide perspective, but also by in-depth analyses of the specific disciplines involved in the other ACO*HUM working groups.

The working group will form a platform for identifying the theoretical foundation of computer applications in the humanities and its implications for humanities scholarship. The group will analyze best practice in humanities computing, starting from a clarification of the link between humanities disciplines and computing, and will aim at recommendations which are compatible Europe-wide.

The group will address the general and common problems which all humanities disciplines face when they use computer technology. In this environment, while some problems are specific, and which depend from the peculiarities of the each discipline, others depend on the encounter of the computer methodology with the methodology of humanities in general.

It must be noted, in this respect, that computer science is recognized as a theoretical discipline, independent from computer technology. Computer science deals with methodological issues of a formal nature (formal languages and formal modeling of reality). The adoption of a formal methodology in the traditionally non-formal subjects of humanities disciplines creates a revolution which is much greater than the adoption of simply computer technology.

It is being recognized that computer applications in the humanities have a theoretical foundation which deals with the interrelations between the methodology of the different branches of humanities and the principles of computer science. The automation of some, or many, of the procedures of humanities research raises problems of formalization of data and their treatment, which are different from the problems so far discussed in the traditional approach to the humanities.

On the other hand, treatment of textual material, or the arranging of multimedia products for research, teaching, and dissemination of results, or the construction of data bases of historical or archaeological data, pose methodological problems of their own, which transversely cross the different disciplines in which computerized procedures are applied.

What is at stake is the identification of best practice in the approach of humanities scholars to computing, clarifying the link between humanities disciplines and computing, and to study the European dimension of such an approach.