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Introducing our Taxonomy of DH Methods and Approaches

Mae Velloso-Lyons, Eric Harvey, Alix Keener

The research that CESTA supports not only spans more than twenty academic departments but deploys a staggeringly diverse range of methods and tools. This makes for an exciting atmosphere of discovery, but presents a challenge when it comes to effectively presenting the multifaceted work of our community.

As we considered how to structure the publications page on our revamped website, we knew we needed to create a way for visitors to not only search, but also browse our collection. This blog post introduces one feature that we settled on: a taxonomy of methods and approaches which can be used to filter our publications.

When you visit the page, you will notice that every publication is tagged at the top of its card with one or more methods or approaches. These tags emerged from many weeks of reading, discussion, and good-natured debate amongst the members of CESTA's team. We knew we weren’t the first to try to describe the range of digital humanities research methods, and we were inspired by existing taxonomies, including TaDiRAH (the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities) and the topic and method registry offered by Reviews in the Digital Humanities.

Rather than attempting to be comprehensive, however, our focus was on capturing the common currents running through the work of our researchers, with the intention that the list of tags could grow and change over time, eventually offering a record of methodological (and terminological) change.

In order to come up with a preliminary list, the team read through a selection of works by CESTA affiliates and noted down the methods they employed, using terms drawn from the works themselves as well as from our own interpretations of their approach. We then collated these terms and considered the areas where there was overlap or redundancy, attempting to distill each term into a formulation which was neither too broad ("database") nor too narrow ("remote sensor data"). We were mindful, of course, that some terms which might seem niche today could in future become more widespread. In this sense, a taxonomy inevitably reflects the context of its creation.

In conversation with one another, we refined the list of terms by combining those which were similar and hashing out ambiguities. One term which emerged from a particularly generative conversation was “DH metacriticism”. Although the works tagged with this approach are focused on a diversity of questions and rooted in different academic disciplines, they all participate in an effort to reflect upon best practices in the digital humanities. By linking them together in this way, we hope to draw attention to a shared preoccupation among our community members that may otherwise not have been visible.

Here are the terms we landed on:

  • Computational text analysis
  • Computer vision
  • Corpus construction
  • Data visualization 
  • DH metacriticism 
  • Digital mapping
  • Digital collection
  • Digital edition
  • Digital reading/viewing environment
  • Digital tool creation
  • Digitization
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Machine learning
  • Network analysis
  • Networks
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Spatial history 
  • Webcrawling/webscraping

We recognize the limitations of this list, which cannot claim to be a definitive taxonomy of current DH approaches (note, for example, the absence of virtual and extended reality, which has to date not featured in publications by our community, despite its growing importance in the field at large). Instead, we see this taxonomy as a reflection of the historic and current interests of our research community, and expect that it will continue to develop in tandem with the community itself.

In attempting to categorize CESTA's first decade of research in this way, we had the experience of seeing familiar pieces in a new light, and noticing the transdisciplinary connections which have always been at the heart of CESTA's culture, but which aren't always clear from more traditional publication lists. We hope that you will make discoveries of your own as you browse our first ten years of publications.

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