The Intellectual Organisation of History

A tradition of scholarship discusses the characteristics of different areas of knowledge, in particular after modern academia compartmentalized them into disciplines. The academic approach is often put to question: are there two or more cultures? Is an ever-increasing specialization the only way to cope with information abundance or are holistic approaches helpful too? What is happening with the digital turn? If these questions are well studied for the sciences, our understanding of how the humanities might differ in their own respect is far less advanced. In particular, modern academia might foster specific patterns of specialization in the humanities. Eventually, the recent rise in the application of digital methods to research, known as the digital humanities, might be introducing structural adaptations through the development of shared research technologies and the advent of organizational practices such as the laboratory. It therefore seems timely and urgent to map the intellectual organization of the humanities. This investigation depends on few traits such as the level of codification, the degree of agreement among scholars, the level of coordination of their efforts. These characteristics can be studied by measuring their influence on the outcomes of scientific communication. In particular, this thesis focuses on history as a discipline using bibliometric methods. In order to explore history in its complexity, an approach to create collaborative citation indexes in the humanities is proposed, resulting in a new dataset comprising monographs, journal articles and citations to primary sources. Historians' publications were found to organize thematically and chronologically, sharing a limited set of core sources across small communities. Core sources act in two ways with respect to the intellectual organization: locally, by adding connectivity within communities, or globally as weak ties across communities. Over recent decades, fragmentation is on the rise in the intellectual networks of historians, and a comparison across a variety of specialisms from the human, natural and mathematical sciences revealed the fragility of such networks across the axes of citation and textual similarities. Humanists organize into more, smaller and scattered topical communities than scientists. A characterisation of history is eventually proposed. Historians produce new historiographical knowledge with a focus on evidence or interpretation. The former aims at providing the community with an agreed-upon factual resource. Interpretive work is instead mainly focused on creating novel perspectives. A second axe refers to two modes of exploration of new ideas: in-breadth, where novelty relates to adding new, previously unknown pieces to the mosaic, or in-depth, if novelty then happens by improving on previous results. All combinations possible, historians tend to focus on in-breadth interpretations, with the immediate consequence that growth accentuates intellectual fragmentation in the absence of further consolidating factors such as theory or technologies. Research on evidence might have a different impact by potentially scaling-up in the digital space, and in so doing influence the modes of interpretation in turn. This process is not dissimilar to the gradual rise in importance of research technologies and collaborative competition in the mathematical and natural sciences. This is perhaps the promise of the digital humanities.


Advisor(s):
Kaplan, Frédéric
Franceschet, Massimo
Year:
2018
Publisher:
Lausanne, EPFL
Keywords:
Laboratories:
DHLAB




 Record created 2018-08-29, last modified 2019-06-19

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