Providing resources and trai­ning in the practices and tools of the digital humanities

The Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities provides resources and training in the practices and tools of the digital humanities, facilitating interdisciplinary academic collaborations, innovative research, and external funding opportunities.

 

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Lauren Kersey - Less is More: The Pursuit of Gestalts in Minimalism and Knowledge Discovery... Lauren Kersey, Saint Louis University Less is More: The Pursuit of Gestalts in Minimalism and Knowledge Discovery in Databases Graduate Paper, Digital Humanities Forum 2014: Nodes & Networks in the Humanities. University of Kansas September 13, 2014 http://idrh.ku.edu/dhforum2014/ -- As cultural marketplaces become increasingly saturated and fragmented, new forms emerge to compress, sort, and efficiently deliver messages. Minimalism, from the visual arts, and Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD), from the computer sciences, developed in tandem in response to this common pressure. This paper links these two movements from their origins to the present day to show how KDD appropriates principles and design elements from minimalism for competing purposes. Minimalism developed in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. These works countered what they saw as consumerist impulses fueled by subjective forms of self-expression. Donald Judd’s arrays of freestanding boxes typify this movement. They reduce expression to essential conditions: the expressive object’s internal relationships involving basic materials, proportions, and the arrangement of simple geometric figures like lines and planes along with the object’s interactions with external elements like light and viewers’ positions within surrounding space. Around the same time computer scientists invented integrated circuit-chips and microprocessors that facilitated networks of personal computers. This Web accelerated the output and the fragmentation of human expression to such a degree that traditional centers of control struggled to monitor and regulate increasingly niche sub-communities. Thus, marketing firms became early investors in KDD: the process of discovering and displaying useful knowledge from large volumes of data. Since then, humanists have adapted KDD to condense literary corpuses into essential patterns and models. Specifically, KDD applies frequency thresholds to identify a corpus’s essential lexical materials. Analysts then identify the unique proportions of these materials by comparing one corpus to another through classification or clustering algorithms. Finally, the interpretive stage represents these essential materials and proportions as simple geometric shapes. Like minimalist art, KDD aims to be literal and holistic. Consider either Donald Judd’s boxes or a multidimensional, cube-shaped graph that reduces novels to data points. Its purpose is not to express the creator’s internal psychology or an external reality beyond the factual existence of the basic conditions for that aesthetic object itself. Both projects are holistic in that they suppress detail to pursue what Robert Morris called the gestalt: objects that “offer maximum resistance to perceptual separation” which force viewers to see the whole before or in synchrony with individual parts. In so doing, viewers account for individual relationships, later changes, and their own subjective roles in the object’s manifestation. Viewers who walk around Judd’s boxes are aware of their limited and shifting viewpoints because they have a preexisting image of the object in its abstract entirety. Analysts who condense literary history into gestalts are aware of their limited and shifting positions because they have a preexisting image of literary history in its abstract entirety. By surveying Franco Moretti, Matthew Jockers, and Google’s Ngram Viewer, this paper explores how KDD’s capitalist and anti-capitalist heritage influences these projects. In particular, it asks whether their visuals allow viewers to interact and experiment with the complicated networks that make up literature and culture or whether they disempower communities by presenting these conditions as empirical, constant, and impermeable.


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