In the Nexus of Knowledge Organisation and Digital Humanities

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Thu, 03/17/2022 - 09:04

Koraljka Golub and Yin-Hsang-Liu's recent edited volume "Information and Knowledge Organisation in Digital Humanities: Global Perspectives" (Routledge 2021, available in open access) comes as an extremely timely contribution to bridge the gap between knowledge organisation and digital humanities fields. Their points of convergence are very apparent but still - especially considering that information studies, the home discipline of knowledge organisation, has been increasingly active in digital humanities community - there has been little comprehensive work to bring the two together in dialogue. Golub and Liu's volume takes an important step to this direction by lining up a highly international and diverse collection of chapters shedding light to major contexts where knowledge organisation plays a crucial role in and for digital humanities research and vice versa. The perspectives are global although not in the identity-political sense but rather in terms that they are coming from across the globe and clearly underlining the global relevance and significance of both problems and opportunities relating to knowledge organisation in and in relation to digital humanities. The group of authors is diverse also considering their backgrounds with many affiliated with cultural heritage institutions and other organisations outside of academia.

The volume has three sections, on on modelling and metadata, one on information management and one on platforms ad techniques. Several chapters raise the question of the importance of interoperability and combined use of knowledge organisation schemes. These include Sugimoto and colleague's text on modelling intangible cultural heritage, including manga, anime, games and performances, and Vukadin and Stefanac's discussion of their work on describing the archive of a venerable Croatian bookseller using a combination of archival and library knowledge organisation schemes. Costa and colleagues' work demonstrates that sometimes the needs cannot be satisfied with existing schemes and it is necessary to start from he scratch to be able to describe material in a meaningful manner. Further, the combined use of schemes extends also to the use of different approaches to knowledge organisation. Coeckelbergs and van Hooland underline this in their study of a corpus of documents from the European Commission archives where the findings point to the benefits of a combined use of computational analysis of material and knowledge organisation systems can be expected to yield best results.

Another cross-cutting theme relates to the importance of understanding and accommodating for different stakeholder perspectives. This includes use and users, and the continuing need of user studies but also professionals. This is exemplified in Wang and colleague's text but also in the chapter of Hall and Walsh that criticise typical search interfaces that are not particularly helpful in information retrieval for research purposes.

Smith's chapter highlight the problems relating to time and change in organising and describing knowledge. Earlier knowledge organisation literature has increasingly directed attention to that indexing and classification have relative best before dates as categories and concepts change in time. Smith shows also how the fast development of technical schemes makes it difficult for early adopters to update their systems and their contents to new standards. This also ties to the critique raised by Oldman on how knowledge organisation in digital humanities research is to a large degree dictated by computational data structures rather than humanities researchers' epistemes. I am inclined to disagree here to a degree with how Oldman seems to see a problem in how the epistemes of business-oriented data structures and humanities researchers' needs are irreconciliable a priori and turn attention to eventual differences and similarities in different tasks and aims and their impact on the practical and situational (dis)appropriateness of different types of data structures. But this does not change the fact that their is a discrepancy and that this discrepancy is seldom acknowledged in research designs and theoretical discussions.

Finally, perhaps unsurprisingly multiple chapters highlight the need of increased and improved collaboration between knowledge organisation and digital humanities researchers and professionals. The Digital Perigeisis project discussed by Anna Foka and colleagues highklights this particularly well. 

Aas a whole, the "Information and Knowledge Organisation in Digital Humanities: Global Perspectives" is a welcome addition to the dearth of literature that brings together knowledge organisation and digital humanities but also more broadly digital humanities and information studies scholarship. It is not and does not attempt to be a complete guide to the nexus of the fields but provide functions as a useful starting point for exploring it and a much welcome exposé to a pertinent set of key topics in the field.

Reference: Golub, K., & Liu, Y.-H. (Eds.). (2021). Information and Knowledge Organisation in Digital Humanities: Global Perspectives. London: Routledge. DOI:10.4324/9781003131816 ISBN:9781003131816