The kind of DHer I am

Under the view that DH are rooted in what has traditionally been called Humanities computing (HC), and that DH encompass HC, then most of my scholarly activities over the last fifteen years or so have been DH.

I thought my destiny was literary studies, but I fell in love with linguistics as soon as I discovered it. At Unil, there were (and still are) close links between linguistics and computer science–and HC in particular. So I was encouraged to get some formal training in programming, statistics, machine learning (which was still called AI by then), natural language processing, and so on.┬áIt rang a bell…

Extreme Logo programming circa 1985 (only one typing hand is mine, the other is in plaster)

Extreme Logo programming circa 1985 (only one typing hand is mine, the other is in plaster)

It reminded me how much I had enjoyed building things as a kid, first with Legos, and when they didn’t suffice anymore, with the pieces of whatever I could dismantle–I was particularly fond of everything that seemed to have electricity in it. Retrospectively, I don’t think that I (or anyone else) cared much about what I built that way. Building was what mattered.

When I first discovered programming, still as a kid, it appeared as the miracle solution to the ineluctable problem of running out of bricks and pieces. The 64ko of my Commodore seemed wide enough to contain the whole world–at least significant parts of it. I felt the same sense of freedom and potentiality when I got back to computer science as an adult (after a brief excursus pondering the idea that I was meant to be rock’n’roll’s next cursed poet).

There is one meaningful difference between now and then, however: nowadays, I can only build as long as I can find users for my constructions. Someone’s got to care about what I build, or to be more precise, about what can be done with what I build. With my background, it seems only natural that I should design mostly for the needs of scholars concerned with language.

Most of these users have other priorities than building. I believe however that building can be both a productive and an enjoyable way of achieving many of their objectives. This belief is, I think, what motivates my interest in building construction kits–for text analysis, as it happens. Thus, at the risk of seeming plain obsessive, what can be done with what I build is building.