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Symposium on Tools Criticism

The Centre for Digital Scholarship of Leiden University Libraries (UBL) and the Leiden Centre for Digital Humanities would like to invite you to the symposium on Tools Criticism on Thursday 21 November, from 10.00-18.00. The symposium will be held in the Vossius room of the University Library at Witte Singel 27, Leiden. The symposium also includes the public lecture from Visiting Scaliger Professor Ted Underwood, Professor of Information Sciences and of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This lecture will be held in the Lipsius building, Room 0.19, Cleveringaplaats 1, Leiden. Afterwards you can meet the new Visiting Scaliger Professor and drinks will be served.


The symposium is fully booked. You can still register for the Public Lecture ‘The Role of the Humanities in an Information Age’ by Ted Underwood, Visiting Scaliger Professor.

Visiting Scaliger Professor Ted Underwood, Professor of Information Sciences and of English at the University of Illinois.


Leiden University Library, Vossius room, Witte Singel 27, Leiden.

10:00-10:15 Welcome.

10:15-10:45 Theoretical introduction and rationale of the theme Tools & Data Criticism by Julia Noordegraaf, Professor of Digital Heritage, University of Amsterdam.

10:45-11:15 Lecture 1: Peter Verhaar, Digital Scholarship Librarian & Assistant Professor Book & Digital Media Studies, Leiden University: 'Methodologies in tools criticism'.

11:15-11:45 Lecture 2: Karin van Es, Assistant Professor of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University. ‘Accountability & Tool Criticism’.

11:45-12:15 Lecture 3: dr. Esther Weltevrede, Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam, ‘From bias to methods'.

12:15-13:00 Lunch break. (Lunch will be provided)

13:00-15:00 Practical examples of Tools Criticism.

During this session, a number of scholars will give a lecture on their research and the tools they use. They will go into the 'bias' of using certain tools and data and the implications on the research results.

13:00-13:30 Lecture 1: Marijn Koolen, Software Engineer, KNAW Humanities Cluster. ‘Tools that encourage criticism: digital humanities infrastructures and research.’

13:30-14:00 Lecture 2: Melvin Wevers, Researcher, Digital Humanities Lab, KNAW Humanities Cluster. ‘Signals and Noise: Modelling patterns and bias in cultural data.’

14:00-14:30 Lecture 3: Jasmijn van Gorp, Assistant Professor of Television and Digital Heritage, Utrecht University. ‘Teaching methodologies and pedagogy for Digital Humanities. A model for Digital Tool Criticism.’

14:30-15:00 Panel session on methodology/best practices in tools criticism.
Moderator: Sjef Barbiers, Professor of Dutch Linguistics, Leiden University.
Panel: Adriaan van der Weel, Julia Noordegraaf, Ted Underwood.

15:00-15:30 Break.

16:00-17:00 Public Lecture ‘The Role of the Humanities in an Information Age’ by Visiting Scaliger Professor Ted Underwood, Professor of Information Sciences and of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Venue: Lipsius building, Room 0.19, Cleveringaplaats 1, Leiden.

In an age of print media, it was easy to see how scrutinizing novels and historical documents prepared students to scrutinize arguments in the newspaper. It is harder to feel confident that the humanities are preparing students for civic life now that influence is exerted through algorithmically filtered social media and microtargeted ads. Many observers have concluded that the scholar's role in our era is simply to oppose the infiltration of culture by algorithms. In this talk I will try to sketch a more optimistic vision of the future, pointing to places where humanists are joining hands with data science to create a form of public reflection that fuses the scale of machine learning with the historical self-consciousness of humanistic tradition.

17.00-18.00 Drinks.

Digitised and born digital sources
The influx of both digitised and so-called ‘born digital’ sources offers new opportunities for scholars in the Humanities. The use of these digital sources also raises new questions. Which quality standards should OCR conform to, to enable quantitative and qualitative research? In what way can and should sources be linked? Critical attention must be paid to the way in which sources have been digitised and to the restrictions that apply to their use.
Although critical consideration of sources has always been embedded within Humanities research, new demands are constantly being imposed on the influx and reliability of digital sources. In addition, it is of crucial importance to critically examine the tools that are used to create and to analyse data.

The symposium aims to draw attention to the notion that digital research instruments almost inevitably introduce a certain theoretical, practical or methodological bias, resulting from the fact that they have been developed for a particular scholarly purpose and/or within a particular methodological framework. Research in the field of data and tools criticism aims to recognise such bias, to give explicit expression to the various assumptions on which software tools are based, and to evaluate the potential impact of these assumptions on research outcomes. The symposium in Leiden will partly present the insights that are emerging from the articles that are written for a special issue of the Digital Humanities Quarterly, which concentrates on tools criticism. 

The symposium on scholarly tools criticism consists of two parts. A morning session explores the aims and the methodology of data criticism and tools criticism on a theoretical level. During the afternoon, a number of digital humanities scholars approach the topic of tools criticism in a more practical manner, by discussing the limitations or the implications of some of the tools they have used or have developed. 

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