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Recap of Symposium on Tools Criticism and Public Lecture

On Thursday 21 November, Leiden University Libraries' (UBL) Centre for Digital Scholarship and the Leiden Centre for Digital Humanities organised a Symposium on Tools Criticism at the Leiden University Library. Visiting Scaliger Professor Ted Underwood, gave a Public Lecture on "The Humanities in an information age". Do you want to watch a talk at the symposium again or did you miss Professor Underwood's Public lecture? Each talk is available below.

Public Lecture: "The Role of the Humanities in an Information Age"

Visiting Scaliger Professor Ted Underwood, Professor of Information Sciences and of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In an age of print media, it was easy to see how scrutinizing novels and historical documents prepared students to scrutinize arguments in the newspaper.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.


About the Symposium on Tools Criticism

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 Optical Character Recognition 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 inherent restrictions that apply to their use.

Although critical consideration of sources has always been embedded within Humanities research, today, 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 analyse data.


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

"Introduction to the Tools Criticism Symposium"

Kurt De Belder, director of Leiden University Libraries


 "Theoretical introduction and rationale of the theme Tools & Data Criticism"

Julia Noordegraaf, Professor of Digital Heritage, University of Amsterdam.


"Methodologies in tools criticism"

Peter Verhaar, Digital Scholarship Librarian & Assistant Professor Book & Digital Media Studies, Leiden University


"Accountability & Tool Criticism"

Karin van Es, Assistant Professor of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University


"Tools that encourage criticism: digital humanities infrastructures and research."

Marijn Koolen, Software Engineer, KNAW Humanities Cluster


"Teaching methodologies and pedagogy for Digital Humanities. A model for Digital Tool Criticism."

Jasmijn van Gorp, Assistant Professor of Television and Digital Heritage, Utrecht University.


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.


Full live stream

For the full live stream of the Tools Criticism Symposium, click here.

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