By the end of this section, you should be able to….

  • Understand some of the points of conflict between computer science and humanities
  • Appreciate the underlying knowledge creation models and paradigms that feed these conflicts
  • Express the nature of your own ‘epistemic culture,’ as well as some of its potential strengths and weaknesses

It is not uncommon to speak in terms of the sciences and the humanities as comprising ‘two cultures’.  This shorthand way of referring to the differences between these different collections of disciplines goes back to a famous 1959 lecture by the chemist C.P. Snow, in which he outlined his impressions of these two ways of seeing the world, and some observations on each.

Snow’s work has come under a lot of critique, and yet it is still common to hear people refer to the ‘two cultures’.  Given that the digital humanities brings together humanists with engineers and computer scientists, does that mean that we resolve the conflict between these two perspectives, or do we merely use the tensions to productive ends?

Many people involved in digital projects would probably agree more with this second position than the first.  Collaborations are not easy to create and sustain under the best of circumstances, and often within digital humanities, dialogue is not easy, and common goals can be hard to converge upon.

Perhaps more useful than Snow’s work in answering this question is that of another researcher, Karin Knorr Cetina, who significantly nuanced this understanding in her development of the idea of epistemic cultures.  Each academic discipline will apply a different set of strategies the specific source to the material their work builds from and interrogate it using different tools and approaches.  This can mean that a particular disciplinary approach might hide biases or assumptions that a researchers from that community may not even think to surface for discussion with a potential collaborator.  If that collaborator has not been trained to bring the same assumptions to the table, conflicts can result.

The question of how we can identify the exact nature of the ‘epistemic cultures’ involved in the digital humanities in a pressing question for any DH infrastructure, or indeed for any DH project developing tools and services for humanists.  The lecture that accompanies this section introduces a novel approach to this question, uncovering some of the core building blocks of these two disciplines so fundamental to digital humanities and its research infrastructures.  A sample of the research data gathered the interview protocol are also included here, in case you want to further your investigation of the role of knowledge creation in shaping collaborations between computer science and humanities.

You can download the slides in this video lecture from our SlideShare profile, or from the Training Resources Section

Karin Knorr Cetina. Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Harvard University Press, 1999.

Snow CP (2001) [1959]. The Two Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press.