From digital humanities to cultural data analytics

Keywords: cultural data analytics, cultural analytics, digital humanities, complexity, semiosphere, cultural semiotics, cultural science

Digital Humanities (DH) has been a success story in the academic world over the last twenty years which has opened many new vistas in the humanities research. However, we argue that it is better to consider DH as a transitory phenomenon that needs to be developed into more specific research fields in order to overcome some fundamental shortcomings of DH. First, it is vital to transcend the division between qualitative inquiry into ideographic phenomena and quantification of nomothetic phenomena. This specifically includes the emergence and analysis of organized complexity, which emerges right in between. Secondly, it is important to surpass the dichotomy of singular and general as research objects and replace this by the notion of semiosphere as a research object, defined as the “smallest” functioning element of culture by Juri Lotman. From this perspective, the singular cultural unit is always conditioned by the whole of the semiosphere, but the whole can be always changed by the singular unit. Thirdly, the denominator “digital” is questionable and needs to be left behind, as there are many other forms of computation, which can be analog and/or digital. Indeed, alternative forms of non-digital computation are already seeing a comeback. Fourthly, the label of “humanities” is at the same time too large and too restrictive. We would argue for a more specific study of meaning making practices in human society, yet without confining ourselves to traditional humanities scholarship but learning from the new developments in system biology, evolutionary economics, complexity science and many more. We propose to call this new transdisciplinary field of study “cultural data analytics”, aiming to explore the dynamics of meaning making practices by computational means and looking at a spectrum of materials (textual, sonic, visual, multimodal, etc.) both regarding the longue durée and in real time, if not anticipating the future.


Indrek Ibrus (b. 1974), PhD, Tallinn University, Baltic Film, Media, and Arts School, Professor of Media Innovation (Narva mnt 27, 10120 Tallinn),

Maximilian Schich (b. 1974), PhD, Tallinn University, Baltic Film, Media, and Arts School, Research Professor of Cultural Data Analytics (ERA Chair) (Narva mnt 27, 10120 Tallinn),

Marek Tamm (b. 1973), PhD, Tallinn University, School of Humanities, Professor of Cultural History (Narva mnt 29, 10120 Tallinn),