The PhD project examines how digital media as well as the technologies and methods that organize, analyze, and visualize them increasingly shape historical writing practices. Terms such as “big data of the past,” the omnipresent use of digital databases and network theories, as well as the introduction of machine learning, digital mapping, or data modeling bear witness to this development. Analogue knowledge systems and the corresponding organization and classification systems are replaced, while new systems are introduced. However, not only the work processes within research are transformed, the result itself—how history is written and conveyed—is likely transforming. Following a critical approach to digital humanities and computational history, the dissertation project examines the history-producing mechanisms of novel research tools as well as the epistemological consequences for historical research.
The research undertaken at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science includes a case study, for which Matteo Valleriani’s project The Sphere serves as a research subject. Based on a collection of 359 books, which contain or are closely related to John of Sacrobosco’s treatise De sphaera mundi, the project investigates the transformation the treatise underwent over the course of two centuries. For this purpose, a database, visualization tools, social network analysis, and machine learning are put to use. Against this background, the dissertation focuses on questions such as: Through the use of digital tools, which research endeavors and approaches are enabled and which might be suppressed or overlooked? How do historians, programmers, and the technologies they apply interact? How is historiography effected and can a more general epistemological shift within historical writing practices be deduced?