Humanities and big data merge for presentations

Ray Siemens
Ray Siemens

The world of academia is progressively merging traditional humanities disciplines, such as English, history and philosophy, with those from the data sciences, including statistics and computer information sciences. 

Ray Siemens, Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing and Distinguished Professor of English and computer science at the University of Victoria, will visit Grand Valley’s Allendale Campus November 3-4 to discuss this new interdisciplinary collaboration know as “digital humanities."

Maria Cimitile, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs and associate professor of philosophy at Grand Valley, said scholars and teachers in the field of digital humanities often incorporate text-mining, text-mapping, data visualization techniques and interactive media in their work.

“A simple example of digital humanities work is this: It has always been the case that we could investigate works considered humorous in Shakespeare’s body of writing,” said Cimitile. “With the aid of technology and text-mining, we now have the ability to gather information about all of Shakespeare’s works to help discern the role of humor in 16th century England in an encompassing interpretation.”

Siemens will first present “Foundations for Digital Self-Determination in the Humanities” November 3 from 3-5 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center’s Grand River Room. This event will provide a general introduction to digital humanities, as well as showcase how the humanities are changing in light of technology and the ability to access and store large amounts of data.

On November 4, Siemens will present “Research Partnership Toward Open Social Scholarship: Implementing New Knowledge Environments 2.0” from 10-11 a.m. in the Mary Idema Pew Library Multipurpose Room. This talk will highlight Siemens’ work with the Implementing New Knowledge Environments project (INKE), which is a collaborative group of researchers and graduate research assistants who work with various organizations to explore the digital humanities, electronic scholarly communication and the affordances of electronic text.

“During these presentations, students will learn how the technology that they often hold at their fingertips in their phones or tablets can produce very sophisticated expressions of knowledge,” Cimitile said. “Dr. Siemens will help us understand how the power of technology can be applied to those most basic of human questions.”

These presentations are sponsored by Grand Valley’s Big Data Initiative, Office of the Provost, Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence.

For more information, contact Cimitile at (616) 331-2400 or email the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center at