Prof. Dr. Cornelis J. (Kees-Jan) Schilt (Vrije Universiteit Brussel): ´VERITRACE: Data driven humanities’
Abstract In general, with all the necessary caveats, research in the natural and life sciences is data driven. Its conclusions are derived from hypotheses confirmed or rejected based on the generation and interpretation of (mostly numerical) data. Obviously, the quality of these conclusions is a direct consequence of the quantity and quality of the inputted data, with statistical reliability an overall indicator of the significance of these conclusions. This is in stark contrast with the humanities, where terms like 'hypothesis' and 'data' are relatively scarce - although the term 'significance' is used with as much force as within the sciences, but without a quantifying figure. But then, what is the overall quality of statements pertaining to, say, the history of ideas? All too often one encounters strong claims that upon closer scrutiny do not hold. Frequently, they are based on very little data, a biased selection or reading of the available data, or - sadly - no data whatsoever.
The ERC-funded project ‘Traces de la Verité: the reappropriation of ancient wisdom in early modern natural philosophy’ aka VERITRACE (for which see https://veritrace.eu) is part of a larger movement within the humanities to provide more robust conclusions drawn from large datasets. The project makes use of several large digital collections of Renaissance and early modern printed books to try understand how the idea of a prisca sapientia and its associated literature influenced early modern natural philosophy. We know Copernicus, Kepler, Bacon, Newton, and many, many other researchers were deeply interested in works like the Corpus Hermeticum and the Chaldean Oracles, yet we have no idea what it is exactly that they took from these writings. The research performed as part of VERITRACE may very well confirm existing conclusions in the field but then supported with abundant, reliable data, provide alternative explanations for which clear support exists, or indeed overthrow existing opinion.
This talk will introduce in more depth the research vision underlying data driven humanities in general and VERITRACE in particular.