Monday, November 11, 2013

Bodies of Learning

I'm going to write a thing, and it's going to be very brief. It might even involve bullet points.

I'm writing it here because it feels longer than a tweet.

Today I'm at an event at the British Library, about how Digital Humanities are changing scholarship, and the work done by British Library Labs.

I've been thinking recently about Data - I'm doing a piece of work for Caper about the uses of open data in the cultural sector. Part of this thinking has been about the old saw of the route from Data to Information to Knowledge to Wisdom.

Tom Armitage talked about this transformation really eloquently at the ODI recently, about how it inflects practice and making of things.

It strikes me that at the moment we're busy on the first two stages of that route. The government and the ODI are championing open data as a way of improving transparency - forcing governmental and societal change by opening up datasets to scrutiny.

The ODI are taking it further - looking at teaching and encouraging the skills of visualisation and interpretation: equipping people with the techniques to turn data in to information - usable stuff that exposes insights and opinions.

Listening to people talk about the importance and difficulty of dealing with huge archives - unknowable quantities of STUFF in books and records and collections and museums and and and and has got me thinking. In particular, a chap whose work involves taking statistically relevant samples of examples from within large library collections - a way of reducing the amount of STUFF you'd need to consume to get an intellectual overview of a field.

We talk about Bodies of Knowledge, Bodies of Learning. The process of working with an archive is one of becoming expert - of incorporating - of *taking in to your body* the quirks and weft and warp of the data.

Scholarship is the process of keeping things in mind - of transferring digital data archives in to a kind of biological working memory, incorporated in graduate students and PDH researchers.

At what point will we be comfortable to allow the machines to store this memory? In the way that books and writing profoundly changed the way the (?) Ancient Greeks thought about the process of creating stories and memory palaces, when will our tipping point come? When the cloud and linked references and annotated assumptions and inferences is *good enough* as an external store of cultural memory.


Just thinking.