Increasingly in the last decades, scholars have written about the limits of interpretation, and in some cases implied that it is something that can be overcome. One could think of a range of different forms of post- and anti-hermeneutic criticism such as media archaeology (Ernst, Kittler; Flusser; Parikka); speculative realism and object-oriented ontology (Bryant; Harman; Meillassoux); surface reading (Best and Marcus; Sedgwick; Sontag), and quantitative formalism (Moretti; Allison et al.). Recent forms of ‘distant reading’ in Digital Humanities, experiments in machine reading, critiques of historicism, and narratives of the ‘turn away from the linguistic turn,’ all present important alternatives to the practice of interpreting individual texts and objects.
Digital Hermeneutics aims to reevaluate and revalue the rich hermeneutic tradition by bringing it into dialogue with material or quantitative approaches. How do digital media resist or problematize hermeneutic approaches, and can we adapt our interpretative toolkits to such objects? Framed by these concerns and questions, we design and teach courses, organize events, and publish articles.
Our materials have been developed on the basis of courses that were designed and taught in the last four years at UC Berkeley, Tilburg University, Shanghai International Studies University, the University of Copenhagen, and King’s College London. In these teaching experiences, we found that computational methods and critical reflection do not automatically converge. DH methods, too often, are detrimental to the development of good research questions and theoretical or interpretative frameworks. Big data is cool, and we tend to think it speaks for itself. To counteract this, we believe that Digital Humanities (DH) approaches should be integrated into the foundation of humanities education, instead of being offered as an optional skills module. The question that concerns us is: how can we assess the status and value of interpretation in the Humanities today?