The next Utrecht Cultural History Seminar will take place on Thursday, 4 April from 16:00 to 17:15 at the Stijlkamer 0.06 Janskerkhof 13, followed by drinks at café Hofman. Our speaker will be Dr. Pim Huijnen, assistant Professor in digital cultural history at Utrecht University. The presentation will be called Artifical intelligence and cultural history. For an abstract, see below.
Artifical intelligence and cultural history
Data is rapidly altering the world in which we live. Or, perhaps better, it is the innovation coming from fields of study like artificial intelligence and machine learning relying on that data that is really doing the changing. It is true that every self-driving car crash can be regarded as a reminder that we are, perhaps, not as progressed as some would have made us believe. However, it is true that the mentioned scholarly fields demand a radical new approach to knowledge formation—one that is less based on modeling methodolgies grounded in human experience and expertise, and more on relying on algorithms to create predictive models based on latent patterns in large amounts of data.
In this seminar, I do not aim to elaborate on the question of what this means for established scholarly notions of knowledge and meaning—although I do think it is an important one to, as historians, start reflecting on. Instead, I would like to raise the question to what extent historians should join the ranks of others—from the intelligence community, public administrations, and the industry (at large), to computer science and the social sciences—in celebrating the new opportunities these techniques offer. As of yet, the historians’ reflex seems to be to keep away from it all. There are arguably good reasons to do so. However, I will argue that it is crucial for the future of our profession to, at least, give them some serious thought.
By drawing examples from my own recent work and current ideas, I will talk about what machine learning techniques I and other historians are already using, as well as what they, generally, might can contribute to historical scholarship. I would explicitly like to use this seminar as a forum to openly exchange suggestions and ideas.