The 4humanities WhatEvery1Says project (WE1S) uses digital humanities methods to study public discourse about the humanities at large data scales. The project concentrates on, but is not limited to, journalistic articles available in digital textual form beginning circa 1981. The project is a collaboration with the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Miami. It is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Our hypothesis is that digital methods can help us learn new things about how news media sources portray the humanities. For example, are there sub-themes beneath the familiar dominant clichés and memes? Are there hidden connections or mismatches between the “frames” (premises, metaphors, and narratives) of those arguing for and against the humanities? How do different parts of the world or different kinds of sources compare in the way they think about the humanities? Instead of concentrating on set debates and well-worn arguments, can we exploit new approaches or surprising commonalities to advocate for the humanities in the 21st century?
Another core mission of the WE1S project is to study the way racial, ethnic, gender, first-generation student and other groups are positioned by the media, or position themselves in the media, in relation to the humanities. For example, how do mainstream media position students and others from particular groups relative to the humanities? How do media articles by or addressed specifically to such groups compare with mainstream media in how they depict this relationship? In what ways does public opinion about the very ideal of “diversity and inclusion” correlate with public opinion about the humanities?
We hope to use findings from WE1S to provide advocates for the humanities with strategies and materials for effective communication about the value of humanistic study and knowledge — with narratives, arguments, scenarios, and evidence that advance, rather than simply react to, public conversation on the place of the humanities in today’s world.
In the process of our work, we are also developing tools and guidelines to create an open, generalizable, and replicable digital humanities methodology. These include a manifest schema for data-provenance and processing-steps tracking, an integrated workflow management and virtual environment, and a topic-model interpretation protocol. WE1S will make these tools available to other digital humanists engaged in research involving machine learning at large scales.
For more information on the project, read the WE1S Prospectus.