Exploring Epistemic Virtues and Vices: Data, Infrastructures, and Episteme between Collaboration and Exploitation

Mar 14, 2024 - Mar 16, 2024

Sixth Conference on Digital Humanities and Digital History at the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) | Conveners: Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH), in collaboration with the German Historical Institute Washington (GHI), the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM), and the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) Tokyo

Call for Papers

The Sixth Conference on Digital Humanities and Digital History, a collaboration between the GHI, C2DH, RRCHNM, and the DIJ, will revolve around the concept of “epistemic virtues.” Epistemic virtues refer to the skills and attitudes that certain discourse communities consider exemplary, if not obligatory, for the production, transmission, or acquisition of knowledge in a specific field. In the normative tradition of philosophy of science, epistemic values and virtues refer to ideal-typical definitions of what makes “good science” and how scientific evidence and arguments can be legitimated. Epistemic values such as “objectivity,” “truthfulness,” “impartiality,” “reproducibility,” or “accuracy” have been central to the invention of modern science. In addition to this normative tradition, sociologists and anthropologists of knowledge have emphasized the phenomenological dimension of doing science. To them, epistemic norms or values are internalized by scientists through the learning and perfection of scientific practices. Knowledge production in this sense is always situational, embedded in its own historicity and spatial rootedness. These practices make and define the “scientific self” of different epistemic communities.

Digital knowledge practices in the field of humanities are currently characterized by a hybridity between analog epistemic traditions and new digital “interferences,” mingling qualitative and quantitative approaches, “close” and “distant” reading of sources as data. This type of research is characterized by a workflow that seems more experimental, uncertain, and collaborative than in the past. Where different disciplinary cultures or communities of practice meet, knowledge production is characterized by the crucial role of go-betweens, by partially diverging interests, and often by unchecked power differentials. We hold that it is especially in these situations of creative uncertainty that epistemic virtues can provide orientation. These virtues mold the scientific self and are labeled “epistemic” because of their perceived relevance to the pursuit of hermeneutics, helping to connect past and present knowledge practices. Based on the hypothesis that “the digital” has produced new epistemic values and virtues to characterize the production, dissemination, and access to knowledge worldwide – such as “sharing,” “collaboration,” “participation,” “transparency,” “openness,” “sustainability,” “traceability,” or “FAIRness” (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) – this conference aims at:

  1. describing and analyzing concrete manifestations of such new values or virtues in digital humanities / history research or teaching practices;
  2. promoting critical reflection on the importance and role of such norms, values, and virtues in our contemporary political economy of digital knowledge production;
  3. arguing for an ethical consideration of DH infrastructures, tools, data, and publication platforms by exploring the concepts of epistemic inequalities and injustice.

In the past years, several scholars have criticized the DH community for overdoing the rhetoric of newness and overstating the revolutionary potential of digital technologies for the production, dissemination and appropriation of information or knowledge. Scholars like Amanda Fricker, Monica Berger, Walter D. Mignolo, Michael Gordin, or Alan Liu have instead highlighted the epistemic inequalities inscribed into large digital knowledge infrastructures, questioned the universalist assumptions underpinning the epistemic spaces of knowledge productions in the Western world. They have criticized the “Scientific Babel” of English language dominance and problematized the focus on predatory publishing and the platform capitalism of open access publishing. These critiques underscore the perpetuation of epistemic colonialism through index- and citation-regimes that systematically disfavor the discoverability, visibility, and therefore recognition of scholarship from the Global South.

The conference thus aims at going beyond the philosophical discussion of the hermeneutic dimension of epistemic values and virtues by enlarging the scope to the political and ethical dimensions of knowledge production, dissemination, and critical appropriation in the digital knowledge economy.

For the three-day conference, we invite you to submit proposals by December 1, 2023, for

  1. 20-minute individual presentations;
  2. Whole panel sessions of max. 3 presentations (possibly with commentary);
  3. Half-day workshops for (hands-on) presentations of projects, tools, or skills.

Possible conference topics include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Best practices of “applications” (or making explicit) of epistemic values / virtues in DH research and / or inscription of such values into the design of digital tools & infrastructures;
  • Data colonialism, the digital divide between “northern uploaders” and “southern downloaders,” and emerging power asymmetries inside the Global South;
  • Linguistic exclusions (linguistic prejudices of search algorithms, dominance of English language in ranking & citation indexes; colonized ontologies, etc.);
  • Critical infrastructures as socio-technical systems and “infrastructural inequalities” in terms of access, ownership, and sustainability;
  • Situated knowledge practices in DH in the Global South and indigenous “epistemic spaces” of knowledge production and sharing; 
  • Hybridity and messiness of data and knowledge practices and their impact on transparency, traceability, and accountability of research outputs;
  • Political economy of the Web / Internet as place of “digital sovereignty” and impact of platform capitalism on research topics and practices;
  • Questions of inequality and gender equity in digital labor and the growing impact of AI on job market and labor profiles;
  • New forms and formats of collaborative practices and interactional expertise in digital history & humanities reflecting ideas of “shared authority” and collective authorship;
  • Changes or adjustments regarding cultures of academic reputation and career paths in the (Digital) Humanities.

Although we favor in-person attendance of participants / presenters, facilities for hybrid participation will be provided, also aiming at making the event as inclusive as possible.

Please send a short CV and paper abstract of no more than 500 words by December 1st, 2023 to dh2024@uni.lu Participants accepted to the conference will receive an individually calculated lump sum to support travel expenses and accommodation costs (for one presenter per paper or workshop). For further information regarding the event’s format and conceptualization, please contact Prof. Dr. Andreas Fickers (andreas.fickers@uni.lu). For practical questions (travel, accommodation) please contact Brigitte Melchior (Brigitte.melchior@uni.lu).