Exploring a Semiotic Conceptualisation of Modelling in Digital Humanities Practices
Digital Humanities (hereafter DH) is a research field engaged in exploring how humanities scholarship is transformed and extended by the digital and vice versa. The core practice of DH research is modelling which implies the translation of complex systems of knowledge into computationally processable models. In our work we contextualise DH practices within a semiotic framework; namely we consider modelling as a strategy to make sense (signification) via practical thinking (creation and manipulation of models). A semiotic approach of this kind contributes to stress the dynamic nature of models and modelling, and to reinstate in renewed terms the understanding of modelling as open process of signification enacting a triadic cooperation (among object, representamen and interpretant). Referring to Peirce classification of hypoicons, we reflect on some DH examples of modelling in the form of images, diagrams and metaphors, claiming that a semiotic understanding of modelling could ultimately allow us to surpass the duality object versus model (as well as sign vs. context). We thus propose to consider modelling as a creative and highly pragmatic process of thinking and reasoning in which metaphors assume a central role and where meaning is negotiated through the creation and manipulation of external representations combined with an imaginative use of formal and informal languages.
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