Accepted paper:

Telling stories about (re)search: research practices reconfigured by digital search technologies


Sabrina Sauer (University of Groningen)
Berber Hagedoorn (University of Groningen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents insights from ethnographic data collected during a user study investigating what happens when exploratory search software and (digital) humanities scholars meet. Conclusions focus on how search software reconfigures research practices, outcomes and perceptions of expertise.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents insights from a user study investigating the relationship between search software and digital search practices of humanities scholars. The paper therefore focuses on what happens when scholars and digital search technologies meet. The main question of the paper is how computational tools - in this case, a linked open data, cultural heritage browser for exploratory search - reconfigure practices of humanities research, the ensuing research insights, and notions of what constitutes expertise within this field. The analysis draws on ethnographic data gathered during the user-centred development process of the exploratory search browser, DIVE+. DIVE+ affords serendipitous exploration of cultural heritage collections and allows users to visualize their search journeys. Over the course of one year, 100 (digital) humanities scholars tested the software in terms of its support for narrative formation about historical events that are perceived as disruptive, such as natural disasters. Furthermore, these scholars shared ideas about the role of search technologies in their research processes, such as devising research questions and discovering narratives about the past. This latter concern is especially poignant as interactions with the search browser change how users experience their (re)search practice. Shifting from faceted- to exploratory search opens up new research avenues, but also raises uncertainties about how to interpret found audio-visual material. Thus, engagements with the software not only change users' subjectivity, but also alter how digitized material is understood. These are valuable insights, especially in view of disciplinary debates about what it means to be(come) a Digital Humanities scholar.

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Assembly, silence, dissent
Software sorted subjectivities