Session 11

Session 11: Doch alles ungewiss? Zum notwendigen Umgang mit Unsicherheit

Datum & Zeit:Freitag, 26.05.2023
11:40 – 12:40 Uhr
Ort: Auditorium des Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrums


Navigating Uncertainty: Modelling Practices in Digital History

Silke Schwandt

Universität Bielefeld

Historiography is all about dealing with uncertain evidence that we need to weave into plausible stories about the past. Essentially, we try to deal with this uncertainty in a mode of reducing it by designing parameters for historiographical modelling. Thinking on models helps to classify sources and weigh them according to our interpretations of the past.

Uncertainty as an Unavoidable Good

Michael Piotrowski

Université de Lausanne, Schweiz

We define digital history as the use of computational models to study historical research questions. The goal of digital history is not to digitally reconstruct the past, but to formalize the causal models that historians use to understand the past. A key task is thus to make explicit and formalize these models. However, since our knowledge of the past is always fragmentary, we need to handle the resultung uncertainty. To do this, it is important to distinguish between two types of uncertainty: historical uncertainty, which concerns the facts of the past, and historiographical uncertainty, which concerns the construction of causal models that link these facts together.

We argue that in order to construct computational historiographical models, we should not consider uncertainty as an unavoidable evil caused by the incompleteness of our knowledge of the past. Historiographical uncertainty is not just a side effect of historical uncertainty, but rather it is this uncertainty that enables the writing of history. We therefore conclude that when we attempt to model it, we should treat historiographical uncertainty as an enabling facter rather than as a problem to be overcome.

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