Between language and philosophy: Metaphors as conceptual design in DH modelling

Models and modelling as explicit exploratory and empirical strategies of inquiry have been increasingly recognised and adopted in science and scholarship, and the role of models in exploring rather than measuring, predicting or explaining is being reconsidered. Modelling in Digital Humanities (DH) has been at the intersection of several long term areas of inquiry in the humanities and cultural studies, including debates and theorisations around the meaning and mechanics of representation, abstraction, signification, fictionality, translation, and learning. In DH modelling is considered one of the core research practices, and explicit models are extensively required in order to operationalise research questions, this includes representation of objects of study in the form of data to process, in order to make objects and observations computable, as well as to analyse, transform and visualise data.

The epistemological impact of information technology and software engineering in research, calls for a shift from models as static objects to the dynamic process of modelling. Underlying the discussion are a number of philosophical and epistemological questions, including for example the understanding of the relationship between knowledge and information modelling in a way compatible with the methods of cultural-historical studies adequately reflected in the machine-supported information.

The rapid co-evolution of technology and learning is offering new ways to represent and model knowledge. I therefore present some examples from the history of philosophy and from some DH projects in order to discuss how metaphors themselves are models of knowledge and define the schemata within which knowledge and specific concepts operate. I propose to consider modelling as a creative and highly pragmatic process in which metaphors assume a central role and act as conceptual design where meaning is negotiated through the creation and manipulation of external representations combined with a figurative use of languages.