Appealing to Your Better Judgement: A Call for Database Criticism

Abstract (in English): 

Engagement with public databases has become a leading way for scholars, artists, and readers alike to encounter works of electronic literature as well as get an overview of the field. Although acknowledged as an important and difficult process, database construction is, in practice, too often underestimated as merely a preparatory task in Digital Humanities. Through the conception of database criticism, I provide a critical apparatus to approach databases in terms of qualitative and aesthetic characteristics.

Considering public databases as media texts, I take a digital hermeneutic approach to the reading strategies involved in engaging with databases. What follows is the presence of databases as cultural artifacts that are themselves studied in humanities and social science frameworks. It is in the interest of both the quality and esteem of the databases to develop ways to study and evaluate them parallel to academic reviews of monographs and edited collections.

I offer a media-specific framework of four core vectors for database criticism: data and scope, experience, aesthetics, and labor. Building on Critical Data Studies, database criticism needs to identify the means and objectives of the database and thing along with those in reviewing the data. But a database is so much more than its data. A good database incites the pleasure of anticipation and this is determined by both the user and browsing experience. This is linked to the aesthetics of the database, which includes the accessibility of the database at its core. Finally, the explicit evaluation of labor addresses which value is placed on various tasks of developing and maintaining an academic database.

My call for database criticism opens up ways to revalue the databases as dissemination of research and provide the opportunity to highlight all elements that we wish to be part of the field going forward.

Pull Quotes: 

Literary studies have a long history of developing theories and methodologies around reading and understanding texts, but how can we make use of this research when reading databases?

Electronic literature databases are in the fortunate position to be both digital and public humanities projects and as such, the field has the opportunity and the responsibility to scrutinize the academic and cultural objects that the databases are.

Database criticism takes into account at least these core vectors: data and scope, browsing experience, aesthetics, and representation of labor.

Organizations referenced:

Databases/Archives referenced:

Titlesort descending Organization responsible
ADEL (Archive of German Electronic Literature) Universität Siegen
CELL Search Engine Consortium on Electronic Literature (CELL)
Ciberia: Biblioteca de Literatura Digital en Español Universidad Complutense, LEETHI Research Group, Ciberia Project
Electronic Literature Directory Electronic Literature Organization
ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base ELMCIP: Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice, University of Bergen, Electronic Literature Research Group, University of Bergen, Program in Digital Culture
NT2 Répertoire Des Arts et Littératures Hypermédiatiques Laboratorie NT2, Université du Québec à Montréal Arquivo Digital da Literatura Experimental Portuguesa University Fernando Pessoa
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Record posted by: 
Hannah Ackermans