Technical drawing. The left margin shows the capital letters A and B, the right margin C, D, E and F. The drawing consists of several arcs that merge into one another and increase in size towards the right edge of the image.

Diffractive Epistemics: Cultures of Knowledge in the Digital Humanities

This project was dedicated to forms of knowledge modeling as they are currently being negotiated in the Digital Humanities (DH). By focusing on digital knowledge representations as well as statistical reasoning, it addressed the DH as an epistemic culture with its own historicity. The project explored interferences of different knowledge-based systems beyond a reflexive framework of research. As its guiding question, the project asked to what extent knowledge productions are organized and modified under a computational paradigm. Case studies were provided to describe premises, constraints, and implications of computer-based knowledge production in DH. As a category, a mode of observation, and a method, the concept of diffraction, which particularly takes into account a description of differences, opens up three guiding perspectives that were examined in the project:

First, the project dealt with conceptual structures and semantic changes in DH’s epistemic cultures. Here, concepts transferred from other disciplines (e.g., software ecosystems, the data life cycle) were of particular interest. In cooperation with the Computational Humanities Group at the University of Leipzig and the working group Digital Humanities Theorie, this project studied concepts by experimenting with natural language processes as well as community-based approaches.

Second, the project discussed multimodal forms of knowledge modeling in relation to materiality. In the DH, established structures of discursive knowledge are supplemented by new material embodiments of knowledge. The project aimed at viewing software and code as computer-based expressions of DH’s epistemic cultures. Software and code not only manifest in concrete research infrastructures, but also challenge traditional reading and writing practices in the humanities.

Thirdly, this project addressed data-based knowledge modeling and the assessment of research data. In different case studies, questions of contingencies and datafication were highlighted through the use of concrete data collections and algorithms. On the one hand, the aim was to gain distance from technological claims and to reflect on their scope. On the other hand, with reference to New Materialisms and Science & Technology Studies, this project attempted to open up possible alternatives of data practices and the creation of inferences.

By providing three perspectives on concepts, materiality, and data, this project proposed a theoretical approach that takes into account an interdisciplinary positioning of DH between computer sciences and the humanities. In doing so, it explored transitions to other epistemic cultures.


Fig. above: Vectorized version of a sketch by Thomas Young to illustrate the diffraction of light, source: Wikimedia Commons

since 2020
Head researcher(s): Rabea Kleymann


Rabea Kleymann, Manuel Burghardt, Jonathan D. Geiger, Rabea Kleymann, Mareike Schumacher (ed./eds.)

Theorytellings: Epistemic Narratives in the Digital Humanities
Special Issue Journal of Cultural Analytics

Vol. 7, Issue 4
McGill University, 2022
ISSN 2371-4549

Rabea Kleymann


29 Mar 2023 · 3.30 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Epistemologien digitaler Forschung. Eine Annäherung

RWTH Aachen, Theaterplatz 14, 52062 Aachen, Dautzenberg-Raum

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13 Mar 2023 · 1.30 pm

Algorithmen anwenden – algorithmisch denken. “Algorithmizität” als Brücke zwischen Geisteswissenschaften und Informatik?

Maison du Savoir – Auditoires 2, avenue de l’Université, 4365 Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg

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02 Dec 2022 · 10.30 am

Rabea Kleymann: Das Ende der Theorie? Narrative in den Wissenskulturen der Digital Humanities

Universität Leipzig, Vortragssaal der Bibliotheca Albertina, Beethovenstr. 6, 04107 Leipzig / Livestream

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Group Presentation
28 Jul 2022 · 7.00 am

The many faces of theory in DH. Toward a dictionary of theoreticians mentioned in three DH journals (with Rabea Kleymann)

Online via Zoom

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08 Jul 2022 · 2.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Calling APIs Diffractively: Imagining Relational Readings of Code


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23 Jun 2022 · 4.30 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Inkommensurable Mannigfaltigkeiten: Aggregate beim späten Goethe

Freie Universität Berlin, Peter Szondi-Institut für Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Seminarzentrum

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10 Jun 2022 · 11.00 am

Algorithmizität als Kultur des Verstehens? Digitale Erkenntnisprozesse in den Humanities

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL), Schützenstraße 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Etage, Trajekte-Tagungsraum / Zoom

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Lightning Talk
17 May 2022 · 2.45 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Reading Code Diffractively in Digital Humanities Pedagogy


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12 May 2022 · 2.15 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Wissensmaschinerien: Forschungsdesigns in den Digital Humanities

Freie Universität Berlin, Seminarzentrum, Raum L116 (Rostlaube)

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14 Oct 2021 · 2.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Mixed Methods als Denkstil? Forschungsdesigns der Stilometrie in den Digital Humanities

online via Zoom

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Please note! The workshop unfortunately has to be postponed.
16 Sep 2021 · 9.00 am

Rabea Kleymann and Jan Horstmann: Hacker*innenangriff auf Goethe? Experimente mit Goethetexten und Annotationsdaten von Entsagung und Ironie

online via Zoom

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23 Mar 2021 · 2.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Entangled Methods. Diffractive Approaches for the Digital Humanities

online via ConfTool

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Workshop at the vDHd 2021
23 Mar 2021 · 9.00 am

Glossar der Begriffe: Ein kollaboratives Schreibexperiment der AG Digital Humanities Theorie

online via Zoom

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11 Nov 2020 · 2.00 pm

Von Knoten und Kanten zu Gedanken: Theoretische Reflexionen zu Graphentechnologien

online via Zoom

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08 Oct 2020 · 6.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: »Theorytellings«. Wissenschaftsnarrative in den Digital Humanities – Eine Einführung

Bibliotheca Albertina, Beethovenstraße 6, 04107 Leipzig

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8 Mar 2023 Audio
RaDiHum20 talks to the AG Digital Humanities Theorie about the DHd2023
Podcast with Rabea Kleymann and Jonathan Geiger
© RaDiHum20

20 Aug 2020 Audio
RaDiHum20 talks to the AG Digital Humanities Theorie
Podcast with Rabea Kleymann and Jonathan Geiger
© RaDiHum20