Digital history & historiography

Zoomland. Exploring Scale in Digital History and Humanities

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Mandelbrotset part

Closeup of the Mandelbrot set . By Evercat, via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Call for papers / Workshop & book project. The book will explore the epistemological dimensions, hermeneutic methods, empirical tools and aesthetic logic pertaining to the notion of scale in digital history and humanities, and will be published in open access with De Gruyter as part of the 'Studies in Digital History and Hermeneutics' series.

Scholars in digital history and humanities are increasingly interested in the metaphor of scale as a way to imagine and revisit concepts, methods and tools for processing, analysing and interpreting data and for creating innovative representations of knowledge. New terms and expressions have been added to the DH vocabulary, such as the “macroscope” [1], “scalable reading” [2], “shuttling between different levels of scale” [3] and “deep mapping” [4]. These terms convey a particular conceptual frame based on the potential of digital methods and tools to support new forms of data exploration that may encompass various types of functionality. The aim may be to balance out the global, universal standpoint of “big data” with a “small data” world view, along with “every point in between” [1]; to enable changes of perspective by zooming in and out, from a bird’s-eye view to close up, and open up new forms of “intertextual analysis” [2, para. 31, 32] and the production of multi-layered narratives and data visualisations; or to move “gracefully between micro and macro without losing sight of either one” in a collection, to see “patterns” and “outliers”, to zoom in and zoom out and to understand what “makes a work distinctive” within a “very large context” [3, pp. 17, 30], which represents one of the key challenges of data-driven scholarship in the field of humanities. In a similar vein, the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and Web-based spatial technologies to build “spatial narratives” that capture multiple voices, views and memories to be seen and examined at “various scales” [4, p. 5] is promoted as a new form of historical and cultural exegesis of space(s) and time(s).

Some disciplines in the humanities, such as history, have previously integrated the concept of scale into their discourse, thus providing starting points for theoretical and methodological enquiry within a digitally oriented context. Examples from this area include conceptual constructs such as the division of historical temporalities into long-, middle- and short-term history, referring to “quasi-immobile”, “slowly paced” and “rapid” processes and events taking place at the environmental, social and individual levels [5, pp. 11-12]. Other reflections target the interconnections between the notion of scale in history and its counterparts in cartography, architecture and optics, with reference to the degree of detail or available information at a certain level of organisation, the construction of a historiographic object or the operational metaphors of “magnifying glass”, “microscope” and “telescope”, as applied to historical discourse [6, pp. 268-270]. Scale in history also serves to define the “historical universe”, a continuum in which one pole is occupied by “syntheses of extreme generality – universal histories” while the opposite pole is ascribed to “investigations of atom-like events” [7, p. 104]. Combined approaches are also possible, with studies in “global microhistory” that integrate micro and macro analysis, sometimes supported by digitised libraries, archival collections and websites dedicated to family genealogies, to connect microhistories of individuals with broader scenes and contexts on a global scale [8, pp. 11, 17].

Despite such a diversity of theoretical and practical undertakings, there is no coherent understanding of the concept of scale in digital history and humanities, and the potential of this paradigm is still largely unexplored. What therefore seems to be lacking is a systematic discussion on the epistemological dimensions, hermeneutic methods, empirical tools and aesthetic logic pertaining to the notion of scale, as well as a better understanding of its innovative possibilities residing in the combination of humanities-based approaches and digital technologies. In particular, there is a need for a clearer picture of the whole spectrum, from large to small, distant to close, global to local, general to specific and macro to micro, including the intermediate, in-between levels, and its role in interpreting or imagining new forms of knowledge and application by means of digital and humanistic methods within various disciplines.

This call for papers intends to address these issues and sketch out the territory of Zoomland, at scale, in an edited volume. The volume will be edited by Florentina Armaselu and Andreas Fickers and published in open access with De Gruyter as part of the “Studies in Digital History and Hermeneutics” series. Contributions are welcome in the following areas, although this list is not exhaustive:

  • theoretical and applicative considerations on the concept of scale, including a digital dimension in combination with fields of study from the humanities such as history, literature, languages, linguistics, philosophy and arts;
  • creative use of scale in imagining new digital forms of analysis, data organisation and exploration and argumentative, pedagogic or artistic expression in the humanities;
  • computer-based applications, interfaces, digital collections and infrastructures in the humanities involving a scalable design or methodology;
  • hermeneutical and epistemological reflections on the use of scale in digital history and humanities;
  • scalable models, conceptual frameworks and terminologies for digital history and digital humanities;
  • intermediary, in-between levels and their role within the whole spectrum, in one or more of the areas mentioned above or related fields.

Contributions should present unpublished original material for chapters which should not exceed a maximum length of 9,000 words (excluding appendices and references). Based on a one-page abstract (deadline 15 November 2021, acceptance notification 15 December 2021), the editors will invite the authors of the selected proposals to a writing workshop at the C²DH on 22 June 2022, during which the first drafts of chapters will be presented and collectively discussed. Based on these discussions, the revised versions will be turned into a first manuscript of the edited volume, which will then be peer reviewed (based on the guidelines of the book series). The volume is expected to be published in spring 2023.

Contact: Florentina Armaselu,


[1]   Hitchcock, Tim. “Big Data, Small Data and Meaning”. Historyonics, 9 November 2014.

[2]   Mueller, Martin. “Shakespeare His Contemporaries: Collaborative Curation and Exploration of Early Modern Drama in a Digital Environment”. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly 8, no. 3 (2014): 12.

[3]   Flanders, Julia and Matthew L. Jockers. “A Matter of Scale”. Keynote lecture from the Boston Area Days of Digital Humanities Conference. Northeastern University, Boston, MA. 18 March 2013.

[4]   Bodenhamer, David J., John Corrigan and Trevor M. Harris, eds. Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives. Bloomington, Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 2015.

[5]   Braudel, Fernand. La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II. Paris, Armand Colin, 1976 (1st ed. 1949).

[6]   Ricœur, Paul. La Mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli. Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2000.

[7]   Kracauer, Siegfried. History. The Last Things Before The Last. Princeton, Markus Wiener Publishers, 2014.

[8]   Trivellato, Francesca. “Is There a Future for Italian Microhistory in the Age of Global History?” California Italian Studies, 2(1), 2011.