A Corpus Linguistic Study of “Models” and “Modelling”: intellectual and technical challenges

McCarty (2003) reflects on Winograd and Flores’ (1986) notion that ‘in designing tools we are designing ways of being.’ He asks ‘what ways of being do we have in mind?’ and ‘what ways of knowing do we have in hand? What is the epistemology of our practice?’ (McCarty 2003). Duranti (2004) highlights a fundamental ambiguity residing at the heart of any research endeavour. Despite the risks that such ambiguity implies in ‘letting others decide what we stand for,’ he cites Galison’s (1999) claim that ‘ambiguity, in the form of trading zones, can be a positive force in allowing the exchange of ideas and the co-existence of different scientific paradigms’ (Duranti 2004, 410).

Part of the project, “Modelling between Digital and Humanities: Thinking in Practice,” supported by the Volkswagen foundation, this presentation examines the role of models in designing ways of knowing and being in selected disciplines and their capacity to develop trading zones that foster interdisciplinary exchange. In particular, this presentation outlines a corpus linguistic approach to understanding the role of models and modelling processes in the humanities and offers indicative findings based on an analysis of academic journal articles published from 1900–2017 in five disciplines: Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Philosophy and the Digital Humanities.

This paper will detail the process of corpus construction, which draws on n-gram data and analysis of OCR-scanned full-text documents provided by the Jstor Data for Research service. This analysis will track the occurrence of “model,” related words and their inflections, focussing on collocation (the co-occurrence of two or more words) and colligation (the co-occurrence of a lexical word and a grammatical category) to ask how different disciplines in the humanities describe their uses of models and modelling processes in their research, and whether and how models and other related semantic categories are associated.