Monday, February 6, 2012

A Companion to Digital Humanities, Ch. 14: Classification and its Structures

A Companion to Digital Humanities
Ch. 14: Classification and its Structures
Author: C.M. Sperberg-McQueen

Sperberg-McQueen touches on a wide variety of topics concerning the theory and practice of classification applied to text. The chapter provides numerous examples and definitions related to classification. However, the chapter does not seem to have an overall thesis about classification, and does not provide a clear explanation of the potential applications of classification.

Nevertheless, Sperberg-McQueen makes an number of interesting points. For example, like Rommel in Ch. 8, he emphasizes that the seemingly mechanical act of classification actually requires the classifier to adopt an interpretive perspective, whether consciously or subconsciously. He also concisely describes the epistemology of classification: "... a perfect classification scheme would exhibit perfect knowledge of the object."

Sperberg-McQueen is most helpful when he is providing concrete examples and definitions. For example, he describes two methods of classification that are common in the humanities:

  • "the application of pre-existing classification schemes"
  • "the post hoc identification of clusters among a sample of... texts"

He also defines a number of types of classification:

  • One-dimensional classifications (based on a single characteristic)
    • Nominal classifiers [which] consist simple of a set of categories
    • Ordinal classifiers (first-year, second-year, etc.)
    • Segmented classifiers (e.g. age, height, price by range)
  • Classification Schemes as N-dimensional Spaces
    • Tree structure (e.g. Dewey decimal system)
    • Faceted vs. enumerative schemes (Sperberg-McQueen's explanation of this concept could use some of the concrete examples he uses in other parts of the chapter.)
    • Pre- and post-coordinate classification schemes (This section is also less clear than others.)

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