Humanity and technology: In conversation with Jo Guldi

Written by Jo GuldiJuly 8, 2022Comments: 0

Living with Machines organised two events with Professor Jo Guldi on 8th July 2022. During these lectures, we obtained insights from one of the world’s leading digital humanists into recently published historical research on global land rights and land reform and understood more about how the humanities is an area of extreme potential for growth in data science.

Event 1: Pseudo History and Digital History: The Dangerous Art of Text Mining

Jo argues that a world awash in text requires interpretive tools that traditional quantitative science cannot provide. Text mining is dangerous because analysts trained in quantification often lack a sense of what could go wrong when archives are biased, incomplete, or evidence the suppressions of the past. Jo’s talk will review a brief catalogue of disasters created by data science experts who voyage into humanistic study.

It finds a solution in “hybrid knowledge,” or the application of historical methods to algorithm and analysis. Case studies engage recent work from the philosophy of history (including Koselleck, Erle, Assman, Tanaka, Chakrabarty, and others) and investigate the “fit” of algorithms with each historical frame of reference on the past.

Event 2: The Long Land War: The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights, 1881-1974

The Long Land War tells a story as old as human history: the global struggle over food, water, land, and shelter. The book follows rent strikes, political movements and ideas from Ireland and India to the United Nations, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the rest of the developed world, tracing the intersection of popular protest, nationalism, Communist and capitalist ideology, and utopian schemes involving the potential of small-scale technology and large-scale maps. Through struggle, those movements redefined private property as a collective resource whose value was its ability to support food and housing.

Jo Guldi will tell the history of state-engineered “land reform” projects from their triumphant origins in Victorian Ireland to their quiet assassination by the United States in 1974. She introduces land reform as a movement forged by a complex diversity of international actors, among them Irish peasants, Hindu saints, development analysts, economists, and indigenous farmers. Her research examines the success and failure of land reform against the complex interplay of Cold War ideology, United Nations schemes for improvement, World Bank dogma, grassroots activism, and human shortcomings.

The 1974 coup cast poor peoples around the world into a state of dependency on landlords: it has made a world of occupancy rights increasingly difficult to imagine. Today, land use represents a major key to the governance of climate change. We can apply the lessons of the past to the governance of climate change today, but we only have a vanishingly small window in which to do so.

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