… and the keynote speakers are:

DH Benelux has invited two international scholars whose inspiring work speaks directly to the conference’s overarching themes.

Andreas Weber (University of Twente)

Cultural Bias of (Digitized) Natural History Collections


Natural history museums and herbaria in the global North owe much of their authority to plants, animals and minerals collected in the global South. This unequal distribution of the planet’s natural heritage is the historical result of intimate and often invisible linkages between natural history repositories and evolving schemes of colonial exploitation, violence, and commerce. However, in institutional discussions about future research on natural history collections the colonial provenance of such collections is not always acknowledged. This is truly astonishing, since in particular large-scale digitization of specimen collections and accompanying archival holdings offer humanities researchers a wealth of new source material. This type of source material allows us to deepen our understanding of the daily practices and polycentric networks of collecting and natural historical knowledge production in former colonial areas. Moreover, it will allow for studies on how and with what epistemological implications natural objects have traveled across the globe. By acknowledging the geographical imbalance of natural historical collections and natural historical collections in the Global North, this lecture examines how digital humanists can help to support historical inquiries into the colonial roots of our present-day understanding of nature and its diversity.

Stefania Degaetano-Ortlieb (University of Saarland)

Modeling and investigating variation in language use from a communicative perspective: methods, challenges, and types of evidence


For the investigation of variation in language use, besides the extra-linguistic context it is also essential to consider variation given the more local linguistic context. This allows us to contribute towards a better understanding of why there is variation. In particular, we are interested in how variation helps to modulate the information content of linguistic units, achieving optimization effects for efficient communication (Jaeger and Levy, 2007; Piantadosi et al., 2011). I will present how we can detect and analyze variation with data-driven methods across different dimensions of variation (i.e. the extra-linguistic context such as time, demographics, registers). We pursue answers to questions such as:

  • how do scientific language change over time and possibly become more optimal for scientific communication;
  • how gender and social class differences impact language use within formal vs. informal contexts;
  • do literary research articles experience an effect of “scientization” over time, e.g. by becoming more standardized?

Possible effects of selected linguistic choices on language use are traced at the level of local linguistic context. In accordance with communicative accounts, we focus on tracing effects of variation that modulate the information content transmitted. I will also spend some time on discussing how integrating diverse types of evidence (e.g. corpus-based and experimental) helps to work towards a more comprehensive understanding of variation in language use.