ASIS&T 2013 Annual Meeting 
Montrιal, Quιbec, Canada | November 1-5, 2013

Classifying the Humanities

Rick Szostak, University of Alberta

Tuesday, 10:30am


It is widely appreciated that existing classification systems serve poorly both the classification of works of art/literature, and of works about these. The purpose of this paper is to show how a new approach to classification can address most/all of the concerns raised in the literature.

The essence of the approach to classification pursued in this paper (which I have developed in several previous papers in JASIST and elsewhere) involves: • Breaking complex concepts – which lend themselves to differing interpretations across disciplines and groups – into basic concepts that carry broadly similar meanings across individuals and groups. • These basic concepts generally refer to ‘things’ in the world or relationships among things (see Szostak 2011) • Works and ideas are then classified in terms of free combinations of any set of basic concepts • Most works and ideas will be classified in terms of a combination of things and relationships. • A set of adjectival/adverbial qualifiers is also developed: these can be freely combined with things and relationships. • Works will also be classified in terms of theories, methods, or perspectives applied in the work.

It is shown that this approach, first developed with the social sciences in mind, has many advantages for the study of art. The subject matter of works of art can be best captured through the free combination of basic concepts: (woman)(riding)(horse)(fearing)(night). This approach allows the unique subject matter of a work to be captured simply but precisely. The "style" of a work of art is best treated as "theories" are treated in works of science: the same dimensions prove quite useful. Likewise artistic techniques can be captured as "methods." Under "perspective" we can then capture ideological, ethical, aesthetic, rhetorical, and epistemological elements. The adjectival/adverbial qualifiers allow works to be identified not only in terms of elements of form and content but also of subject matter and intent.

As for scholarship about art, this will naturally benefit from a better classification of works of art. But there are also direct benefits. Humanities scholarship is characterized by multiple complex concepts that can be broken into basic concepts. Existing classifications privilege the exploration of certain interdisciplinary linkages; the new approach facilitates all. And the new approach identifies the theories and methods employed in each work.