The Meaning of Digital Pattern Searching in the Humanities

Level - Target audience

PhD students of Arts, Humanities & Law of Ghent University and Antwerp University, postdoctoral researchers


Prof. Dr. Anne Breitbarth
Faculty: Arts & Philosophy (FLW) Ghent University- Department: Linguistics

Other members of the organising & scientific committee

Prof. dr. Christophe Verbruggen (Head of the Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities & Department of History)
Prof. dr. Veronique Hoste (Director of research of the Faculty of Art & Philosophy & head of LT3 research group)
Prof. dr. Julie Birkholz (Digital Humanities Research Lab, Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities & Department of History)
Sally Chambers (Digital Humanities Research Coordinator; Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities)
Prof. dr. Guy De Mulder (Department of Archeology)
Prof. dr. Els De Paermentier (Department of History)
Prof. dr. Koenraad Jonckheere (Department of Art, Music and Theatre Sciences)
Prof. dr. Els Lefever (Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication)
Prof. dr. Gunther Martens (Department of Literary Studies)
Prof. Dr. Andreas Niehaus (Department of Languages and Cultures)
Prof. dr. Jo Van Steenbergen (Department of Languages and Cultures)
dr. Kristof De Leemans (research policy advisor)
dr. Stefan Meysman (Coordinator of the Pirenne Consortium & Department of History)
Veronique De Tier (Department of Linguistics; INT)
Sarika Rao (Department of Comparative Sciences of Culture)
Prof. dr. Mike Kestemont (Spokesperson of the Antwerp Centre for Digital Humanities and Literary Criticism (ACDC))
Wout Dillen (Coordinator of the Antwerp division of the DARIAH-VL consortium, University of Antwerp)


Humanities researchers are increasingly using digital tools and methods to derive meaningful patterns in their sources – be they texts, artworks, archeological artefacts, sound recordings or linguistic data. This course will investigate a series of methodological issues and criticism regarding digital pattern-searching from multiple perspectives.


While the availability of digitized sources has dramatically increased, most methodological questions related to pattern-searching have remained underexposed. What are patterns in the humanities and what do they convey? Can digital pattern-searching be applied to all sources and all fields? And how are patterns to be interpreted and criticized? Can patterns in the humanities be “refuted” or will there always be exceptions in historical, literary, artistic, linguistic or musical material? Are there “laws” in the humanities or only “tendencies”, and how do patterns relate to these two concepts? Where do patterns stand in the opposition between the nomothetic and the idiographic? Are there deeper principles for patterns in the humanities?


The goal of this course is to provide PhD students, postdocs and other researchers with a conceptual toolset to address these questions so as to better understand the surpluses and shortcomings of the various digital tools and methods in their research.


Rens Bod is a major specialist in Digital Humanities with special expertise in the history of pattern-searching in humanistic disciplines, which is the topic of this course. He has set up the new field of History of Humanities in 2010. He started an international yearly conference, a new journal (History of Humanities), university courses and wrote a series of textbooks to turn the history of humanities into a teachable field. He is especially keen in combining digital pattern searching with history, which he has extended to the history of knowledge. According to Google Scholar, Bod's work has been cited over 5000 times, and in the history of knowledge he is the most cited author in the world: Bod has received various international subsidies and prizes for his work and his books, including a Dutch NWO VICI subsidy, a British EPSRC Advanced Research fellowship, and a Digging into Data subsidy from the American NSF. In 2021, he is International Francqui professor at the Ghent University.


From 19 April 2021 at 14h00 to 21 June 2021 at 17h00 (see program)


  • 19 April 14h-16.30h:
    • Introductory lecture by prof. Rens Bod on Digital Pattern Searching in the Humanities (1h)
    • Pitch (of 1-2 minutes) by each participant, followed by brief discussion and scheduling of the presentations by doctoral researchers
  • 3 May: Inaugural Lecture prof. Rens Bod
  • 10 May 14h-16.30h:
    • Presentations by ca 6-8 doctoral researchers (each of 10 minutes) of their research in relation to pattern searching, followed by 10 mins feedback by prof. Rens Bod and group discussion.
  • 7 June 14h-16.30h:
    • Presentations by ca 6-8 doctoral researchers (each of 10 minutes) of their research in relation to pattern searching, followed by 10 mins feedback by prof. Rens Bod and group discussion.
  • 21 June, full afternoon 13h-17h (with breaks):
    • Final Symposium (to be organized together with prof. Veronique Hoste and prof. Christophe Verbruggen): ca 6 presentations of 20 minutes by senior scholars, each of which is followed by 2 commentaries of 5 minutes by course participants, and general discussion.

Registration fee

Free of charge


Please follow this link:

Teaching materials

• Introductory lecture by prof. Rens Bod (1h)
• Four (hybrid) sessions (one/month) with 5-6 live participants (rotating presence in class; the rest of the class follows online)
• Presentations by doctoral researchers and group discussion, guided by prof. Rens Bod
• Participation in a final symposium (June 2021)

Number of participants

Maximum 25 (UGent: min. 10 PhD students, ca. 5 postdoctoral researchers, UA: min. 5 PhD students

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

• Live attendance of one of the four sessions, online participation in the three others
• Active participation + presentation = delivery of a short pitch (on digital patterns in own research) + participation in the group discussions