Doris Gutsmiedl1 / Petra Tillessen2

(1Universität Bonn / 2Universität München, Germany)

Purpose: We reflect on the specific way, the appliance of relational database systems is influencing data preparation and results by focussing on quantifiable and structured data. This focus and its interaction with the results are regarded as a hermeneutical structure.

Methodology/Approach: hermeneutics / constructivism
In order to use relational database systems for the analysis of an excavation the field-documentation has to transformed into a specifically structured form: information has to be translated in data easy to handle, causing a focus on quantifiable data and such which can be eased and structured. Only these data can be evaluated via several queries and algorithms necessitating in return such a kind of data preparation in order to produce results. In reverse this focus leads on to a disregard of qualitative data. We do not intend to lose sight of the vantages of relational database systems making possible the processing of a vast number of finds in a comparatively short time. By this paper, however, we would like to draw attention to the specific way, in which the use of a database as a hermeneutical tool influences the perception of the agent (researcher) and generates intrinsic results.
In case the generated results do not correspond with the expectations of the agent, several corrections are applied, which can be described as a hermeneutic spiral. Normally these corrections refer to the following points:

  • Recontrol the data in the database with those of the documentation,
  • Find a better translation to transform the documentation into data,
  • Improve the level of systematisation,

and finally calculate a new result. In this way the data and the results will become more and more coherent with respect to an immanent plausibility. The data and results produced in this way can hardly be considered as objective, a popular fallacy implied by the working on database systems. Rather they are the product of an “negotiation” between the agent (researcher) and the tool (database system). Moreover, we have to keep in mind that the results produced by this tool necessarily represent a specific world view, in which a finding can be described by quantified data.
These considerations will be exemplified on a database of an ongoing project on historic environmental research.

Keywords: relational database systems, data preparation, hermeneutics, categories of perception