Models are ubiquitous in the digital humanities. Against the backdrop of the recent discussion in the philosophy of science about what models are and what they do, this paper presents a semiotic perspective on models in the framework of Charles S. Peirce’s theory of signs that sheds light on the practice of modeling in the digital humanities. As a first step, it is argued that models are icons, i.e. signs that represent their specific objects by being regarded as similar to them; and that there are, in all, three basic types of model, namely “images,” “diagrams,” and “metaphors.” A second step explicates relevant implications of this model-theoretic approach, especially as they relate to the digital humanities. In particular, it is shown that models are not identical to the things they represent and that they only represent them partially; that the representation operates on the basis of a mapping relation between select properties of the model and its object; that each model and each instance of modeling has a theoretical framework; and that models are the true basis for genuine creativity and progress in research.
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