Digital Humanities @ RSA 2012
What are digital humanists doing now with early modern books and manuscripts? Ann M Blair recently argued that medieval and early modern systems of “managing textual information in an era of exploding publications” are precedents for modern information management systems. Do early reference books, annotations and compilations inform, anticipate, or otherwise influence our computer-assisted thinking?
The first speaker will be Frederick W Gibbs on “Managing and Massaging Early Modern Texts with New Information Technologies.” As his abstract suggests, this is an ideal way to launch our discussion:
As Ann Blair recently described, information overload is nothing new. Yet despite the advantages afforded by recent technologies and new media–and despite being inundated with sources on a much larger scale–scholars continue to employ medieval and early modern techniques for managing information, even if online. The digital humanities community has been exploring how new ways of organizing, encoding, referencing, and visualizing texts can transform scholarly inquiry. My paper will examine some of possibilities and perils in applying information technologies, like semantic markup and relational databases, to early modern studies. It will also address a constellation of related questions: What is unique about early modern texts in the digital humanities? How can we make texts more visible? How is the digitization of early modern texts changing the relationship between librarians and scholars? What are the implications for how information management should be taught in the humanities?
Our second speaker will be Gabriel Egan on “Testing Competing Hypotheses about Compositorial Stints in Early Printed Books using Stand-off Markup XML.” Here is his abstract:
In 1966 Fredson Bowers looked forward to digital computers
bringing “a blessed day in the future when one can press a
button and give such a lordly command as ‘List for me every
time compositor B follows his copy in spelling win as win or
winne, every time he changes a copy spelling win to winne,
or winne to win, and distinguish in each case what he does
in setting prose and setting verse'”. Despite having vastly
cheaper and more powerful computers, we seem further from
this blessed day than Bowers was. His generation’s consensus
about methods for detecting compositors’ habits has evaporated,
and computers are not good at representing the incompatible
hypotheses that represent our current state of knowledge
about compositor stints in early printed books. This paper
will describe and demonstrate an attempt to represent such
hypotheses using stand-off markup XML applied to early
editions of Shakespeare, in order to provide for each
hypothesis an answer to the kind of question Bowers would
ask of it.
And our third speaker will be Jonathan Hope on “Mapping the past: the future of digital humanities.” Jonathan’s abstract is here:
The ongoing release of digitised texts by the Text Creation Partnership’s project to key-in all of EEBO, ECCO and Evans (http://www.lib.umich.edu/tcp/) arguably represents the single most significant development in the history of Anglophone humanities research. Very soon, every academic, graduate, and even undergraduate will have the entire corpus of English print, fully searchable, on their lap-top.
What kind of expectations will we have of humanities research when the writer of a study of “˜pastoral’, say, could search, within seconds, every text identified as such in the history of English up to 1900?
More importantly, what searches will scholars be making, and with what tools? What computational and statistical techniques will we need to teach our graduate, and undergraduate students?
This paper will introduce a major collaboration between Wisconsin University, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Strathclyde University, Glasgow which seeks to map out the contours of 300 years’ worth of texts, and develop a set of tools for analysing that material which will soon be available to us.
Finally, a panel on “Miscellanies” will include a paper from Laura Estill on “The Urge to Organize Early Modern Miscellanies.” Here is Laura’s abstract:
When faced with an early modern miscellany, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps cut out the Shakespearean extracts and pasted them into notebooks arranged by play. Although we now rely on electronic cutting and pasting, our cataloguing efforts in the digital humanities similarly reconceptualize and recategorize miscellanies by organizing their disorder.
In this paper, I introduce my forthcoming database of dramatic extracts in English manuscripts. This database will complement existing electronic resources that have opened the archives and facilitated research about miscellanies, such as the Folger Library’s Union First Line Index of English Verse and Adam Smyth’s Index of Poetry in Printed Miscellanies. I suggest that these three digital catalogues embrace the miscellaneity and intertextuality of early modern miscellanies while also embodying the organizational impulse of modern information management.