The humanities online
By MICHAEL CAINES
“Armed with computers, humanities scholars have been performing once-unimaginable feats. They have recreated early modern London and American Civil War battlefields with the help of geospatial imaging. They have trawled, or 'text-mined', the vast corpus of Google-digitized books to establish how many times certain words or linguistic patterns appear. They have created a searchable database of almost 198,000 trials held at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1913 (www.oldbaileyonline.org). They have mapped the Republic of Letters by tracing the journeys of 50,000 letters written and received by Voltaire, Locke, Franklin and other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century luminaries (https://republicofletters.stanford.edu/).”
For anybody interested in the current debates among the "digital humanists" about these once-unimaginable feats and what could and should be done next: Jennifer Howard's review of a new collection of essays on that subject is now freely available online on the TLS website; it also appears in print in this week's TLS, along with pieces on Jane Austen, Rousseau, Gore Vidal and . . . Manchester City FC.
It's a widely ranging piece, taking in "spirit of open, collaborative experimentation" that "inspires much of what digital humanists do", as well as the humanities' "gnawing sense of irrelevance", from which digital projects are not immune. (See the photo above for a flagship example, the British Library's digitized version of the 700-year-old Sultan Baybars' Qur'an.)
But rather than repeat here what Jennifer Howard says so well, I'll just note the fine coincidence that, on the day we put online a piece about how digital humanists are currently revising their expectations of their work, and debating what happens next, if you follow the second link above, for the extraordinary Republic of Letters website, and this is what you see:
(The two lines below the website's logo read: “Mapping the Republic of Letters is undergoing an upgrade. It is all happening today.”)
Just a coincidence, of course. But somehow appropriate . . . .