There would be no digital humanities without archives. As a literary critic and a digital humanist trained in textual studies and scholarly editing and who worked as an Assistant to the Curator of the SUNY Buffalo Poetry Collection, I regard the archive both in concept and in practical manifestations as significant for DH research and, as I have written elsewhere, for teaching. For literary critics, the codex historically has and will likely persist, even in its future iterations, to serve the field as a primary document or site of evidence. The book, a remarkably resilient technology, is a meaning-making object.Technology, with its root techne, signifies art, craft, or skill. A poem can be a techne. Speech is also a techne. To consider the technologies of the book is to investigate a mixture of new and old forms, from incunabula (books printed in the 1500s during the first era of moveable type) to ebooks and electronic literature. Therefore study of the codex and its contents involves study of old and new objects with old and new methods of inquiry.
“Technologies of the Book,” a course I offered in Spring 2017, explored the history and future of the book, print technology, the way books are made, shared, collected, preserved, and discarded, and the status of the book within larger information systems—archives, libraries, and private collections—in the digital age. I conceived of the course as informed by the interests of book historians as well as digital humanists. Practically speaking this means that we explored the status of print and digital ephemera from broadsides to social media and how these old and new forms of textual production challenge the monograph’s authority. Asking, “how do we reconceive the book and its place in the increasingly digital cultural archive?” critical readings were drawn from the fields of book history (Robert Darnton, for example) and scholarly editing (Peter Schillingsburg, Ken Price, Terje Hillesund and Claire Belisle, to name a few) as well as significant new digital humanities work––––Lauren Klein and Matt Gold’s edited volume Debates in the Digital Humanities and Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces.
This course is intended to be an introduction to a wide variety of specializations within digital humanities. Therefore, the course incorporated collaborative lab exercises as well as site-visits to a print shop and the ODU Special Collections and a collaborative writing assignment for Media Commons. I introduced students to extensive markup language (TEI) and the JUXTA tool in order to explore the revision history of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” guided them through creating digital representations, the basics of computational text analysis, desktop frabrication, as well as micro-computing with Arduino.
There are four ways the archive is of central interest to the future of digital humanities: 1) forensic/micro-analysis as a species of close-reading as found in the continued practice of textual and genetic criticism, 2) macroanalysis or large scale assessment as performed by Tanya Clement, Matthew Jockers, and Franco Moretti, 3) prototyping the past or fabricating new old things—as Devon Elliott, Robert MacDougall, William J. Turkel and Jentry Sayers have done and 4) preserving imperiled material and making it newly accessible to ever broader publics.
The six commentaries that follow are written by graduate students enrolled in “Technologies of the Book.” Often polemical, these responses range from discussion of methods to materials and rally optimistically to DH as a promising means of equitable and socially-just critical practice. In “The Infusion of Digital Humanities in the Secondary Education Classroom: The Possibilities and the Concerns,” Yvonne Santos and Shannon Anderson address pedagogy and education policy, specifically extending DH to high school curricula and finding ways to link STEM and humanities through DH. In “Response,” Angel Kidd imagines the future of the ebook. In “A Look into Distant Reading,” Adam Flores considers the famous exchange between Kate Trumpener and Franco Moretti, arguing for the value of combining quantitative and qualitative methods in archival research. Ava Meier and Kimberly Goode attend to the importance of recovery of historically-marginalized voices. In “The Archive, Digital Tools, and Copyrighted Texts” Megan Thompson and Lori Hartness remark that the opportunity to “ re-evaluate who can archive and what gets archived [means that ] DH has the opportunity, at its start, to be inclusive—invite and involve the tinkerer, the homebrewer, the marginalized, the novice, the expert.” As Meier writes in “Focusing on the ‘Humanities’ in Digital Humanities,’ “we must ensure that the ‘humanities’ of digital humanities is represented by including the recovery of writings by marginalized groups, and the restoration of their experience to the narrative of human experience” because it would be all too easy to reinscribe “the inequities embedded in older methods steeped in white Western supremacy.” In a similar social justice vein Goode notes in “Blending Photography and the Diorama: Virtual Reality as the Future of the Archive & the Role of the Digital Humanities,” the importance of black digital humanities as a critical perspective that can examine “how the “‘material realities of blackness’ are replicated in [virtual] spaces.”