RLI 284 An Overview of the Digital Humanities 6 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC 2013 28 tools associated with the application of critical intelligence in various kinds of humanistic research. Just as critical theory became ascendant, at least three strands of serious and complex research were emerging, each of which required methods of applying “critical intelligence” specially suited to their objects of inquiry. These three strands correspond roughly to what many refer to as the linguistic, visual, and spatial turns in humanistic research, and each began intersecting with the capabilities of digital tools roughly at the same time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They accelerated into the 21st century with the rapid growth of the Internet. Like most people, digital humanists tell stories about their origins as a way of elucidating the essential features of their identities and roles. Digital humanists tell multiple origin stories. One refers to the Italian Jesuit scholar, Roberto Busa, who persuaded IBM in 1949 to help him produce the Index Thomisticus, a critically important, automated concordance of the works of Thomas Aquinas.14 A second is the story of the birth of the legendary Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia in the early 1990s. The Adam and Eve in this story were Jerry McGann’s Rossetti Archive15 and Ed Ayers’s Valley of the Shadows project.16 McGann’s project was an innovative, online form of criticism of the textual and visual works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the important 19th-century writer, poet, and artist. Ayers’s project, which compared neighboring towns that allied themselves with different sides during the Civil War, was one of the first historical projects to combine textual analysis with online mapping to great effect. A third origin story gives credit to Bob Stein, the brilliant innovator and information designer, and the scholars who collaborated with him in using the compact disc medium in the late 1980s and early 1990s to produce a series of interactive, multimedia, scholarly companions to such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.17 Copies of one or more of these works were included with virtually every personal computer sold at the time. These origin stories anchor the digital humanities and their tool sets and related investigative processes in three broad areas: textual analysis, spatial analysis, and media studies, which has become focused more specifically on visual studies. As a rule of thumb, those who refer to the digital humanities, or to the use of digital tools and processes in humanistic study, are almost always pointing to activities and the types of tools needed in one of these three areas. At the risk of great simplification, let me sketch briefly the intellectual history that explains why this is so. In language and literary studies there has been a long-standing interest in counting and collating words, parts of speech, and named entities. However, literary criticism stayed largely divorced from these activities until 1983 when Jerry McGann published A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism.18 With ammunition assembled in part during the 1960s and 1970s by Continental and especially French philosophers, anthropologists, and literary critics, McGann dropped a bombshell on the field by challenging the prevailing assumption that scholars could explain textual variation principally by reference to the author’s creative intentions. He argued persuasively that social, institutional, and collaborative factors in the process of textual production also need to be taken systematically into account. In the wake of the Critique, a variety of alternative paths for literary study opened. McGann himself led the way, and began to experiment with digitization and markup languages and other forms of computational analysis. The emergence of HTML and the web was a godsend and allowed him to
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