RLI 284 An Overview of the Digital Humanities 7 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC 2013 28 represent texts in ways that made it easier to identify, explore, and communicate his social theories of textual variation. Other scholars began vigorously exploring new, online ways of conceptualizing and representing scholarly texts. Under the general rubric of “humanities computing,” a predecessor to the digital humanities, there emerged numerous sophisticated experiments in online textual analysis in a variety of literary fields, including the Beowulf and Boethius projects,19 the Women Writers Project,20 and editions of Piers Plowman,21 Chaucer,22 Dolley Madison,23 and Walt Whitman,24 to mention just a few. Multiple facets of spatial analysis also converged with the emergence of the Internet. Computer- based geographical information systems, or GIS, emerged in the 1960s and captured the attention of a subset of geographers, whose studies benefited from the ability to quantify data and represent it in a spatial field. Other geographers dismissed GIS as mere technique and the dispute was so severe that it helped contribute to the dissipation of the field as many institutions eliminated departments of geography and placed their geographers in other departments. Meanwhile, GIS systems became easier to use and offered broader functionality that began to appeal to more than those scholars interested in quantification of spatial information. Archaeologists especially embraced the technology as an essential tool kit for representing and studying their evidence. Historians like Ed Ayers adopted mapping strategies that were not mere technique but helped uncover and represent essential social, political, and economic relationships. Harvard historian, Michael McCormick, undertook an even more ambitious project. He “re-mapped Europe from 300 to 900 CE, showing the connection between developments in communication and transportation that scholars previously studied in isolation.”25 With the even further simplification of spatial tools like Google Earth and virtual reality software for simulating real and imagined worlds, spatial analysis has become essential in urban studies and architecture and is being used not only to design new models of the built environment but also, as Bernie Frischer did in his Rome Reborn project,26 to reconstruct and understand environments that may no longer exist or survive only partially. Like textual and spatial analysis, media studies has undergone a substantial theoretical reworking. It now focuses primarily on visual media. Images in the form of photographs, film, television, and computer visualization have become so deeply woven into the fabric of modern reality that the contemporary human condition cannot be understood without “an account of the importance of image-making, the formal components of a given image, and the crucial completion of that work by its cultural reception.”27 To provide this account, visual studies now calls on and embraces a range of intellectual traditions including art history, anthropology, and psychology. Moreover, the scholarly tool kit must include a suite of specialized digital tools including various kinds of visual representations, both because the visual objects of study are digitized or born digital, and because words alone may not be sufficient to understand visual evidence and communicate an argument about that evidence. As many broad rubrics do, the category of the digital humanities thus covers, and sometimes masks, a good deal of complexity. Once you see the divergent threads of tool-based intellectual pursuits of “why possible?” questions in the textual, spatial, and visual areas that have come together under the digital humanities rubric, you can understand the resistance of digital humanists to being dismissed as embracing pure method. The tools and processes they embrace and develop are mixed up in and not
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