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Literary texts and the library in the digital age, or, How library DH is made

Knigi posterThe following is a slightly edited version of an invited paper I gave at the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Chicago. A few of the audience members asked whether I might share or post the presentation, which I’m happy to do (as well as flattered… and very tardy). It’s obviously not meant as another response to the recent OCLC report on DH centers in libraries (since it came earlier), but as I reread the talk, I see that, in some senses, it could serve as such.

It’s pretty long, so here’s the nutshell version: the digital humanities can and should make a happy home in the library, and this has been true for decades. What? – I hear some ask. – You mean to say that DH has been around for decades? Yes, – I say – and not only that, but DH has some very serious theoretical and practical forebears from almost a hundred years ago: the Russian Formalists, who even today have some important things to teach us not only about DH in general, but also about DH in the library. Oh, and (spoiler alert): Samuel L. Jackson (as Jules Winnfield) puts in a brief appearance as well.

Obi-Wan McCarty: Episode 1

At last year’s Digital Humanities conference (DH2013, in Lincoln, Nebraska), Willard McCarty received the sixth Roberto Busa Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Digital Humanities.  Professor McCarty (henceforth just “Willard”) is Professor of Humanities Computing in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, and holds a similar faculty post at the University of Western Sydney, Australia; but he is perhaps best known as the founding and long-time editor – since 1987! – of Humanist, an “electronic seminar” of great historical and continuing current importance to the digital humanities profession and community.

Obi-Wan McCartyIn his introduction to the award and its accompanying prize lecture, U. Nebraska’s Matt Jockers offered a warm, and true, anecdote characterizing Willard as something like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the digital humanities, and citing a long-ago conversation with me as the source of this metaphor.

Digital Humanities Curio Cabinet

The Online Computer Library Center, or OCLC, submitted the latest in a genre of self-reflection by library leadership focused on where and whether digital humanities intersects with the library. Conveniently, Bethany Nowviskie, head of one of the major alt-ac powerhouses* in digital humanities--the Scholar’s Lab at the University of Virginia--responded with a pointed critique.

SUL Digital Humanities Project Support - Call for Proposals

The School of Humanities and Sciences and Stanford University Library invite faculty and graduate students in all areas of the humanities to submit a research project proposal. Projects will be selected on the basis of their significance and contribution to the scholar’s disciplinary field, theoretical and methodological sophistication, creativity of approach and technical innovation. 

This support does not include any funding. Rather, project support awarded to successful applicants consists of library specialist staff and resources providing software development, project management, data modeling, and research support for a fixed period of time (typically 6-12 months, depending on the scope of the project).

Geographics

ORBIS is nearly two years old, and the ongoing update to the site has me once again in conversation with a cartographers, geographers, designers, and digital humanists. A new response I get, when describing the growing feature list of ORBIS v2, is some variation of "What do people use this for?" The fact that ORBIS still generates decent traffic* seems even more remarkable than its appearance in gaming forums, college essays and high school courses. The ultimate answer to the question is that most people play with it, running routes and contrasting the results with their own experience or intuition of travel in the regions where they run their routes. But, as has been noted in earlier essays about the project, ORBIS was built for the purpose of displaying dynamic distance cartograms, and the Google Maps interface was just an affordance that came along from developing that functionality. And so one of my major goals in updating ORBIS is to dramatically improve the cartogram functionality, as well as provide mechanisms to improve the use and understanding of what is a very abstract concept. This is as much a design challenge as a coding challenge, especially when it comes to properly distorting the routes that make up the network along with the sites.

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