Monday, January 28, 2013

Public Awareness and New Technology

This is the first blog post I've ever written, so I would humbly ask for everyone's patience and understanding. I had several thoughts on many of the different presentations, and it is difficult to focus on any one of them specifically. The keynote presentation by Elaine Treharne was a wonderful start to the event, especially with her statement that "we have to ask the right questions." The initiators of differing digital humanities projects bear quite a heavy burden, especially referring to the work of archivists and curators, since their jobs have changed from preservation and protection to creating systems by which anyone around the world can access their resources. This responsibility, and consequently power, only increases with the advancement in technology, and unless we are asking the right questions, our results can be relatively similar to those obtained through faulty science.

Katherine Rowe's application for Shakespeare's Tempest seemed to be the only project willing to collaborate with popular commercial devices, and the format they created can in fact enhance the reading experience of certain texts the way a physical print might not. One example of this is Milton's body of work and his meticulous structure (Acrostic rhymes in particular), which at times can lose its effect and go unnoticed due to page breaks at inconvenient times.

The one issue that struck me, in line with Gil Harris' mention of the sheer and overwhelming amount of digital humanities projects was the issue of accessibility, not in terms of hardware, but in terms of advertising and general awareness. I was surprised by the number of projects in progress as well as the variety of subjects from maps of medieval London to collections of Shakespeare performances from all over the globe. I am worried about the longevity of these projects as they seem to be directed only for humanities scholars and it doesn't seem to be at the point where people can come across these projects and websites easily, at least at their own leisure. I don't think I would have heard of these projects if I hadn't attended the symposium, or taken courses directed by professors who knew of them. I do believe that as long as there is a search bar, we bring our own contexts with us and can, eventually, find what we intend to seek through research. The issue is what we don't intend to seek and I guess my question is, how accessible are these projects to people who are completely unrelated to the fields under discussion? Could it be possible to somehow incorporate a feature similar to StumbleUpon for these projects?

On a side note, I was very interested in Sarah Werner's mention of Second Life and the possibility of creating libraries in a virtual space. There is a new virtual reality device in development titled Oculus Rift, that will be available for commercial sale. Even though it is being developed primarily for video game purposes, it can be adapted to create libraries in virtual space in which one can examine the folios or manuscripts in their original forms. We need to be updated on technological advances that are beyond blogs and social networking, and if the Oculus Rift device works as it is intended to, we need to find those "right questions" fast, because the world is changing faster than updates to websites. 

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