Expanding Debates in the Digital Humanities

Jen Howard has a review in the Times Literary Supplement on Matthew Gold’s edited volume, Debates in the Digital Humanities. Gold is an assistant professor of English at New York City College of Technology, an advisor to the Provost for Master’s Programs and Digital Initiatives at the CUNY Graduate Center, and is the director of the CUNY Academic Commons.  Earlier this year, I posted some of my reflections on the book in a post entitled, A Boundless Domain of Culture.

The arrival of the volume in the UK (and the upcoming launch of its online platform) comes on the heels of extensive coverage in North America and raises some important questions concerning the current monolingual nature of such debates (at least in print) and the dilemmas of digital humanists whose geographical and digital presence on the hub and spoke system of the map above continues to be dependent upon economic and political factors. It is, in fact, not such a boundless domain of culture after all.

This Global Internet Map, by Telegeography, illustrates the Internet’s highest capacity routes and its global hub cities. We could easily compare this map to centerNet’s map of their international network of digital humanities centers and see a general convergence of the two. Yet,  Telegeography’s assessment of future functionality of the Internet, a prerequisite for the growth and diffusion of the digital humanities as a scholarly practice,  signals future challenges to scholarship not just for the digital humanities, but to all  scholars working in the digital age.

“For the Internet to function, the world’s internet service providers and content distributors must interconnect their networks. While some providers freely exchange traffic between themselves, a practice called “peering,” most providers must purchase upstream “transit.” In a transit agreement, the customer network pays to have its traffic carried by the transit provider to the rest of the Internet. Transit prices are cheapest in cities where major IP backbone operators have presence and competition is strong. As such, the price of a transit port can serve as a proxy for how close a city is to the economic “center” of the Internet. The cheaper the transit, the closer the city is to the Internet core.”

The essays in Gold’s volume touch on debates among those who inhabit cities proximate to that “Internet core.” Lisa Spiro, director of the US National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education Labs, indicates in her essay that the digital humanities converge around something called “Internet values.” These may include collaboration, the open sharing of information, and experimentation, but I would argue that they also should extend beyond what Howard Rheingold has dubbed netsmarts  to questions of digital hegemony that are raised  by the Internet’s physical infrastructure, explored recently in a book by Andrew Blum. Expanding these debates in the digital humanities to reimagine our notions about culture, knowledge, or communication could be, in the words of Andrew Prescott, the challenge of making the digital human.

Cross posted at HASTAC and at Digital Histories.

Voyage to Italy

Principal Investigator: Carol Chiodo

Digitization Funding for Lantern Slides: Yale Instructional Technology Group

Technical Consultant: ITS Academic Technologies

Project: Lantern Slide digitization, Omeka exhibit, intro to digital humanities course design with significant special collections component

It’s day 1 of the ModLab Workshop at Yale with Dean Irvine, Matt Huculak, Kirsta Stapelfeldt, and Alan Stanley.  We have great group of participants from across the disciplines – from anthropology to East Asian studies and from English to film studies. Several participants have DH projects under their belts, but many are just starting out.

I handed over my files yesterday, newly digitized reproductions of glass lantern slides from the early 20th century. They gathered dust for decades in a black box forgotten in the corner of a campus office, their technology obsolete.  I took the photo on the left while I was still trying to find someone to fund digitizing the box’s fragile contents. Fortunately, the Instructional Technology Group stepped in with the necessary funds and ITS Academic Technologies provided the expertise.

The collection is a valuable visual archive in multiple respects. The photographs were taken during several grand tours of Italy between 1904 and 1912 and provide a unique perspective on the history of Anglophone tourism in Italy. They also provide precious historical documentation of cultural heritage sites in cities such as Florence, Venice, Assisi and Rome. Finally, the technology employed to reproduce these photographs indicates that their use was a public one: whether in the classroom for the undergraduates of Yale College or at public lectures, the lantern slide was the technology of choice for projecting images for a large audience.

In 1903, at a meeting of the New Haven Medical Association at the medical school, Dr. Robert Osgoode, greatly impressed his audience with a splendidly illustrated lecture on “The Interpretation of X-ray findings in suspected diseases of the bone or soft parts” with an assortment of lantern slides.   Their extensive use in education at the turn of the 19th century is also evinced by the large number of lantern slides found in a number of repositories at Yale.

Beyond those found in the Harvey Cushing/ John Hay Whitney Medical Historical Library (including Dr. Osgoode’s), the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses William McClintock’s 1500 hand colored lantern slides of the Blackfoot Indians in the Yale Collection of Western Americana. The Yale Peabody Museum’s Division of Historical Scientific Instruments also has over 800 lantern slides, many of which contain material for physics lectures.

While I still don’t know exactly in what context these slides were used, I could turn to the  extensive William Inglis Morse lantern slide collection found  in the Visual Resource Collection at the Robert B. Haas Family Library. While not as meticulously annotated as our mysterious black box, this collection also documents the Grand Tour in Italy and was probably used as an instructional technology tool for Yale College courses.  The images collected by Morse, a philanthropist, historian, and clergyman are a particularly appropriate point of reference in this case given that Morse, like our instructors today, came to Yale from Nova Scotia. In fact, Dalhousie University also houses Morse’s  ‘scholar’s library‘ which, as he noted, “if properly selected and studied, is one’s best monument.” (from his Preface, Catalogue of the William Inglis Morse Collection at Dalhousie University Library (London: Curwen Press, 1938).

Let’s hope Day 2 provides some valuable digital tools to better understanding and disseminating this unique visual archive which also serves as a valuable reminder of technological obsolescence.

cross posted at Digital Histories at Yale