Well. I must admit to some surprise and no small degree of trepidation regarding my presence here (both in the Praxis program and here online as a blogger being read by you [blog readers and, I guess, bots]). For example when, in our first meeting, I asked what a ‘wiki’ actually was I found out that they are ‘like Google Docs,’ which of course only begged the question on my part: what is a Google Doc? So. As we can see, this will be a fun year. In truth, I applied to the Praxis program not because of a strong background in the Digital Humanities (hence forth ‘DH’ [incl. the definite article]) but rather on account of my relative lack of any background in DH. Lack of background, however, ought not be equated with lack of interest. As a medievalist, specifically a student of medieval books, manuscripts, and textual cultures, I have both pragmatic and theoretical interests in DH.
Pragmatically DH offers new ways to share previously impossible (or at least highly improbable) amounts of data, specifically visual data. As a palaeographer/book historian this allows me to avoid certain compromises forced on previous generations by the exigencies of print. For example, when cataloguing the medieval manuscripts of Wadham College, Oxford I looked to other, printed, manuscript catalogues for guidance regarding the type and amount of information to include.In those catalogues choices regarding how much description of certain facets of a given book to include required consideration of the volume’s overall publishability, especially given the expected low sales volume. Conversely, online cataloguing would allow the inclusion of all the material the cataloguer finds relevant and useful regardless of length. This is an admittedly conservative example, but nevertheless, my experience cataloguing suggested to me the extent to which my scholarly thought, or perhaps more properly ‘imagination’ in its strictest medieval sense, is constrained to the medium in which I am thinking.
So pragmatic interest is pretty easy to grasp but positing ontological stakes might seem a bit much. Nor can I provide a neat, concrete, example. It’s more of a feeling that the types of textual production and consumption which occur in pre- and post- print environments share a certain resonance that itself poses an ontological challenge- a challenge the very being-ness- of a print-centric intellectual culture. As we begin to think about our charter we, the new Praxis team, have begun to think about credit, i.e. who gets it. In print world this is pretty tidy. Publication represents a convenient end stop to the production process at which juncture credit and the rewards therein may be distributed along traditional lines of authorship, etc. Online, things seem a bit more medieval. By that I mean the lines of authorship and production are blurred to the extant that disentangling them becomes not only impossible but somewhat ludic in principle. Kind of like the manuscripts I spend most of my time buried in.
Anyhow, as usual, I run on. In short, I am excited about the chance Praxis offers to both learn new DH skills and understand how those skills fit in the long, fluid, tradition we conventionally call the ‘Liberal Arts’ or ‘Humanities.’