INTRODUCTION – MATTHEW EVAN DAVIS, TAMSYN MAHONEY-STEEL, AND ECE TURNATOR
- 1 – This time of renewal has become a key part of how we have dealt with the realm of the digital: its technologies, tools, and methodologies. In this book, we confront how those researching and teaching the Middle Ages traverse this realm, negotiating the “virtual divide” between the cultural artefacts that they study and the digital means by which they address those artefacts before presenting them to a variety of audiences. Part of this negotiation between digital and non-digital objects or subjects of study involves re-thinking and re-evaluating the ways that currently practicing medievalists develop their professional skills; this in turn will allow our community to reassess the ways in which the next generation of medievalists are educated.
- 2 – Just like the analogue, the digital is embedded and “materializes” in a context, is open to manipulation and exploration, and can fail in interesting ways.
- This book is thus a part of a trend towards increased formalization of methodologies in digital humanities and critical approaches toward the digital part of its name, which emphasizes an understanding of the work that goes into the development and design of digital tools and technologies in the first place.
- The majority of the essays in this book underscore both the significance of having a technical understanding of the tools used to facilitate digital scholarship as well as the necessity of maintaining a critical distance regarding the ways that those tools intervene in our understanding of the text. Engaged with both digital praxis and critique of digital methodologies, they are influenced by debates about digital humanities that cast a critical look at how its typologies (humanities computing with its insistence on technical knowledge as “DH 1” versus “DH 2” as the typology that does not require technical knowledge—colloquially referred to as “hack” versus “yack”)8 developed, and the assumptions that may lurk under such a divide.
- 3 – As such, this book signifies not just a collection of tools and methods, but also a move toward values expressed in both the theory and practice of digital humanities, a move that takes its cues from a pedagogy-focused article by Sean McCarthy and Andrew Witmer.12 In many chapters the underlying emphasis is on the importance of learning holistically: the value of teaching students to understand and use critically the technology that lies “under the hood” not only as a tool or a means to an end, but as a fundamental part of a scholar’s critical apparatus; in short, to move beyond sheer quantification of data and clicking on buttons.
- 4 – Text encoding and analysis, data modelling and provenance, and 3D design are all discussed as they apply to western European medieval literature, history, art history, and architecture. Practically speaking, it does so through an examination of four broad topics: stylometric analysis, in particular the version of stylometry championed by Michael D. C. Drout under the term “lexomics,” the intersections of place and space in the analysis of texts, the presentation and display of digital or virtual facsimiles of medieval manuscript texts, and questions of the infrastructure development and project management that underlie any digital project.
- Katayoun Torabi, as the title of her chapter suggests, notes that the use of digital tools and methodologies cannot replace but instead must stem from traditional humanities scholarship. By pairing traditional humanistic analysis with computerassisted textual analysis using the Lexomics and Voyant Tools software suites in the examination of Old and Middle English texts such as Beowulf, the Blickling Homilies, and the Canterbury Tales, Torabi shows that the digital method can refine, affirm, or deny hypotheses, assist in the interpretation of texts, and aid the researcher in discovering patterns of word usage that otherwise remain undetectable. Through her examination of this work, she notes that researchers cannot simply expect the tool to produce results, but must understand computational tools critically, which requires structured training within the field.
- 7 – He further posits that the collaboratively composed, image-rich, and often anonymous hypertext pages that make up the web have qualities similar to densely glossed and illuminated folios of medieval manuscript culture. Similar to medieval manuscripts, digital editions of texts are therefore inherently fluid in communicating various editorial approaches and in their treatment of variants, or variance.