[Humanist] 23.219 digital differences

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Aug 6 07:06:06 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 219.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 6 Aug 2009 00:39:08 +0100
        From: Lemaire Pascal <bryaxis at GMAIL.COM>
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?
        In-Reply-To: <1248831157.4845.25.camel at vostro.bcwanet.local>

Hi everyone,

I'm currently finishing my graduation paper for a MA in sciences and technologies of information and communication and my research topic is the use of new computer technologies in epigraphy and papyrology. My main conclusion on the topic raised here is that what's been built is a foundation, an infrastructure which is not yet fully complete but on which we can begin to build the tools that will be the real game changers.

For example the greek and latin papyri have been digitized a long time ago and those resources are now the building blocks on which the papyrological navigator is built, a kind of mashup making a lot of informations comming from various projects availlable in a single place. I've also seen projects in various places where chronological and geographical data are used to display dynamically informations on a map and have an animation of the evolution of, for exemple, a personal name through the ages. It's been done both for medieval and classical research projects.

But despite all this we still have to face some serious issues which we'll only be able to deal with if we do more new digitalisation projects and if we can overcome some publishers' refusals.

For example the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri holds a lot of information but a lot of it is old, dated and obsolete and putting it up to date would take a massive amount of time and ressources. But solutions like a digitalisation of the Berichtigungsliste der griechischen Papyrusurkunden aus Ägypten could help since it lists all new editions of already published texts and the new data could be added automaticaly to the Papyrological navigator's data and allow the researchers to always work on the latest edition of the texts. Otherwise we'll probably see an increase of mistakes based on the use of digitized but out of date ressources.

But what I also see is a growing distance between those who use the digital ressources and those who don't due to either lack of skills or of ressources. In many universities with smaller staff you may find specialists working alone in their office without any support, even whole departments lacking any kind of IT staff to help them with their research.

One may maybe go as far as saying that one of the main result of digital humanities is not a more widespread diffusion of knowledge but rather in the birth of a somewhat more exclusive group of researchers, those with the know-how and the resources. With increased books prices and tightening budgets this could really exclude some from the cutting edge of research and make them "second rate" not through lack of professionalism but due to economic exclusion.

The answer for that would be to have more collaborations, more inter-university projects, more international projects with shared ressources but in order to promote those it is also needed to tell those not so computer litterate colleagues that such project do exist and have a real use and tell them where to go for more informations because they may simply not know that places like this mailing list exists.

For example I myself became involved because, as an undergraduate student in classical history, an assistant came one day to ask me "how does one make a web site" because he wanted to put online his research. It is only by chance that we learned about TEI and then EpiDoc (which better suits our needs) and that we decided to go in this direction.

No one we knew in the university was interested in thoses topics when we started and it is only now that computer use in historical and classical philologic researches is (very) slowly growing.

Pascal Lemaire
Université Libre de Bruxelles

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