[Humanist] 27.142 on reading: format; distance

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jun 20 22:06:39 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 142.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Mark Wolff <wolffm0 at hartwick.edu>                         (95)
        Subject: Re:  27.139 format and experience in reading?

  [2]   From:    Rick Frank <rickf at dufferinresearch.com>                   (23)
        Subject: RE:  27.132 pubs: distant reading, open access

        Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2013 23:20:28 -0400
        From: Mark Wolff <wolffm0 at hartwick.edu>
        Subject: Re:  27.139 format and experience in reading?
        In-Reply-To: <20130619213302.422D33A26 at digitalhumanities.org>

I think these ruminations are especially relevant to teaching US undergraduates today, the so-called Digital Natives who were born after 1992.  Many of these students are quite comfortable using social media but they often struggle reading anything more than 140 characters.  They have learned a technique of reading that is a hybrid of Google searches and high school textbooks.  Given a reading assignment and a list of questions to guide them as they read, they are very good at scanning the text looking for relevant sections that answer the questions, reproducing oracular passages, and moving on.  When queried in class about what they had read, they refer to their answers and think they have finished the task.  They have trouble synthesizing different pieces of information into a coherent interpretative framework of their own.

To teach these students, we need to make them aware of how they read when they read so that they can critically assess what they are doing with a text.  One approach is to practice both close and distant reading with them and show how both methods of reading can complement each other.  For many students, generating word lists and visualizations to look for patterns is an activity as alien as an explication de texte.  Students often need to unlearn looking for an apparent answer (what Google provides) in order to question a text and what it can mean.  I think we can productively teach students with the friction between the codex and the digital.


On Jun 19, 2013, at 5:33 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at MCCARTY.ORG.UK> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 139.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2013 07:06:23 +1000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: reading experience
> Some ruminations on the book, if you will. Comments, esp offering 
> insights which make better sense of the variety here contemplated, are 
> most welcome.
> First a question: is there any reliable evidence for the relationship 
> between the format of the inscribed surface and how the inscribed text 
> is read and used? I suppose one could say that the unit of epigraphic 
> writing is the large static rectangle read almost always from a fixed 
> position, or like a modern billboard while passing. It does not move 
> about and unlike the billboard is unlikely to be changed or moved in the 
> lifetime of an individual. Is its actual function simply its presence? 
> For handheld devices there are more options: the unit of the scroll is 
> the column or page that moves past the reader; for the codex it's the 
> opening that appears whole when the page is turned; and for the computer 
> screen all three -- the fixed rectangle, the moving columns and the book 
> opening. Among designers of digital displays of text, which is the 
> favourite? My guess is for simple reading the scroll-like moving 
> rectangle because it most neatly serves the continuous act. Thus the 
> tablet machines -- Kindle, iPad etc.
> The codex, in the form of the display volume, especially in a series 
> such as an encyclopaedia, was like the epigraphic stone, more there to 
> assert authority than to be read. Impressively large collections of 
> books in someone's house still serve that function, though it may not be 
> primary to the owner.
> Where all our digital reading devices to my mind fail to equal the codex 
> is paradoxically in functions of reference, where the technology is the 
> most analytic. All that is on offer is word-search and the display of 
> thumbnail images that allow the reader to look for the beginnings and 
> ends of chapters and the like. There is nothing equivalent to the 
> tactile overview (over-feel?). Of course the physical codex fails from 
> our digital perspective because it does not allow us easily to find 
> where someone said something, or not.
> If my own practices are any guide, the complementary nature of codex and 
> digital device indicates we should be thinking (as we seem, alas, so 
> seldom to do) in terms of both/and rather than either/or.
> There is a wonderful story of a learned mediaevalist, expert on St 
> Augustine, who one day was approached by a PhD student who was going mad 
> attempting to find out whether Augustine had ever written a particular 
> sequence of words. (Anyone who has read Augustine in extenso will know 
> how frustrating it is to look for a particular formulation of an 
> Auguistinian kind of idea.) The student asked the professor the 
> question. The professor went to his bookshelf where the collected works 
> were kept, ran his finger along the volumes, came to a particular one, 
> opened it, flipped the pages, ran his finger down the columns, then shut 
> the book, put it back, turned to the student and said, "Yes".
> The professor was clearly old school. I very much doubt there are many 
> of them left. I have the sense of a permanent change in our relationship 
> to the written word. Edward S. Casey, in Remembering: A Phenomenological 
> Study, argues that we have nearly obliterated human memory as once was 
> by externalizing a poor idea of it. That there has been a loss can't, I 
> think, be questioned, only explored. But the Spenglerian shape of the 
> story he tells makes me think that the myth of a decline and fall has 
> taken over. Surely we are not victims of a technological determinism. 
> Surely human intelligence has moved on. But do we have any sense of what 
> is has moved to?
> Yours,
> WM
> -- 
> Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
> the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Professor, Research Group in Digital Humanities, University of
> Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist (dhhumanist.org);
> www.mccarty.org.uk/

Mark B. Wolff
Associate Professor of French
Chair, Modern Languages
One Hartwick Drive
Hartwick College
Oneonta, NY  13820
(607) 431-4615


        Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:03:33 +0000
        From: Rick Frank <rickf at dufferinresearch.com>
        Subject: RE:  27.132 pubs: distant reading, open access
        In-Reply-To: <24186_1371588182_r5IKh14T028156_20130618204244.3852E2CAD at digitalhumanities.org>

It was a very interesting review. I sit on both sides of the fence here. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with mining literature for cultural significance (literary output analyzed as a reflection of the societies in which they were written) but that doesn't stop me from enjoying literature on its own and in isolation from it's political and sociological context (if indeed it has any). 

I think that while "big data" mining without reading the texts can supply interesting macro analyses of many sorts, it unfortunately loses it's flavour and the context from which it came. It is no longer literature, it is data.

Just as macro economic analyses can trace the activities of countries and economies on a global scale, but tell us nothing about any individual's budget or lifestyle; so to with literary analysis without reading the texts.

It's a trees and forest situation. 

Do you wish to nurture and watch one favorite tree grow from seed to maturity and witness the effects of time on it's shape and form, and perhaps see this one tree in it's context in that particular environment, or do you wish to study the rate of insect infestation on the forest as a whole. They are not the same things at all, but both have value.

To read or not to read...

Rick Frank
Dufferin Research
North America:
2255 St. Laurent Blvd #115,
Ottawa, ON. K1G 4K3
Tel: (613) 730-4664
**Currently in Europe**:
Vojvodanskih brigada 28
Novi Sad, Vojvodina 21000, Srbija
Skype: dufferinresearch
+(381) (0) 69 630 534


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