Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

I know right now that I am partly subject to the enthusiasm of the new convert in seeing my object of adoration everywhere I turn, but truly, it seems that everywhere I turn these days I see the landslide toward a total digitalization of the world of the humanities.  Like a landslide, it may have looked a long ways off at first, but its upon us now, and rumble has become a roar.   As I said in this previous post, I think we’re a long way past a print plus world and we better figure out how digital tools, either simple things like e-books or complex tools and methodologies associated with digitalization, are going to change what we are doing with ourselves and our students.  A few rumblings:

1. Robert Darnton announces that the Digital Public Library of America will be up and running by 2013.  Darnton, an advocate of public digitalization efforts that will prevent private entities like Google from controlling access to information, has spearheaded the effort to bring together the digitalization efforts of libraries around the globe.  According to the DPLA’s website, the purpose of the the DPLA is focused in the following ways:

Many universities, public libraries, and other public-spirited organizations have digitized materials that could be brought together under the frame of the DPLA, but these digital collections often exist in silos. Compounding this problem are disparate technical standards, disorganized and incomplete metadata, and a host of legal issues. No project has yet succeeded in bringing these different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together with leading technical experts and the best of private industry to find solutions to these complex challenges. Users have neither coherent access to these materials nor tools to use them in new and exciting ways, and institutions have no clear blueprint for creating a shared infrastructure to serve the public good. The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States.

2. Appearance of the Journal of Digital Humanities:  I already mentioned this yesterday, but I’ll go ahead and do it again.  It seems to me that Digital Humanities is coalescing in to a force in academe–rather than a marginalized crew on the ragtag end–not unlike the massive changes that occurred in humanistic studies after 1966 and the advent of deconstruction and its step-children.  In my estimation the change may be even more massive–and perhaps more painful and more exciting–than those earlier changes since deconstruction did not essentially change the tools of the trade–we still read books (and gradually included film, pop-culture, and other media) and we still wrote papers about them.  While deconstruction may have been a more sophisticated and nifty looking hammer, it was still basically a hammer.  Digital Humanities is changing humanistic work at the level of the tool, creating houses without hammers.

3.People Who read e-books read more books than those who do not--A new Pew Research Center study suggests the following:

a survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that e-book consumers in the U.S. are reading over a third more books than their print-only customers. According to the report, titled “The Rise of E-Reading,” the average reader of e-books says he or she has read 24 books in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by non–e-book consumers.

Overall, Pew found that the number of American adults who say they have read an e-book rose to 21%, compared to 17% reported just a few months ago in December 2011. That jump comes following a holiday season that saw a spike in the ownership of both tablet computers and dedicated e-readers.

I admit that I want to cavil a bit about this news.  It’s also been demonstrated that e-readers so far are overwhelmingly dominated by pulp fiction romances and mysteries, the kind of thing you can read easily in a day.  On the other hand, book selling and reading in general has ALWAYS been dominated by the romance and mystery genres, so that’s nothing new.

The same Publishers Weekly article points to a study saying that e-readers are poised to take off with a massive global spike.  We’ve heard this before, but….Well, I asked my boss the other day if I could purchase a Kindle so I could experiment with the Kindle library program.  I am over the edge and into the dark side of the abyss.

4. The New York Public Library opened up an amazing new database tool for the 19040 census–itself an amazing database just released by the U.S. government.  I haven’t totally figured out how to use it yet, but your can search for persons in the census, tag their location in GIS based maps of New York City and do multilayered searching of NYC based on the crowd-sourced effort at developing a digital social history of New York City.  According to this article in the Gothamist,

Kate Stober at the NYPL tells us it’s “more than just a research tool, we’ll be helping New Yorkers create a social history map of buildings and neighborhoods in the five boroughs. When you find an address, the tool pins it to both a 1940 map and a contemporary map, so you can see how the area has changed. You’re then invited to leave a note attached to the pin—memories, info about who lived there, what the neighborhood was like, questions… As people use the site, we’ll build a cultural map of New York in 1940 that will assist both professional historians and laypeople alike.” And that’s pretty amazing.

I’m especially fond of this article because it goes on to point out that famous recluse, J.D. Salinger was indeed living in plain site on Park Avenue in New York City in 1940.  You just had to know his first name was Jerome and have faith that there couldn’t be more than one Jerome D. Salinger’s in Manhattan.  I think the question for humanist scholars will be what responsible teacher of the culture, art, history, and politics, etcetera of America in the 1940s would not want to use this tool and insist that their students use it to.

It’s more than a rumble.

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One thought on “Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

  1. Pingback: The Pew Research Center Report on Reading and e-books: Reading More and Reading Less | Read, Write, Now

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