Wikisource and the library

The previous blog entries this week have done an excellent job of illuminating the limitations and benefits of both Wikisource and the library. Much like Miso and Olivia, my concern is that continually pitting Wikisource against the library gives the impression of an adversarial relationship that may not exist. As Puneet mentions, we don’t seem to be in immediate danger of losing the human component in the creation and management of texts, whether in book form or online as hypermedia. And yet, many people are still resistant to the digital humanities. Up until this week, I would have counted myself among them.

In Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization, George P. Landow writes that “we always naturalize the social constructions of our world” (110), and points to this naturalization as one source of collective anxiety over the digital humanities. Accustomed as we are to concepts like linearity, we’re mistakenly under the impression that any movement away from them poses a threat to the natural ways that we read and learn. Having this brought to my attention has marked a turning point in my attitude towards the digital humanities. There is no “natural” way to read. We are adaptable, and we can learn new things, including how to interact with hypertext. In fact, we probably don’t have a choice. As Jerome McGann points out in “The Rationale of Hypertext”, “it is clear to anyone who has looked carefully at our postmodern condition that no real resistance to such developments is possible, even if it were desirable” (1). For example, I still don’t think “transclude” sounds like a real word, but I had to use the online version of the OED to check. When that failed, I ended up on Wikipedia.

I think this sense of inevitability also contributes to resistance towards the digital humanities. If something is seen as inevitable, it may feel like we’ve lost our sense of control, and like a long tradition of scholarship is about to be subsumed into a fathomless web of possibilities. In response to this, I’d like to direct everyone to Professor Boyd’s comment on my post last week, which I found helpful. He quotes Douglas Rushkoff, who warns that if we cannot understand how digital technology works, we adapt ourselves to it rather than understanding that it can be adapted to address our concerns. We are adaptable, yes, but so is the technology itself. The answer then, as Olivia and many others have already mentioned, is Wikisource and the library. The decision may have been made for us, but by understanding the tools at our disposal, we’re able to shape the digital humanities themselves, as well as their relationship to the traditional library.

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