Oct 16 2011

Digitizing Texts: Re-Presenting Time and Space

This could be a “General Discussion” session, a “Working Session,” or a little bit of both (see Session Genres). Basically, I want to talk and learn more about different ways of representing or re-presenting time and space in digital formats, whether in specific literary works, corpora, or other varities of texts (I myself study literary texts for the most part and, occasionally, more philosophical ones).

Tools such as Google Earth or SIMILE’s Timeline and Exhibit protocols make it easier and cheaper than ever to explore these possibilities, even for first-year grad students with no technical training, such as myself. These technologies may have their most obvious applications in teaching or in the classroom, but I would also like to consider what roles they could play in facilitating research and as forms of scholarly production.

Questions for discussion could include the following: 

  • How do we fit digital representations of time and space into our arguments about texts, or how do we construct new arguments around the data of a map or a timeline?
  • What sort of implicit arguments do activities such as mapping and timelining make about textuality, history, and traditional modes of scholarship focused on interpretation?
  • Are these sorts of activities accepted in your discipline or your department? What  venues and resources can support this type of work and demonstrate its value and legitimacy?
  • Do such projects effect the independence of scholarly production? Digital humanities has been praised for opening the doors to more collaborative research, but does technology also have a centralizing tendency, and likewise, how does a digital medium effect the content of humanities scholarship?
  • What projects are you working on? Given unlimited time and resources, what projects could you envision?

If people are interested, I also have two newly initiated personal projects for which I would love to get either feedback or some extra data-entry power: (1) using Google Earth to map allusions in Ezra Pound’s “Three Cantos” (read Canto I) and (2) making a timeline of the publication history of Victorian cultural criticism. These could serve as case studies for discussion or we could get down and dirty trying to actually translate texts into new temporal and spatial representations—I honestly have no idea what I’m doing so far!

About the author


I am a graduate student in the English department at Boston University.

I am currently interested in more practical questions about how to best digitize and visualize networks of correspondence. But as I tinker with Google maps, MySQL, Omeka, or other tools, I am also trying to understand some of the theoretical issues that arise when it comes to “translating” a collection of letters into the genres of database, digital repository, web site, or others.

At a more basic level, tools and conversations (like THATCamp!) that fall under the rubric of “digital humanities” have helped me as I begin to develop my own teaching, scholarly communication, and research practices. In my limited experience, the boundary between traditional forms of professionalization and new digital tricks/experiments is growing increasingly slim. But, again, as a sort of DH spectator, I enjoy thinking about what happens to some of those traditional components of humanistic/literary study—close reading, interpretive arguments, thematic analysis, figurative language—in the midst of a digital turn or information revolution. What, for better and for worse, can a reconsideration of the data and forms of scholarly argument do to hermeneutics and critical theory?

Permanent link to this article: http://newengland2011.thatcamp.org/10/16/digitizing-texts-re-presenting-time-and-space/


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  1. keywords.fordhamitac.org

    Discussing and testing out ways to visualize temporal and spatial relationships in literary texts sounds like a great idea, and I would definitely a session on this. Another site to take a look at (even if just for ideas) is Hypercities, if you haven’t already. At this site, maps are used in a variety ways, including expressing political, cultural, and social relationships and their changes over time. Anyone can to add their own knowledge to the project. Imagine if we could link thousands of literary texts on a giant, interactive map. What a way to visualize their myriad implicit and explicit connections.

  2. keywords.fordhamitac.org

    Sorry about the broken link.
    Try hypercities.com

  3. Anne Brubaker

    I second this. I study modern American literature with an emphasis on science and technology studies, and I’m likewise interested in thinking about ways to visualize literary texts and trends in terms of time and space. I would be especially interested in trying out a literary timeline, which I think could be a useful tool for both research and teaching.

  4. mhowser

    I am interested in learning more about how we can visualize time within the context of a particular location(s). Visualizing temporal data using interactive tools is a great way to provide the context for a text or event, and I would love to learn more about tools and techniques for visualizing textual data from a maps/geographic perspective.

  5. mimber

    This will be my first THATCamp, so I checked in with my Info/Lib Services folks who are beginning to talk about DH – they said – go to anything that talks about visualizing and come back and tell us what people said – so this sounds good to me.

  6. Sara Georgini

    I think this will make for an excellent conversation about how to use digital mapping to reinterpret the historical narrative for a new audience, especially given THATCamp’s opportunities to learn key GIS techniques. I’d also like to join in and expand the conversation to explore supplying and editing new research tools for older, established datasets. I invite ideas and suggestions on my current project to map the Adams family itineraries and residences, as well as their points of contact with different religious communities. Specifically, how can I begin to comprehend and aggregate the historical events, social data, religious interactions, and family history that I have captured? What kind of digital record or reference tool can I develop to share this information with other researchers? Hopefully, this unique GIS-based initiative will serve as a double gateway for scholars in both American history and the digital humanities.

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