Victoria E. Szabo, Duke University
David S. Roh, Old Dominion University
Robert O. Steele, George Washington University
Ryan Cordell, St. Norbert College
The burgeoning field of "digital humanities" has begun to yield new insights into the traditional texts that make up the preponderance of humanities teaching and research. Yet, much of the discussion of digital humanities as it applies to traditional scholarship focuses more on archive creation and research tools than on the results of digitally mediated textual analysis. The papers in this panel focus on new textual readings derived with the assistance of digital tools, with special attention to how the broader conditions of digitally-mediated textual production impact the reader's analysis not only of the texts themselves, but also the conditions of their production and reception.
The first paper, "Digital Networks and Horizontal Textuality" from David Roh, sets the stage by describing the relationship between conventional, "vertical" forms of textual production and reception, and the potentials for new readings that take place in a networked, "horizontal" environment. Roh goes on to discuss the material conditions of electronic publishing which reify existing geographic, income based, and other structures inherited from print culture that prevent users full access to the potential for intertextual readings that digital environments provide. He suggests that this culture clash prevents the kinds of reading that are otherwise made possible by digital access, and argues for a return the more horizontal textuality of a less litigious age.
Roh's paper is followed by a specific example of the type of scholarly reading enabled by digital technology tools. Robert Steele's, "The Work of the Text in Haggards She: Full-text Searching and Networks of Association" unpacks the use of potentially racialized language within Haggards novel in order to demonstrate, though the use of text analysis tools, how the use of the term "white" deviates from associations expected by the contemporary reader, as well as surfaces new ones. His argument, that full-text searching can estrange the reader from the text in order to engage more productively with it, suggests a new avenue of approach for familiar linguistic tropes.
The panel concludes with Ryan Cordell's, "Taken Possession of What Digital Archives Can Teach Us about Nathaniel Hawthorne, Religious Readers, and Antebellum Reprinting Culture." Cordell's focus is on how reading Hawthornes tales, specifically "The Celestial Railroad", in the rich context of their periodical publication history, as well as of the specific content that surrounded them, yields new insight into their cultural use and reception, as well as how the texts themselves were fluid and dynamic, altered in response to the specific demands of the denominational press. As Cordell points out, it is only with the mining of mass digitization projects that such analysis of these texts, contexts, and networks of association have become visible to the contemporary scholar.
As all of the panelists demonstrate, simple digital access to texts otherwise inaccessible or difficult to read already creates a tremendous potential for new reading; that coupled with contemporary search and data mining tools applied to the aggregate text or texts makes possible the horizontal textual environment Roh advocates. Each paper also engages, whether directly or obliquely, the social and cultural implications of such new reading practices by democratizing access not only to traditionally valued, canonical texts, but also to their broader linguistic, publishing, and material contexts, revealing the ways in which they operated not as isolated monuments, but as living influences within a network of associations. Such a hypermediated environment enables the user/reader to engage as an explorer in literary historical landscapes conjured in virtual form, and offers the potential for richer reading and interpretative practices.
Packet-switching protocols have succeeded in large part due to their decentralized distribution methods – the Internet and its precursor, ARPANET, were built partly in response to the inefficiencies inherent in centralized communications systems. This paper argues that a significant shift in cultural logic is at play, that digital networks reflect a return to a more horizontal textuality. Consider, for example, the uproar following proposals to install a manufactured tiering system at the level of network infrastructure – the networked public understands that net neutrality is essential to the digital ecosphere’s health and future growth. Yet print textuality remains staunchly entrenched in a vertically structured hierarchy. The same infrastructural proposals so vociferously protested by the networked user are always already accepted in the case of print literature; that is, tiered levels determine access based on geography, income, and other factors. Moreover, this structure denies access not only to readership, but to writers seeking to draw upon the collective pool of knowledge now guarded as intellectual property. The same centralized inefficiencies plaguing communications systems prior to the Internet are made all the more salient in light of print’s increasing intertextual stasis. This paper examines the merging of the traditionally analog and digital to posit the return of non-hierarchical textuality. I show that as print merges with, and migrates to the digital plane, the same horizontal philosophy imbued in digital networks will necessarily clash with the verticality of print. At the very least, this collision will ask us to re-visit and rethink our conceptions of analog intertextuality.
H. Rider Haggard’s She, a thematically convoluted work which Haggard’s contemporary Andrew Lang said was like “literature of another planet,” is available as a fully searchable PDF file through Google Books. Most readings of She, like most literary interpretation, has involved selective representation of the network of terms and concepts found in the text, expanded through analogy with other texts and/or surrounding cultural phenomena. The central character (Ayesha: She-who-must-be-obeyed) is compared to Flaubert’s Salammbô, for instance, or to Queen Victoria: her domination of white suitors and black subjects is read as sexual, or as colonial. Such readings may say as much about their readers’ preoccupations as they do about the text. A full-text search for the term “white” in She provides a set of textual fragments that can be analyzed for patterns of relationships between terms in a sort of non-linear close reading. Such fragmentation can help us resist supplying conventional associations not found in the text and thus reveal unconventional associations that are in fact present. We may be surprised, for instance, to observe that “white” in the text may slide into yellow, and yellow into black, or that “white” is frequently associated with death; this should nuance our interpretation of the conventional association of Ayesha’s skin with ivory. If “white” enters She with connotations of beauty and racial purity, the work of the text produces other meanings. Full-text searching can estrange us from the text sufficiently for us to see these newer and more disturbing meanings as they emerge.
Writing about Hawthorne’s stories in American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, Meredith McGill notes that “a comprehensive list of the reprinting of Hawthorne’s tales,” would require “a bibliographic feat which is as yet impossible due to the inadequately indexed state of nineteenth-century periodicals.” While a complete bibliography of any story remains out of reach, recent projects to digitize nineteenth-century periodicals may help scholars close the gap. These archives aren’t indexed, but they are searchable, and so can be combed through more quickly, and with more minute focus, than hard copies or microfilm. For example, the most complete bibliography of Hawthorne, Clark’s Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Descriptive Bibliography, lists 22 reprintings of “The Celestial Railroad” during the nineteenth century. Moreover, Clark offers no account of surrounding texts, such as rewrites or references to the short story. By mining digital nineteenth-century newspaper archives, however, I’ve uncovered 50 reprintings of the tale, several books inspired by it, and over 100 direct references to its characters or settings. The gap between the best traditional bibliography of Hawthorne and materials quickly found in digital archives is wide and includes important variations. I’m currently developing a website (http://www.celestialrailroad.org) that traces this newly-uncovered textual history, focusing on the editorial changes, introductions, and glosses that shaped the text’s message for particular denominational audiences: Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, &c. This paper will discuss and draw from this research to argue that “The Celestial Railroad” was a central text in the evangelical canon, popular for its doctrinal orthodoxy and pithy moral instruction—both characteristics modern scholars rarely associate with Hawthorne, but which were central to his early reception in contemporary religious circles. However, I will also argue that the central moral religious readers drew from the text—that modernizing, denominational “improvements” were desecrating the central truths of biblical Christianity—was simultaneously undermined by the way the text was edited and presented in the denominational press—as a shot across the bows of other sects. Religious readers read themselves as the “old fashioned pilgrims” and other groups as the damned innovators, decrying denominationalism even as, in printing “The Celestial Railroad” with such barbed intent, they exacerbated denominational vitriol.
Victoria Szabo is Assistant Research Professor of Visual Studies and New Media in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University. She is also the director of the Information Science + Information Studies Program and Research Center. Her teaching and research interests focus on digital media authorship and its transformation of academic practice in the humanities, with special attention to spatial media such as annotated maps and virtual worlds, and how they operate as new sites of cultural formation and representation, in theory and in practice. Her major projects have focused on Muhuru Bay, Kenya and Durham, NC, with new collabortations developing around Haiti and Bremen, Germany. See http://www.duke.edu/~ves4/. She is also working on a book project on the affordances of digital media tools for academic authorship.
David S. Roh is assistant professor of the Digital Humanities and English at Old Dominion University. His research and teaching interests include new media studies, digital cultures, postmodern American fiction, law & literature, and transnational studies. His current book project examines how the intersection of intellectual property policy, digital networks, and subcultural texts influence literary canon formation. His most recent publication in Law and Literature focuses on on copyright law and literary parodies. Website: http://www.droh.faculty.digitalodu.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert O. Steele wrote his dissertation on Flaubert for Michigan State University and has published articles on Leconte de Lisle, Émile Zola, and Roger Peyrefitte. He presented a paper at the MLA convention in 2009 titled "Le Moulin à Images: Mixed Media, Intertext, and Québécois National Identity." He is currently doing work on classification theory and on the relationship between media history and national identity. He is a cataloging librarian at the George Washington University Law Library. Email: email@example.comRyan Cordell is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Writing-Across-the-Curriculum at St. Norbert College. Cordell received his degree from the University of Virginia last year. His research and teaching interests focus on the continuum between religion and secularity in nineteenth-century American literature—particularly in periodicals—and on new digital research, publication, and pedagogical methods. He published, "'Enslaving You, Body and Soul': The Uses of Temperance in Uncle Tom's Cabin and 'Anti-Tom' Fiction" in the Spring 2008 issue of Studies in American Fiction. Cordell is currently building an online edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "The Celestial Railroad," that will allow readers to compare and interpret changes made to the story as it circulated through the antebellum evangelical press. The site will also gather a range of supplemental textual materials, such as allusions and references made to "The Celestial Railroad" in newspapers, magazines, sermons, and other books. For more on this project, visit http://www.celestialrailroad.org.