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PHILOLOGY IN A NEW KEY: HUMANE STUDIES IN DIGITAL SPACE Professor Jerome McGann, The John Stewart Bryan Professor of English, University of Virginia, US 8 March 2007 Professor Janet McDonald introduced Professor McGann with a brief biography of his writings on Byron and his editing of the poets seven volume definitive standard writings. She outlined Professor McGanns central role in the digitalisation of texts and promotion of online open source material for scholars. His development of a digital project on Dante Gabriel Rossetti has led to the launching of the Nines (www.nines.org Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship) online programme for digital interpretation and peer-review. Professor Jerome McGann The digital transformation of our museums and archives and its impact upon traditional paper-based publication has come to the attention of scholars in recent times. The rise of digital technology is already impacting upon scholarship and education and a practical, accessible way of maximising its usage and accessibility must be put in place. Professor McGann has been seeking to find out more about what are the instruments in this evolution, how should they be used and what they will look like. The library, especially the research library, is the cornerstone, if not the very foundation of modern humanities. It is undergoing right now a complete digital transformation. In the coming decades the process has already begun the entirety of our cultural inheritance will be transformed and re-edited in digital forms. Do we understand what that means, what problems it brings, how they might be addressed? The largely digitally illiterate academic world puts many scholars on the margins. Across several prestigious American universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Cornell, there is not a single faculty member engaged in any digital research in spite of exponential development of the web. There are vast repositories of information yet there remains a lack of strong infrastructure to digitalise written material and create an accessible forum for 19th century romantic literature scholars in particular. To learn a foreign language, one must do more than study books. One must immerse oneself in the language and culture and use it effectively. Understanding and recognising the importance of the digital revolution demands hands-on collaboration and real participation. There is, argues Professor McGann, a deeply imbedded ideological conflict that frames the crisis in humanities scholarship. Critical theory is in a dismal state, according to Bruno Latour, which points up the need to retrieve a realist attitude. While general book publishing moves forward and responds to steady demand, the academic marketplace has drastically shrunk as consumer demand has decreased. While American scholarly publishers of the 1990s produced print runs of around 1000 to 1500 copies, the number has now plummeted to around 100 to 150. This trend will not be reversed. As scholars produce more and more work, they pass it to a delivery system with a diminishing capacity to sustain its publication. Many now realise that online publication is the natural and inevitable response to this general problem of scholarly and educational communication, not only for accessing existing academic publications but as a medium for new publishing and peer-review. The learning curve is steep and the upfront costs are substantial in a medium which, unlike paper-based publishing, is not yet strongly established. Instead, digital publishing, even the best of it, is all more or less atomised, growing like so many Topsies. Worse, these creatures are idiosyncratically designed and so cant easily talk to each other. The lack of funding resources also contributes to the challenge of ensuring their maintenance, development and survival. The work regularly passes without much practical institutional notice. Accepted professional standards do not control the work in objective ways. Most of it comes into being without oversight or peer-review. Among universities, humanities and education faculties will not take digitalisation seriously until procedures for initiating it are expanded. During the last decade or so, the needs of research scholars have developed and extended so that they need more than basic software. What is required now is a full online publishing structure with the facility to connect paper-based material to digital format. With this need clearly identified, Professor McGann began working on two projects that would test and develop his understanding of how digital technology might work. First, he digitally edited and keyed in published material at the Californian Institute of Technology. Then he began work on the Dante Gabriel Rossetti archive. I learned a lot more when the Rossetti archive got underway. I could see that digital devices in all their complexity are required and that we should put published books online. The IVANHOE, Juxta and Collex systems grew out of the Rossetti project, the premise for which was to create an integrated an open-source social space and system. There is a tension a collision between paper-based books and
Opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the RSE, nor of its Fellows

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digital material and that can be very enlightening. I could see the benefits of digital tools in pushing us to better understand books. The NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship) initiative establishes an online environment for publishing peer-reviewed research in nineteenth-century British and American studies. Primarily an institutional mechanism for digitally-organised research and scholarship, NINES also includes pedagogical and classroom components. NINES acts as a professional facilitator and as an advocacy group to protect the interests of scholars and educators. Its purpose includes liaison with interested publishing venues and a coordinated group of editorial boards oversees the work. NINES is a model and working example for scholarship that takes advantage of digital resources and internet connectivity. It provides scholars with access to a uniformly coded textual environment and a suite of computerised analytic and interpretive schools. Crucially, NINES is more than an academic exercise. It has a very practical purpose that includes modelling a technical and institutional framework that integrates our inherited archive of paper-based materials, both primary and secondary, with emerging forms of digital scholarship and criticism. It also begins to provide a suite of user-friendly procedures and accessible digital tools to help scholars and students to produce interesting work in digital form. Digital technology offers remarkable new possibilities for studying, analysing and interpreting our cultural inheritance in ways both individual and collaborative that have not been possible previously. NINES includes a markup schema designed specifically for literary and cultural studies materials. Digital tools to provide complex interpretive operations help scholars to transpose paper-based functions into a digital environment. A text comparison tool called JUXTA allows comparison and collation of textual similarities and differences in a given set of equivalent documents. IVANHOE offers online collaborative space for organisaing interpretive investigations of traditional humanities of any kind. COLLEX develops tools to allow users to assemble and share virtual collections and to present annotated exhibits. Professor McGann describes himself as a book scholar, about as traditional as you get and points to Swinburnes line on humanism: Glory to man in the highest, for man is the master of things which, he says, is very much to his taste. He is convinced, however, that the road ahead is inevitable, whether or not we chose to take it: we should all be clear about the slow train thats coming and that wont be sidetracked in terms of digital transformation of research archives. Questions from the audience: A range of questions featured issues on IP and copyright control; how internet content could be effectively supervised; the risk of individual universities demanding their own unique systems; how the quality of submissions might be overseen and the ontological differences between a paper-based publication and its online equivalent. Report written by Maggie Stanfield of Written Words

Opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the RSE, nor of its Fellows