Digital history and digital humanities

Hit and Miss #58


School is at a heavier point right now. Since I originally conceived this newsletter, in part, as a place to share what I’m reading, I thought I’d share three cool things I’ve read about while taking a digital history course. Apologies if I’ve already spoken effusively of one or more of these to you.

  • In the 1960s, J.C.R. Licklider was tasked with imagining the future of the library. In the process, he and his team imagined a computing network that foreshadowed the Internet (indeed, Licklider would help develop ARPANET, predecessor to the Internet) that would support a shared store of all human knowledge (now realized, in some ways, by Wikipedia and/or the Internet writ large, though his vision still isn’t fully implemented) queryable and summarizable through quasi-natural language (hey there Google). Libraries of the Future is available online—if you’re interested, chapter two details this vision (especially pages 45–58, where Licklider provides a narrative example).
  • Textual analysis of Agatha Christie’s novels confirmed a longstanding suspicion that Christie was living with Alzheimer’s toward the end of her life. The technique used to determine this later prompted new clinical approaches to diagnosing the disease.
  • The Orlando Project documents “women’s writing in the British Isles from the beginning to the present.” It’s an incredible text base demonstrating the power of structured data: you can dynamically construct timelines, explore various people and organizations, their connections to writing, and so much more. See, for example, Amber Reeve’s entry or a timeline of all records mentioning ”Cairo” as a place. Most names are then hyperlinked, which lead to biographies and chronologies and bibliographies and more—words do not do justice for this incredible site. This is the hyperlink’s potential realized in one of the most impressive ways. (Can you tell that this is exactly the kind of nerdy technology that gets me going?)

It never ceases to amaze me (a) what we can discover through research and (b) how much more there is to learn. All the best for the week ahead!