Renaissance Literary Studies and Humanities Computing:
David R. Shore
University of Ottawa
Malaspina University College
Shore, David R., and R.G. Siemens. "Renaissance Literary Studies and Humanities Computing: Introduction." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.3 / Special Issue 4 (January, 2000): 1.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/05-3/rsdsintr.html>.
The following essays have evolved from papers given at two linked conference sessions, held during the 1998 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and sponsored jointly by the Consortium for Computers in the Humanities and the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies. These essays reflect our current explicit concern with the use of computing technology in Renaissance studies. They evaluate and provide evidence of the increasing importance of that technology and the increasing number of ways in which it influences Renaissance teaching, study, and research. They also offer a record of achievement and exploration in the opportunities opened up by computing technology. Some of these opportunities were undoubtedly predictable from the earliest introduction of computers into the academic environment: greater ease of access to research tools through bibliographical databases and through online or disk-stored compendia of primary materials (musical and visual as well as textual); easier manipulation of rhetorical data to facilitate rhetorical analyses of texts and comparative analyses of editions; the supplementation of print journals by electronic media. Others were probably less so, particularly the manifold possibilities of hypertext and its (perhaps partially illusory) opening up of paths to the direct experience of the simultaneities of interpenetrating texts.
This collection of articles begins with William R. Bowen's discussion of the development and the future of Iter, a project which is the result of a partnership between the Renaissance Society of America, the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies and Library. Beginning as a response to the demand of scholars for a timely, comprehensive, and accessible database of articles and other scholarly writings on the Renaissance, it is today one of the most valuable resources for students and scholars of the period. Susan Forscher Weiss and Ichiro Fujinaga then present a discussion of a project launched by a team of professors and students from The Peabody Conservatory of Music and The Johns Hopkins University, its aim to produce a CD-ROM-based multimedia learning environment for the study of Medieval and Renaissance Music that incorporates various media, including live performances of music on instruments from the period, digitized images of scores and paintings, videos demonstrating performance techniques and comprehensive texts.
Paul Dyck, R.G. Siemens, Jennifer Lewin, and Joanne Woolway Grenfell -- all affiliated with the electronic journal Early Modern Literary Studies -- participate in an act of navel gazing, attempting to capture and contextualise concerns associated with managing an accepted electronic scholarly resource that must also adapt to the fast-changing expectations of electronic scholarly publication. Rebecca Bushnell tells of a unique collaboration between the Department of English and the Department of Special Collections in Van Pelt Library, wherein a group at the University of Pennsylvania has created a site on the World Wide Web that presents facsimile texts and images from the Furness Shakespeare Library's holdings of early printed materials relating to Shakespeare, theatre history, and the early modern period; having already met with much success, that group is now transforming their electronic materials into a teaching resource as well as an archive for scholars, using the internet to disseminate the raw materials of English Renaissance culture to a world of students and teachers who lack access to them, showing new ways to understand and use these materials when they study Shakespeare, Milton, or any of the canonical texts of this vital moment of European history.
The volume closes with three considerations of the relationship between computing technology and our understanding of particular authors of the period and their works. Mark Feltham and William Barker contextualise critical concerns associated with their electronic edition of Andrea Alciato's Book of Emblems; in their description of the characteristics of reading emblems online they note the irony that their work realises the benefits of accessing and manipulating electronic text while simultaneously erasing some aspects of meaning deriving from the material medium of the book. Robert Whalen then presents an experiment in criticism that supplements a conventional reading of Herbert's verse, including its historical and cultural ontogeny, with a reading of data generated (with the assistance of Text Analysis Computing Tools, TACT) in response to the concerns of that initial critical experience -- a computer-assisted inquiry that foregrounds features of the text only implicitly available otherwise. Finally, Hilary J. Binda analyses the trope of hypertextuality as it is figured in several contemporary theories of the new electronic technologies and, in doing so, challenges a radical distinction between print and hypertext and between the "logics" of linearity and nonlinearity with which each respectively is associated. Drawing on work associated with the Perseus Project at Tufts University, she demonstrates that Marlowe's Doctor Faustus posits the very simultaneity of linearity and nonlinearity, endlessness and boundedness, that inheres in textuality whether it be electronic or not.
Many of us cannot fail to be struck by the similarities, some of them directly engaged by the essays that follow, between the projects of scholars working on the Renaissance through computing technology and those of Renaissance writers themselves. This is in some ways an Erasmian moment in Renaissance studies, a moment defined by the prospect of an ideal order of humanist discourse unfolding in a virtual library with all shelves filled, no books misplaced, its catalogue error-free and ever at our finger-tips, and, most wonderfully, its virtual books ever-ready to comment on themselves and on their fellows. (Democritus Junior should have been living at this hour.)
It is still far too early to say exactly how the means of access enabled by computing technology will change our understanding of the Renaissance. The only certainty is that such change will occur, and it is our hope that the essays in this volume will continue to stand as a useful record for the understanding of that change. Whatever form it takes, the change will not simply be one more step in the ongoing process of redefining the Renaissance. Walter J. Ong has taught us that major technological advances in information storage and retrieval are never without vast and unexpected consequences for the inheritors of that technology. Hypertext is multi-directional, and we ourselves will inevitably be implicated -- we can only hope to the good -- in the complex web of the adagia we are committed to bringing into being. As the potential of computing technology continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see not only what we come to make of the Renaissance, but also what the Renaissance comes to make of us.
- The editors would like to thank those people whose input and efforts made a positive contribution to the collection, especially those who participated in the lively discussions that followed the conference sessions and, in doing so, provided considerable direction and valuable feedback that is well-reflected in the papers herein. Specifically, we would like to thank Michael Best, Joanne Buckley, Terry Butler, Peter Donaldson, Roy Flannagan, Dietrich Helms, Lisa Hopkins, Ian Lancashire, John Lepage, Randy McLeod, Paul Stanwood, Paul Werstine, and William Winder for their assistance, as well the Consortium for Computers in the Humanities and the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies. This collection is jointly published as a special issue of the electronic journal Early Modern Literary Studies (URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/emlshome.html) and the print publication Text Technology.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
(DS, RGS, 15 December 1999)