From my position on the outside of academia, the digital humanities seem to be important, though not so much at Geneva. In a senior state-of-the-field class, we devoted a class session and readings to the topic, and I must admit that I found it a little silly. Are we to assume that because of technical innovation that our whole method of thinking about history and society needs to change? More than anything else, I got ticked because I couldn’t see how it fit in with everything else that we were studying – deep, complicated theory questions. From this we turn to a discussion of Youtube.
In Christianity and the Transformation of the Book, Grafton and Williams make a convincing argument about something very similar that happened in late antiquity. They argue that Origen, Eusebius and other Christian scholars sparked a tremendous advance in the material production of scholarship – in Origen’s Hexapla (a massive OT is parallel columns of Hebrew, LXX, and several other translations), Eusebius’ Chronicle and the massive scale of book production in Caesarea at that time. They argue that these kinds of technical advances gave them unmatched scholarly resources and helped shape the discourse of historians and exegetes for the “millennial project of Christian scholarship.”
And what is more, as far as I can tell, they outline some of Origen and Eusebius’ advances well and tie them in very interestingly to a history of late antiquity. In fact, they force me to do a little reconsidering of my earlier discounting of the digital humanities concept. The fact is, simply, that someone with the internet available and a modicum of common sense has access to an immense amount of data and ways to index and search it. There are significant limitations to the reliability of these sources, but it gives us a huge advantage over these ancient scholars.
Even discounting the internet, the cheap availability of books would be amazing to these scholars, as would be the ease of use that printing allows. Honestly, the Gutenberg revolution seems to guide my personal reading habits just as much as the digital age does. Still, the searching and indexing functions of computers are invaluable in attempting to find resources (even at your friendly local library). I’m still a little confused about the precise innovation of the digital humanities but after reading the work of Grafton and Williams I can acknowledge that the technical innovation that it provides is definitely worth discussion, even in a theory-focused class.
(a sidenote: Just as interesting as I find the technical aspects of Grafton and Williams’ work, I also am fascinated by their sense of the long tradition of Christian scholars. This might just be my reading into the text my own sense of lineage with the Christian tradition, but I do wonder if Grafton and Williams see themselves as continuing in this line. I am curious if they see their faith tradition as similarly like that of Origen and Eusebius. I know that reading about the faithful scholarly work of these men is inspiring to me as I consider a career spent in very different modern academia.)