Reply To: Evaluation Criteria

Home Forums Evaluating DH Evaluation Criteria Reply To: Evaluation Criteria

Daniel Fawcett

In my other post, I gave a quick evaluation of the Mapping the Republic of Letters project. And I indicted that it was a gorgeous, slick project with a lot of interesting things going on. But I also indicated that it wasn’t really a digital humanities project.

Of course, as I am wont to do, I made that strong statement, and then back-pedaled a bit. Well, a lot. I said that it really was a DH project, but a project that used DH tools to accomplish a very traditional humanities project. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am of that stance.

Part of my dithering comes from the “distant reading” idea that Matthew Jockers introduced to us (by way of Franco Moretti). The Mapping project certainly does give us a distant-reading approach to the work of several scholars. How in the world would it be possible to trace the connections between multiple thinkers and all of their intellectual networks in a pre-digital environment? This is of particular concern when we realize that many of these texts probably exist only in isolated libraries scattered throughout the world, and that the digital tools allow scholars who are more geographically bound to at least access the information and metadata, if not the texts themselves.

But Todd Presner’s How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship is, I think, even more helpful in analyzing this particular site (as well as Terralingua, the other site I examined). Presner first asks us to evaluate the work “in the medium in which it was produced and published” (2012). In this way, my comparing the Mapping project to, say, other attempts to situate thinkers in a context in non-DH contexts is like comparing apples to submarines. The Mapping project is an attempt to situate the thinkers in a large, data-rich, visual context, and this is something that the Web is simply better at doing than print. On the other hand, Greil Marcus’ book Lipstick Traces, another attempt to situate various thinkers and artists within their context, simply must be evaluated as a book because that is how it was written. They were attempting to do different things. If the Mapping project had wanted to be a traditional humanities project, it would have been published as a book.

But I still can’t help shaking the notion that there is something… “traditional,” I suppose, about the mapping project. In that way, I think it falls short of Presner’s criteria of “risk-taking.” The project seems a bit mundane, just enhanced in size.

Those are simply some initial thoughts. I hope that we can discuss them further in class.