First of all, I loved learning about ‘syntactical glosses’ in Clemens and Graham - basically that scribes would mark up Latin texts with word order help for people who were learning Latin. I still do that! (In other words, Scribes: They’re Just Like Us!) It seems like Dylan and I both relate to this.

As far as I understood what Roberto Busa was writing about (which was admittedly not very far), it seemed like his model of the progress of the hermeneutic/interpretative current of textual informatics goes in reverse of what I would expect, in that the end goal is something like interoperability. For some reason, when I think of simple, standard tools, I imagine that they would start that way — e.g. in the beginning there was Mirador, and then lots of repositories used Mirador for their own purposes, etc. But actually, according to Busa, the end goal is that simple standard tool: “It would be a sort of universal language, in binary alphabet, ‘antiBabel’, still in virtual reality … In input, therefore, everybody could use their own native disciplined language and have the desired translations in output.”

To be honest, I’m not sure I completely understand what he was proposing, but the fact that his posthumous end goal is something universal and interoperable sort of gives me hope for the current (somewhat scattered) state of manuscript repositories and digital tools.

In light of the Digital Mappaemundi project, too, it seems like the model is starting from raw information or materials, developing a tool to work with those, and then making that tool interoperable. It seems to me that the benefit of that is allowing us to check our own assumptions about the material — if you start with an idea of what you want to get out of a type of material (e.g. maps), you might be misrepresenting that material (e.g. by assuming that medieval maps had the same purpose - portraying a geographical reality - as something like Google maps today).

In the words of the Mappaemundi reading:

For digital projects focused on historical material to be fully realized, they must also grapple with material on its own terms, and acknowledge its particular concerns. Medieval maps are far more similar to literature or art in that they are representations that are not necessarily grounded in the specifics of our reality. They were not designed to correspond point for point with the globe—precision of distance and detail, a foundation of modern cartography, was irrelevant. Rather, medieval maps were aimed at helping their largely monastic audience understand their place in the world.

What do you all think of this model: materials —> tools —> simplicity and interoperability? Am I just stating the obvious?


23 January 2017