Uncertainty in Manuscript Technologies and the Potential of Computational Tools

Professor Elaine Treharne, Stanford University, delivers the second of our Digital Humanities Network Lecture Series: Trust and Authority in the Digital Age.

The University of Birmingham and Trinity College Dublin Digital Research Partnership is a network of scholars who seek to investigate some of the key questions of humanities research in the digital age.

The central theme of the network is “Trust and Authority in the Digital Age”. Emerging from our complementary expertise in digital scholarly editing (Birmingham) and Digital Humanities (Dublin) we research the question of how a critical digital humanities can address the crisis in trust mechanisms which has accompanied the expansion of the digital world.

Those who work with early technologies of text deal with the most comprehensive set of uncertainties about the principal objects of their study. In this lecture, I’ll talk about the nature of these uncertainties and the kinds of expectations that scholars might realistically have of computational and digital tools and methods.

It is urgent that humanists working with cultural heritage objects—by which I mean all those things in archives, museums, special and private collections, galleries—address how we can best express current challenges and opportunities. How can we persuade potential collaborators to engage in research on these objects at scale? Broaden the focus of our collective efforts to include a greater appreciation of the importance of the human record? To lay out clearly what’s at stake?

Moving forward will take more than one scholar, one team, one institution, one tradition of writing: it will take a multitude of partners and the ability to scale up research and to deploy automated processes beneficially; and it requires an extension of the global archive to amplify the rich and varied voices that make up the human experience.

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