The History of Humanities Computing is the introductory chapter by Susan Hockey in another outdated text book that includes such gems as, “How does a computer ‘work?'” and the mechanical components in a keyboard. The site uses frames, which although useful for a book format, severely dates it. A more modern approach would be drop down flash menus for the chapters or at least hidden frames. Hockey introduces us to several early computerized humanities projects of varying degrees of usefulness.
I also took the time to look at the chapter on film studies to see what projects were discussed. I was disappointed at the primitiveness of the project and ultimately, how little they meant. As one former EWU film professor explained to me once, “if you come up with one idiot program, have you arbitrarily contributed anything?” Being able to scroll through screen shots is a very limited advantage, and did little, I feel, to advance the study of film as an art. Computers have contributed innumerable tools to the filmmaking process, but if this book is an indication, it has given decidedly fewer tools to the film critic.
A slightly more useful digital humanities project was the Newcastle map project, which used old maps and paintings to recreate the town of Newcastle and chart some of its layout changes over time. While one may once again wonder, “is this useful?” the townspeople themselves seem delighted. “We are lucky to have so much information about our beautiful town,” remarks one citizen. It’s worth remembering that small digital projects have as much ability to delight as larger ones, and we should still be willing to help with projects even if we feel we won’t reach a large audience.
This was of course not the first attempt at the visualization of data. This honor was given to William Playfair in 1786, with his invention of the modern chart. The popularity of visual data rose slowly through the centuries until, as Shawn Allen points out, “people are suddenly interested in data” [data being defined as “information abstracted in schematic form.”]. Graphs and charts remained the most common method of visualizing data until very recently.
Today, visual data enjoys its popularity in the form of the infographic. Infographics have surged probably due to the ease of making them thanks to tools such as Photoshop and programs that allow you to convert your drawing to digital form more easily, and also due to the internet becoming more graphic heavy thanks to faster than ever download speeds. While some infographics, such as the Oatmeal’s infographic on the Mantis Shrimp or the website Daily Infographic, which posts a new infographic each day are harmless and innocuous, others should come with “Spoiler Alert” warnings by the links, because some of us are right in the goddamn middle of season 3 of the Walking Dead on Netflix and this could have ruined a lot for those people.
Fortunately it didn’t. Because if it had, I would have been forced to find out what you love and spoil the hell out of it.
Rosebud is the sled.