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A DH Double Whammy- Part 2

4 Feb

The promised follow-up! Rejoice!

When considering Janelle Jenstad’s ambitious and ongoing online project, The Map of Early Modern London, it is tempting to get carried away by the novelty. To re-create a certain place of a certain time, to play time-traveler as it were, has an inevitably romantic flavor, and that flavor can be all the more potent when the time and place in question is the culturally and historically rich landscape of Early Modern London.

Have a look.

The Map of Early Modern London

One should not succumb to the novelty though, as Jenstad’s work serves a very practical scholarly purpose. As she outlines in her essay “Using Early Modern Maps in Literary Studies” gaining a thorough understanding of the landscape of early modern London can enable a student to better comprehend references to location, and the dramatic significance of location, in contemporaneous literary texts. When a comic character in an Elizabethan drama, for example, describes a series of unconnected city landmarks as if they were adjacent to one another to a foreigner as part of a practical joke, an uniformed reader may not understand what, if anything, is supposed to be funny. A handy map clarifies everything. In a more abstract sense, such a tool encourages students to embrace a unique sort of intertextuality- a consideration of the relationship between complex literary texts and more ‘practical’, utilitarian texts like maps. For make no mistake, Jenstad conceptualize the map, correctly I think, as a kind of text. She writes,

“The map has served well as the platform for a library and digital encyclopedia of London, but it is also a text in its own right. To a scholar trained to read for fissures, inconsitencies, representational strategies, agendas, and imbrication of early modern literature in culture, the Agas map [A map of London produced in the 1560’s that served as the baseline for Jenstad’s online map] demands analysis and interpretation. Early maps are what Jess Edwards has called ‘a noisily rhetorical art,’ with multiple signifying strategies that serve various ideological functions.”

The textuality of maps is not something I was inclined to consider before I read about Jenstad’s project. Thinking of maps as texts has caused me to reconsider the underlying assumptions I have been making about textuality itself. I was, and still somewhat am, tempted to think of texts principally in terms of language, and I think of language as a form of representation. I understand maps as a form of representation as well, but I think the lack of an overt linguistic element made me place them in a somewhat separate category as that of literary texts. To perceive them in a more literary fashion and to draw connections to literary texts is, for me, to focus attention on the role played by physical space in both formats, since setting is the most obvious feature a map and a story share in common. The rhetorical strategies that govern space would obviously manifest themselves in notably different ways in the hands of a dramatist and in the hands of a cartographer. Comparing how the two parties manage space, and manage their environment for themselves and their ‘readers,’ is a potentially fruitful route of inquiry that I had not previously considered.


A DH Double Whammy- The Writing Process and the Textuality of Maps- Part 1

29 Jan

To make up for the late arrival of this, my first substantial post for High Pressure Days, I will consider two topics instead of the promised one, though one will have to come a little after the other (let’s say we shoot for Friday?  Yes, that should work…  I hope.).  Both will naturally pertain to the ongoing drama that is my first immersion into the world of the Digital Humanities.  For somebody as tech-phobic as I am, this is a somewhat vexing process, but one that is already proving to be rewarding in unexpected ways.

To begin, there is the subject of the recent two-day symposium here at the George Washington University that was dedicated to the Digital Humanities in all their multifaceted glory.  Running from January 24 through the 26th, with the bulk of the presentations occurring on the latter two days, the symposium illuminated a number of different ways digital and information technology was changing the field, recalibrating how literature is both taught and studied.  As someone with an interest in 19th century American literature in general, and the works of Herman Melville in particular, the presentation that most interested me was the one given by Professor John Bryant of Hofstra University.  Professor Bryant described a recent, and as of this post, ongoing digital project called the Herman Melville Electronic Library, an online resource dedicated to compiling the works of Herman Melville in addition to criticism and scholarly and biographical resources.  This in itself would seem like a prudent, though not particularly original, idea, but the website establishes a unique function through its use of a software program called TextLab.  TextLab allows readers to view different versions of a text simultaneously in order to gain a sense of the author’s writing process and approach to revision.  The goal is to establish the essential “fluidity” of Melville’s works, which often were published in multiple versions (Typee appeared in both an ‘original’ version and a bowdlerized version that was published after the original version drew protests from religious leaders, and Moby-Dick had both an American and British publication that resulted in two noticeably distinct texts with different endings) or left in a fragmented and incomplete state (Billy Budd, Sailor was never properly finished or published in Melville’s lifetime, and the manuscript consists of over 400 hand-written leaves with multiple textual self-corrections and revisions).  I find the idea of this resource helpful both practically and conceptually.  Practically, the Melville Electronic Library will enable scholars and students to gain a better sense of Melville’s writing process and the publication history of his works.  Conceptually, the Library dispels the essentially illusory sense of permanence and definitiveness that one may have when encountering the texts on the printed page.  Even detailed scholarly editions of Melville’s works that feature information about multiple editions of the same story or that include alternative passages in the appendices present a ‘definitive’ or ‘standard’ version of the story that gives the reader no sense of the text’s instability, or its contingency.  By being able to view multiple versions of a story, essay, poem or review side-by-side the reader can gain a better understanding of a text’s development and the many possible ways to interpret it.  It reveals that Melville’s artistic engagements unfolded in time, and had no precise destination or ‘complete’ form.  The essentially unsettled nature of the Melville canon can be presented with unprecedented clarity thanks to the shrewd application of digital technology.  

That is the crux of my understanding of tools like the Melville Electronic Library- They ideally reveal the nature of pre-digital texts as opposed to altering them.  The medium of presentation broadens and clarifies what the texts were all along.  

The site is very much a work in progress, but have a look:

Part Two: Janelle Jenstad and the Map of Early Modern London.  Coming soon!Image




Coming Soon!

20 Jan

Coming soon, my thoughts on someone else’s thoughts.

Specifically, before too long you, the fortunate reader, will have the opportunity to read what I think about Janelle Jenstad’s work on Archives and Early Modern Studies. Probable date- 1/27. In the meantime:

Digital Humanities Questions and Answers!

And the little number that inspired the title of this blog-