This review of Anthony Grafton’s Worlds Made by Words may seem a bit far afield, but paragraphs four through six seem relevant to our discussion. Paragraph five in particular addresses problems with scanning, cataloguing, and the like. As Grafto notes, these electronic tools reinforce the need to consult originals. Ditto– the “transfer of documentary archives is still in its infancy.”
I especially liked Grafton’s example of the young scholar who used olfactory evidence found by consulting original documents to chart the history of cholera outbreaks.
Thanks, Steve, for posting the New Yorker piece. I appreciate that scholars such as Grafton, Bob Darnton, Leah Price and others are writing about these issues in publications that reach a broader audience than simply academic outlets. Such work helps demonstrate the relevancy of the humanities today.
I like the two opposing views of the new electronic library depicted in Anthony Grafton’s article. On the one hand, Kevin Kelly envisions the electronic library as a clear and accurate index to all that is printed–”a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas.” On the other hand, Grafton sees a “patchwork of interfaces and databases,” at best a spotty index to the world of letters.
It would be nice to believe the former view, but the latter assessment seems more accurate. Grafton’s article makes clear the need for stronger and more rigorous search mechanisms in text-bases such as EEBO and ECCO. Arriving at such rigor is made all the more difficult by the introduction of human error within the original text. How would an automated recognition technology know to read “qnalitas” for “qualitas”?