Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 2.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Tue, 07 May 2002 06:29:26 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <email@example.com>
Subject: Lyman Award to Jerome McGann
National Humanities Center
Research Triangle Park, N.C.
>The grandson, son, and brother of printers is the first winner of an award
>that honors pioneers in a still-new and sometimes controversial area of
>the humanities -- the use of digital tools to expand traditional notions
>of scholarship and teaching.
>Jerome J. McGann, the John Stewart Bryan University Professor at the
>University of Virginia, has received the first Richard W. Lyman Award,
>presented by the National Humanities Center. The award honors Richard W.
>Lyman, who was president of Stanford University from 1970-80 and of the
>Rockefeller Foundation from 1980-88, and is made possible through the
>generosity of the Rockefeller Foundation.
>McGann, who is also on the faculty at Royal Holloway College, University
>of London, received the first award, along with a prize of $25,000, in a
>ceremony at the Time & Life Building in New York City on May 6.
>In recent years, scholars in the classics, English and American
>literature, history, and other humanistic disciplines have increasingly
>used computers and the World Wide Web to create and distribute facsimiles
>of rare manuscripts; to archive, index, and annotate literary, artistic,
>and scholarly materials; to link text, visual images, and sound; and to
>create a new social structure that will break down boundaries between
>learning, teaching, and research. The Lyman Award recognizes the exciting
>results of these efforts, according to James O'Donnell, professor of
>classical studies and vice provost for information systems and computing
>at the University of Pennsylvania.
>"The award honors an individual who has made important scholarly
>contributions that could not have been made without the innovative and
>wise use of information technology," says O'Donnell, who led a committee
>of seven scholars who selected McGann. "It's not a technology prize --
>it's a recognition of scholarship that all in the field will recognize.
>But it's also a recognition that information technology is a powerful tool
>precisely for the most substantial scholarly accomplishments."
>McGann's digital/scholarly credentials include the Rossetti Archive, a
>hypertextual instrument designed to facilitate the study of Dante Gabriel
>Rossetti; the Ivanhoe Game, a Web-based software application for enhancing
>the critical study of traditional humanities materials; and extensive
>scholarly writings on computing in the humanities, including Radiant
>Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web (Palgrave/St. Martin's,
>2001). A noted scholar of the Romantic and Victorian poets and of
>textuality and traditional editing theory, McGann has also written several
>books of poetry. His free adaptation of Thomas Lowell Beddoes' "Death's
>Jest Book" will have a New York premiere in the summer of 2003.
>The Rossetti Archive is one of about 40 digital projects underway at the
>Institute for Advanced Technology (IATH) at the University of Virginia, of
>which McGann is a co-founder. Like William Blake, the subject of another
>IATH project, Rossetti is ideally suited to "an all-purpose, multimedia,
>hypermedia environment for editing cultural works," McGann says. "You
>can't really edit Rossetti in textual form because he is, like Blake,
>actually more than Blake, a multimedia artist. He designed furniture; he
>designed jewelry, he designed stained-glass windows; he is a poet, a prose
>writer, a painter."
>The archive allows scholars and students to examine and integrate for
>interpretation the entirety of Rossetti's works in all their material
>forms. The archive at present organizes more than 8,000 distinct files and
>digital objects. When it is completed in four years it will contain about
>It brings to practical realization the scholarly proposals for a new
>approach to editorial method that were advanced in the early 1980s by
>McGann and the late D. F. McKenzie. These proposals call for an editorial
>method that focuses not merely on the linguistic "text" but on the entire
>graphical and bibliographical object, as well as its network of social and
>institutional relations. "These proposals were vigorously contested at
>the time," McGann recalls. "One of the chief objections argued that while
>a 'social theory of editing' -- that's what the new approach was called --
>might appear attractive in theory, it could not be implemented in
>practice. 'Scholars edit texts, not books.' Or so it was said. When I
>undertook the archive, I set out to prove otherwise. In practice, not
>McGann relishes the collaborative nature of the Rossetti Archive and of
>projects such as the Ivanhoe Game, developed with his colleague Johanna
>Drucker, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, and a
>team of graduate students and computer scientists. "In 1965, '75, and even
>now for most people, what you do is you go off and write a book by
>yourself. Of course you are in contact with the work of many others
>through your readings and so forth," he says. "But it makes a great
>difference if you are engaged in intellectual activity and it is
>face-to-face with many people having input. That collective environment
>gives you access to whole new orders of critical reflection."
>Not everyone is flourishing in this new environment. As a recent article
>in the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, tenure committees at many
>universities have yet to cross the digital divide, discounting -- or
>worse, discouraging -- electronic projects. Nonetheless, McGann notes,
>digital expertise is an increasingly marketable skill for the young
>humanist willing to put in the necessary time to acquire it. And at a time
>when even important scholarly books often fail to sell even 500 copies, he
>sees digital publishing as an important avenue for a new generation. "I
>believe that our scholarship will increasingly be transferred to a digital
>archiving and delivery system," McGann says, "and our scholarship will be
>even better for it."
>It might even make the footnote sexy. Using the example of a film student
>working on Hitchcock, McGann notes that while a book might reproduce a few
>still photographs from a movie, a digital publication can display an
>entire scene. "You don't have to produce a set of abbreviated textual
>notes that have to be translated or expanded," he says. "You can show it
>all, and then scholars can check what you are doing against the full array
>of the data you are working on."
>While the digital tools available to humanists have improved dramatically,
>McGann looks forward to a quantum leap in the coming years, as scholars
>working with computer programmers are forced to think hard about their
>disciplines and what they want to achieve in digital space. "The truth of
>the matter is that paper-based instruments and tools are far more
>sophisticated, if your interest is in representing the way imaginative or
>poetical works exist and how they work," he explains. "If your interest is
>in reference-room information, then there are very, very good tools in
>place right now. But transferring imaginative works into digital space is
>a very different issue. Our present tools are quite inadequate. Trying to
>help us develop new ones is one of my main interests."
>His accomplishments and ambitions place McGann in an important tradition,
>according to Willard McCarty, senior lecturer, Centre for Computing in the
>Humanities, King's College London, and a member of the award's selection
>committee. Noting that the first scholar to apply computers to the study
>of literature, Father Roberto Busa, once said that "since man is a child
>of God and technology is a child of man, I think that God regards
>technology as a grandfather regards his grandchildren," McCarty adds, "But
>the job of the humanities scholar is to look beyond the claims made for
>technology and the obvious uses, to question long-term consequences and
>implications -- and most significant of all, to discover how the new
>knowledge-making instrument empowers our imaginations. The Lyman Award is
>important because it recognizes individuals whose work has gone furthest
>in realizing this empowering potential. Jerome McGann has been named the
>first recipient because his explorations and reflections on them have most
>compellingly engaged us in the long conversation about the significance of
>the computer in our culture and in our lives."
>For more information contact: David Rice, +1 919-549-0661,
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