20.468 time-machines and VR environments?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2007 08:18:11 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 468.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2007 21:11:24 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: time-machines and VR environments

In The Landscape of History (2002), John Lewis Gaddis speculates on
what historians might do if a time-machine were available. He
expresses skepticism about how useful such a machine might turn out
to be, especially because of the limited perspective that an
historian would get from being plunked down in some particular part
of the past. How paradoxically time-bound he or she would be if that
machine were entirely to substitute for an historical imagination.
Considering historical research, he notes how much more historians
are able to do than is atttributed to time-machines in science
fiction. Citing Macaulay and Adams, he notes that historians have
the capacity for selectivity, simultaneity and shifting of scale:
"they can select from the cacaphony of events what they think is
really important; they can be in several times and places at once;
and they can zoom in and out between macroscopic and microscopic
levels of analysis" (p. 22).

Consider the possible analogy brought forward by digital attempts to
do printed editions of literary and artistic works one better by
representing the material culture in which these works are embedded.
One might conclude that given the right sort of equipment, what we
should really be doing is creating an experientially realistic VR
environment. So by this way of thinking, to study a Victorian novel
properly, for example, what one should have is a virtual environment
that reproduces as closely as possible the various sets of conditions
under which it was read (dripping tallow candles, dancing shadows,
rattling of shashes and so forth). A time-machine of a sort without
the cosmological inconveniences.

Does not Gaddis' criticism of naive time-machine historiography apply
(changing what needs to be changed) to our contemporary ambition? And
if it does, what then should our ambition with respect to editions be?



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities
Computing | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/.
Received on Mon Feb 26 2007 - 03:26:31 EST

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