Patterns and Evidence

(Full disclosure, the download link for the Ramsay reading was not working, so I went online and found a copy of his article "In Praise of Pattern.")

I read the Ramsay first, and it read as a great example of the type of methodological write-up that I would want to turn into Dr. Drouin for our final semester projects. It was easy to read, he had quite a few lit-nerd jokes in there, and I walked away understanding his central premise. That is, we can use digital humanities to find larger strokes in the source texts (in Ramsay's case, the use of scenes in Shakespeare's plays and how it differed over genres), but those larger strokes don't necessarily scientifically prove anything out of hand. So what if comedies, tragedies, romances, and history plays have a different average of different scene locations? To say that the scene variance means something thematically is not, then, a scientific argument. It is a literary/humanistic interpretation of the fact that comedies, tragedies, etc. have a differing amount of locations. Ramsay is, essentially, making sure that we understand what the tools digital humanities scholars give us. They give us hard, scientific data, yes. But they do not give us the key to some unimpeachable literary position. Our theses, our journal articles, those are still the same interpretative statements that we have been making since the dawn of the academy.

The Jockers seems to easily line up with this. Jockers spends time stating that digital humanities tools are, essentially, strip-mining texts for broad tendencies. Digital humanities is, essentially, best used for gathering evidence on a large scale, and less useful for taking on the intricacies of a single novel. It makes sense on a certain level -- why use text miners on a 50-page short story when you could be using them on an author's (or authors') body of text? Again, what you find doesn't necessarily prove anything out of hand. But you can use them as keystones to search out material in the text, or alongside material in the text, to formulate your opinion and lend it the weight of scientific evaluation.

The biggest thing I take away from these readings is that I want my project for the semester to focus on collating/interpreting a large collection of data. My focus on late Victorian/early Modern texts will make that an easy ask when Project Gutenberg .txt files exist. They are, also, an important reminder that a English scholar in digital humanities cannot forget their roots in literary criticism. Graphs don't mean anything without the interpretation that we do everyday, and the data we uncover does not limit our ideas. As Ramsay says, "We are so careful with our software and with our mathemat-ics—so eager to stay within the tightly circumscribed bounds of what the data “allows”—that we are sometimes afraid (or we forget) that all of this is meant to lead us to that area of inquiry where such caution and such tentativeness has no place."