Physical to Digital (and Everything in Between)

The focus of the Summer 2012 issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities was the process of translating analogue materials into the digital world, and the possibilities for greater understanding resulting from the shift in medium. The editors, Dan Cohen and Joan Troyano, in their introduction “The Difference the Digital Makes,” point out that despite the primary focus on “the final product” displayed on the web “…we remain cognizant of this transition that artifacts of human expression have taken.” Delving into this transition then sets the stage for the potential scope of new projects.

This issue relates to some of the discussions we had earlier this semester in the “making things digital” section of the class, where we contributed our own efforts to this transition. Analyzing how our participation fit into the greater scope of digital material, we fixated on detailing how we performed our process. The focus on perspective gained during creation part of Craig Mod’s article “The Digital-Physical,” which explores the possibility of giving a framework to “…our journeys that live largely in digital space.” Creating these “edges” for digital productions underlines a reciprocal relationship between digital and physical, where understanding of the whole system is derived in the movement from one form to the other.

In 1999, it was evident what the difference the digital was making to Edward L. Ayers, noting archives transitioning into the digital: “These projects…create capacious spaces in which users make connections and discoveries for themselves. Such archives take advantage of the mass, multiplicity, speed, reiteration, reflexivity, and precision offered by computers.” Translating and manipulating analogue material is not only about translating the text into the physical, but using digital tools to manipulate the complete physicality of an item. Sarah Werner, in “Where Material Book Culture Meets Digital Humanities,” looks into the widely accessible body of digital texts available online and focuses on both the quality of current holdings and the possibilities for future scholarly insights. Essentially, she points out the flaws created in translation from analogue to digital (quality of digital imaging and reproduction), but shifts to textual manipulations capable only with digital tools (multi-spectral imaging, densitometers, smell analysis, and virtual physical manipulations).The final analysis here was to “not limit ourselves to reading the digital in the same ways we’ve always been reading.” For Werner, reading text digitally includes much more than simply accessing and comprehending words on a page available online. Other authors writing in this issue also describe their own journeys between digital and physical materials through production (Booker) and communication (Terras), and the insights gained from each stage of this journey. Emerging at the end is a sense of the scratched surface of further digital re-imaginings of physical material.

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