A seminar with Professor Andrew Stauffer (Virginia)
Wednesday 18 May 4pm-6pm
Lecture Theatre K2.31* (King’s Building, Strand Campus) King’s College London
Andrew Stauffer is the Director of NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Studies), a hub for online discovery and scholarship, and a peer-reviewing organization for digital projects. He is an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, and also hosts ‘The Hoarding’.
ABSTRACT: As Anthony Grafton has put it, “a strange kind of war is being waged” in many academic research libraries between the traditional idea of the library as physical repository and research space and the emerging concept of the library as virtual data center and access portal. National collections of nineteenth-century material – plentiful, various, out of copyright, and often fragile due to poor paper – are at the epicenter of such negotiations. Unlike earlier materials (now almost exclusively in special collections) and post-1923 publications (still in copyright), books from the age of industrial printing are rapidly being made available freely online. As a result, libraries are under pressure to justify their continued support for the material collections. We are now at the end of the 150-year cycle that produced such collections in the first place: from the printing of the books after the 1830s to their acquisition by research libraries as collections got built through the twentieth century. What will be the contours of this archive as it emerges from this decade of digitization? What will the nineteenth century look like with 2020 vision?
This seminar makes the case for the continuing scholarly and cultural value of individual copies of 19th century literary works in our academic research libraries. As scholars in the humanities, our role as the interpreters of the archive both demands preservation and depends upon access, and both of those terms are experiencing fundamental shifts under the influence of wide-scale digitization. A massive horizon of opportunity is now opening for humanists to trace the history of language, of ideas, of books, and of reading via automated searches and visualizations of the global digital library. Yet individual copies are under a general downward pressure in this new dispensation, and we do not know what copies are worth saving: half the point of scholarship has long been to discover new objects of significance that in many cases have been hiding in plain sight. Digitized archives will reveal wonders. Now, in concert with the digital transformation of the archive, we must also give sustained attention to the material record of the nineteenth century in its actuality, voicing a contrapuntal and tenacious intellectual advocacy on behalf of the specific pieces of historical evidence that, taken together, constitute the only nineteenth century that we latecomers can ever know.
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