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From Parchment to Cyberspace

Medieval Literature in the Digital Age

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Stephen G. Nichols

From Parchment to Cyberspace argues the case for studying high-resolution digital images of original manuscripts to analyze medieval literature. By presenting a rigorous philosophical argument for the authenticity of such images (a point disputed by digital skeptics) the book illustrates how digitization offers scholars innovative methods for comparing manuscripts of vernacular literature – such as The Romance of the Rose or texts by Christine de Pizan – that reveal aspects of medieval culture crucial to understanding the period.

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The Anxiety of Irrelevance: Digital Humanities and Contemporary Critical Theory

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Nothing is to be gained for an understanding

of human knowledge by running together

vocabularies in which we describe the causal

antecedents of knowledge with those in which

we offer justification of our claims to knowledge.

—Richard Rorty, “Dewey’s Metaphysics”

The disciplines of criticism, theory, and literary history appear beleaguered and defensive at the present moment. That is certainly the case in North American universities, though it seems to be true in Europe as well. One senses this from the titles of conferences suggesting doubts about their topic’s legitimacy. In January of 2014, for example, medievalists from European and trans-Atlantic institutions gathered in Paris to debate the topic, “Pourquoi lire le Roman de la Rose Aujourd’hui?” In March, Stanford University hosted a conference for The School of Criticism and Theory—based at Cornell University—on the topic, “Criticism, Theory: Today?” Both the ambivalent noun/adverb “today” and the graphic, “?,” suggest a measure of skepticism as regards the intellectual remit of “criticism” and “theory,” and more broadly, of Humanities itself at the present moment.

If that’s the case for mainstream critical studies, and I think it is, the same has always been true for digital humanities. While the latter have taken science ← 187 | 188 → literacy for granted from the outset, the naturalistic turn in contemporary theory—at least in its current variations—appears, perhaps coincidentally, coterminous with attacks on the humanities that have been gaining...

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