Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Is the Role of Enumerative Bibliography in the Digital Age?

I think it is obvious from my posts on this blog, or if you follow my Twitter account, that I have been spending a lot of time the last several months considering digital humanities and my role in it. As I have been reflecting on how I fit in, I realized the other day that my role in relation to digital media has been so far largely bibliographic--in the sense that for months (years, in some cases) I have been collecting lists of references, annotations, and general information for digital media that struck me as significant. Scholarly habits of such enumerative bibliography are, of course, long standing in humanities research, especially in medieval studies. The field of medieval studies is certainly full of bibliographic endeavors, too many even to begin to enumerate.

Yet I wonder how this task fits into the digital world.

Here are a few examples of what I have compiled:
1) A select bibliography about digital humanities (in Evernote, which goes wherever I do, synced between internet, laptop, and phone), with special reference to medieval studies. This one probably is already hopelessly behind, out of date, etc., as there are always new materials I could add. But I do add to it, and I have found it useful, as have others.
2) A select list of digital materials (again, in Evernote) I plan to incorporate into teaching medieval subjects, many related to manuscripts.
3) The resource pages on the UConn Medieval Studies Program website, the most up-to-date and comprehensive of which is the page on manuscripts.
I have other lists, too, inhabiting various technological spaces, such as my internet bookmarks and other notes to myself. Much of this depicts my own fascination with the ever-growing amount of information and resources on digital medieval manuscripts, another facet of the general field of bibliographic study.

In any case, reflecting on my compulsion to create these lists of reference data, I began to wonder about the role of enumerative bibliography in the digital age. This likely reflects my own (traditionalist) training and tendencies. It is also no secret that I am a big fan of traditionally-oriented bibliographic projects in my own field--such as the collaborative sister projects of Fontes Anglo-Saxonici and Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture (both of which I just quickly accessed in my long list of web bookmarks). I've even worked on entries for the latter. But I am also sure that there needs to be more to such bibliography beyond collecting references.

So is there room for bibliography in the digital age? I am sure there is. In reconceptualizing the idea of bibliography, D. F. McKenzie argues for defining the field as "the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception" (see his discussion here, p. 12). In expanding to the digital, there is much room for this task, especially if we further expand the notion of "texts" to "media." Indeed, I would argue that, in the world of digital media, there is much room not only for production of further media and tools (much of the focus of digital humanities in funded projects) but also for bibliography, in whatever new forms the task may take. Perhaps the next, bigger, question is how bibliography will adapt to address new media in fresh ways.

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