Digital Stages

In As You like It Shakespeare famously informed his audience at The Globe that ‘All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players’. Meanwhile, four hundred years later in her book My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, N. Katherine Hayles points out that ‘computers are no longer merely tools (if they ever were) but are complex systems that increasingly produce the conditions, ideologies, assumptions and practices that help to constitute what we call reality’. Ifnormal Shakespeare’s audience could understand themselves as theatrical subjects (as surely they must have done for those famous lines to resonate) it is because the Renaissance stage itself provided, like the digital today, those very ‘conditions, ideologies, assumptions and practices’ that Hayles argues help to constitute reality. In short, Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights did not just reflect the anxieties and desires of Elizabethan England, but they very actively helped to construct and shape them. In another four hundred years, what will humanists study to make sense of our present period? The digital stage of the world wide web of course, because, like Shakespeare’s stage, the web is the example par excellance of what Stephen Greenblatt (in reference to Renaissance theatre) calls the ‘cultural circulation of social energy’.

The above is my own way of theorizing the digital and I find it particularly rewarding because it provides me with with a useful framework for thinking about my own work and my own historical moment. Perhaps the internet is to the second Elizabethan Age what the theatre was to the first. If this is the case, then the people who provide the web with content, the makers, are the equivalent to Renaissance playwrights – webwrights(?) Either way, players are going to play and the web, with its ready made audience of billions, is the biggest theatre of all. Interestingly, enough, the word ‘theory’ has the same etymological root as ‘theatre’ – from the Greek ‘theoras’, meaning to speculate which itself is derived from ‘thea’, meaning ‘a view’. If we were to be ‘theorizing the theatre’, we would quite literally be speculating about a view.

What, then, is the current view of the field for those of us working with the digital from the perspective of researchers? The second workshop of Cardiff’s Digital Humanities Network began with an exploration and discussion into how we might define the state of this field. Problematically, everyone agreed, it was a very difficult field to define due to the individual and their discipline. For example, a social scientist is going to take a very different approach to digital work than a computer scientist or someone studying English literature. 12695214_10208644624701399_2098398818_oFurthermore, there are so many books and articles on the digital it is difficult to know where to start or even end (as the Network develops we will be including on the website a bibliography of those books and articles that we have found to be most useful). Part of the problem is that the digital is such a new area of study within academia that there is a vast overlap between the traditional scholarly monograph about the digital and the more popular tech books that populate bestseller lists. There is also the suspicion, from some of the conversations that I have had, that books themselves are problematic; they give the impression of being static and authoritative – characteristics that are in many ways antithetical to the digital. The view of the field, then? If Victorian Studies, say, is a beautiful, well tended football pitch with an all-seater stadium surrounding it, then digital humanities is a thousand of these fields stitched together with many different people all spread out standing on the sidelines, most likely watching different games.  Digital Humanities does not define a discipline, but is more a description of people working in cognate areas.

These differences were exposed further when we began to discuss pressing concerns emerging from the digital as, depending on what field one is working in, the focus on issues becomes quite specific. Julia Thomas (ENCAP) was mostly concerned about computer vision and how to make images searchable without tagging. Can machines ‘learn’ from large sets of data? Julia also observed that it is very difficult to maintain the momentum of crowd-sourcing. Jenny Kidd (JOMEC) discussed the ethics of practice and the ethics of technology in museums in participatory projects and the problems surrounding them. Jenny’s focus on ethics, however, brought about an interesting discussion with Julia about the ethics of crowd sourcing. 12656536_10208644624781401_777989721_oIs an ‘expert tag’, for example, more valuable than a non-expert one? The interesting point was also made that tagging relies on ‘altruism’, the sense of doing good by crowd-sourcing. My own concerns (Michael Goodman, ENCAP) were about engagement and the dissemination of knowledge and how traditional academic structures are often barriers to this. Additionally, I pointed out, there are too many grey areas when it comes to copyright and intellectual property. Jess Hoare (NESTA), spoke about the difficulty in safeguarding data and anonymity in relation to public organisations.

The digital, then, like any other medium, provides practitioners and theorists with its own set of problems. What this workshop demonstrated, for me, at least, was that the lack of rules and fluidity that characterises digital practice within the academy, instead of being seen as negative (no paradigmatic text), can actually be envisioned as a positive. The digital gives us an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine anew not just what scholarship is, but also what it does. And that, my good audience, is how I like it.

– Michael Goodman

Public Lecture, 2 Feb 2016: Sally Shuttleworth on Victorian phobias

Fears and Phobias in the Victorian Age

Professor Sally Shuttleworth (St Anne’s College, Oxford)

Tuesday, 2 February 5.30–6.30pm, John Percival Building, Lecture Theatre 203

*** Wine Reception from 5pm *** 

A Collaborative Interdisciplinary Study of Science, Medicine and the Imagination Research Group Seminar with support from the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research and Wellcome Trust Cardiff ISSF Science Humanities Initiative.

Shuttleworth - phobiaIn this seminar the internationally renowned literature and science scholar Sally Shuttleworth will explore some of the medical, literary and cultural responses in the Victorian age to the perceived problems of stress and overwork, anticipating many of the preoccupations of our own era.

The late nineteenth century was an era preoccupied with fear, and the medical diagnosis of phobias.  The American psychologist, G. Stanley Hall, for example, identified no less than 138 different types of pathological fear.  In this talk, Sally will explore the intersection of cultural, literary and medical discourses of fear in the period, looking particularly at the impact of literary texts on emerging psychiatric theories of phobia.

Following her main talk, Sally will speak about the genesis of the ‘Diseases of Modern Life‘ project and the European Research Council grant that supports it. This is a chance to hear a leading scholar provide an insight into grant capture on the European stage.

Book your free ticket via Eventbrite using this link.

About Sally Shuttleworth

Sally Shuttleworth is Professor of English Literature at St Anne’s College, Oxford. ShuttleworthIn her most recent book, The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science and Medicine, 1840–1900 (OUP, 2010), she looked at a range of literary texts, including Dickens, Brontë, Eliot, Meredith, James, Hardy and Gosse, in the light of the emerging sciences of child psychology and psychiatry, and the impact of evolutionary theory. She is currently extending her work on the interface of literature, science and culture with two large projects: ‘Diseases of Modern Life‘ and the large AHRC four-year grant in the field of Science and Culture, on ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’. She is working with Professor Gowan Dawson at the University of Leicester, and her colleague in Astrophysics at Oxford, Dr Chris Lintott, and partner institutions, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Society and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Cardiff University Digital Humanities Network launches

Digital Symptoms

Meeting No.1 of the Cardiff University Digital Humanities (or Digital Cultures) Network

’Twas the week before Christmas and the bells of Cardiff University were ringing out with glee as on 16 December 2015 Cardiff University’s Digital Humanities Network held its inaugural meeting. And what a productive and rewarding meeting it proved to be! Led by Anthony Mandal, from the Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, the participants (more of which shortly) engaged in lively discussion and debate about how to go about achieving the Network’s plans to make Digital Humanities an integral (and visible) part of the work we do at Cardiff University.


The aim of the Network is to build significant capacity in Digital Humanities practice at Cardiff University. In addition to drawing established practitioners based in the University (principally, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences), the Network will also support scholars interested in embedding Digital Humanities in their own research activities, and to foster exciting and innovative collaborative projects. (more…)


Gender and genre in The Lady’s Magazine

‘The world is a large volume’: The Lady’s Magazine and Romantic Print Culture

Jennie Batchelor, Tuesday 1 Dec 2015, CEIR Seminar Series

When I met Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) in the CEIR office about an hour before she was due to speak, it was with an air of excitement that she, jokingly, asked if the paper could wait: she was having far too much fun in Cardiff’s Special Collections and Archives, examining copies of The Lady’s Magazine. Her research into this publication is part of a two-year Leverhulme-funded project entitled The Lady’s Magazine (1770–1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre’, which aims to provide a bibliographical, statistical and literary–critical analysis of one the first recognisably modern magazines for women. The project aims to produce a host of publications about the contents of and contributors to the magazine, as well as a fully annotated index available online. Thankfully, Batchelor did go ahead with the talk in Cardiff, offering fascinating insights into The Lady’s Magazine and its position in romantic print culture. (more…)

Reminder: Jennie Batchelor’s talk on The Lady’s Magazine tomorrow