Spatial History and Digital Work



In the age of print-based scholarship, students are required to type their assignments on a word document, finish their projects and may be render them visible to anyone with an Internet connection. Nevertheless other students might be bored to tears in humanities disciplines and wishing they had a creative teacher, who presents the subject with cutting-edge ideas or teaching techniques that make you stay tuned in throughout the class.

It might be similar feelings for instructors who have been repeating the same curriculum over and over again. Yet, as a young historian, I think teachers of history have the ability to create a vivid picture of their own historical expertise, using a sophisticated and appealing techné—interactive and purposive learning. In this vein, historians not only present a possible interpretation of what might have happened, but also they can produce and catalyze a historical event into vibrant digital reality.

I had the chance to attend a presentation titled “A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Professor Robert R. Cargill from the University of Iowa, in which he brilliantly presented a 3-D, virtual reality reconstruction of the archaeological remains of Qumran, near where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The software he used was very impressive in bringing and making humanities and digital media synergized, using visualization tools to discover new patterns and open up new streams of inquiry on the relics of Qumran. In other words, the acceptance of digital media in bringing a visual picture of the past is truly significant.

This marriage between hermeneutics of history (readings of the Dead Sea Scrolls)  and the way it renders them compelling through digital work (the 3-D reconstruction) might be a novelty, but Katherine Hayles, advocates that “contemporary technogenesis”—the belief that humans and technics are coevolving—needs to be understood under new realms and within the perceptions it creates.

In exploring the concomitant relation between human and technology, Hayles wrestles with the equation of how humans transform and are being transformed by media per se. In the case of the remains of Qumran, I am guessing the audience was very impressed but at the same time created a perception of that particular reality. This digital form of reading history, according to Hayles, creates neurological transformations that have implications for the possibilities of research.

This historical project has “moved from relational databases, in which data elements are coordinated through shared keys (i.e., common data elements), to object-oriented databases, in which classes possess inheritable traits and aggressive potentials” (15).

It is a theoretically rigorous exploration of the relationship between human cognition interact with those of intelligent machine. Grasping the complex ways optimizes the impact of digital work on print traditions, without obscuring the difference between the two.

But still, the remains of Qumran and the 3-D visualization are, in Henri Lefebvre’s view, create a “logico-mathematical” space of the Cartesian grid and constantly interacts with social space. As he states “Each of these two kinds of space involves, underpins and presupposes the other” (Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, 14).

Moreover, the spatial representations compared to linear temporality are crucial in opening up the cartographic imagination to multifocal, multicausal, and nonnarrative modes of historical representation” (33).

In addition, projects in digital humanities, like the one discussed above, offer new flexibility of democratizing new databases—providing different interfaces and perspectives for divergent scholars in different communities.

In this vein, the field of digital humanities is changing academic scholarship, research, teaching, and publication. Digital media is not new to education for it goes back to the 1940s, as Hayles claims, and although the hard sciences have made the transition a significant portion of the humanities has not.






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