digital humanities

Digital Artefact

Dominic Moore – 80088945

Timeline: “The Year the World went Online

Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork; Noon, 14th January 2021. photo: Dominic Moore

Click Here to view the Timeline

Thoughts on the Artefact Process:

Initially when thinking about my group’s Digital Artefact, I thought it might be a good idea for us to submit a not-a-map image in a StoryMap. The image would be head-and-shoulder photographs of the group members, and embedded in each photograph would be video files (as you clicked on the eyes of the members), audio files (on the mouths) and text – marked up – (on the hands). The concern in the group however, was because these files would be created by ourselves – I had put suggested ‘our pandemic reflections’ as a topic – the artefact would not be sufficiently scholarly. By the time some clarifications as to what we were doing were received, the Storymap idea had also morphed into a Timeline. This necessitated a change in my own thinking. A Timeline is an historical document; so contributions are now factually based on a date. The thinking has to go from the ‘subjective and personal’ to the ‘objective and general’. The contributions, instead of being our own, could be the contributions of others (no less scholarly?). As I have a (vastly overdeveloped) anxiety regarding open access and copyright, I decided to make many of my contributions those that I had created myself. We each picked different subject matter relating to our different interests, and the title, The Year the World went Online, kept us rooted. The result is pleasing – the Timeline definitely works as an artefact, and successfully has an element of originality, this being the first year of the pandemic. The topic works well – the media is varied, and the contributions are well chosen. The pandemic certainly brought an additional complication to group meetings; ideas took longer to express – the ‘mood of the room’ couldn’t be judged while ideas were being tossed around; connectivity is directly interlinked with communicability. Overall though, I found the ability of the group to adapt to the conditions inspiring.

digital humanities

Concepts in Digital Humanities

Overcoming the Monster

In his book Free Culture, Larry Lessig describes non-commercial culture (as opposed to commercial culture) as: “…the ordinary ways in which ordinary individuals shared and transformed their culture – telling stories, re-enacting stories, scenes from plays or tv…” (Lessig, 2018). This retelling of favourite stories and folktales brings to mind the seven archetypes that are the basic building blocks of storytelling – the seven classic stories that, with variations, are retold again and again. Of these, the Overcoming the Monster archetype is echoed in The Internet’s Own Boy. JSTOR, of course, is the Monster, and Aaron Swartz the hero who must overcome it. But, like all stories, this is a metaphor for something that is happening on a much deeper level. The Monster is also the new application of law that serves not to enhance the culture but rather restrict it, and Aaron represents us, the commons, that both create the culture and should benefit fully from it. And even though Aaron is dead, the story is far from over, for it is stressed time and time again, in the saved recordings of Aaron and in the writings of Larry, that the power for change lies with us: the people.  

The strong relationship between creativity and the ‘old open culture’ – the Rip, Mix and Burn – was acknowledged deeply by Larry and he used this relationship to forward his idea of Creative Commons, bringing Aaron in with him. They saw the immense value of the New Creatives standing on the shoulders of the Old Giants and realised that for true creativity, this relationship had to thrive: “…we…exaggerate the new, and forget that a great deal of the ‘creative’ is actually old. The new builds on the old, and hence depends to a degree on access to the old.” (Lessig, 2002)

This dependence of access became a huge focal point for Aaron, who saw himself centered in the collision of the old and the new on the one hand, and the non-commercial and the commercial on the other. He saw himself as someone in the right place at the right time, having not just the brain power, but more importantly, the morality to do something about it: “Sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative…There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and…declare our opposition to this private theft…will you join us?” (Aaron Swartz, 2013.) As Tim Berners Lee reflects in The Internet’s Own Boy: “Aaron was trying to make the world work. He was trying to fix it.”

The obvious temptation here of course, is to question and even ridicule the idealistic nature of Aaron’s goals. But Aaron was very aware of the constant need for self-regulation: he saw this as not a battle between the good (the ideal of open and free sharing) and the bad (the laws that restrict this), but rather as an acknowledgement that the two will have to live together, an acknowledgement of their future omnipresence, and that the real battle was to find a balance between the two. This balancing was not to be orchestrated by governments, but by the commons; he emphasises this to his interviewer: ‘It’s up to YOU! – they are both there and they are always going to be there…” (The Internet’s Own Boy). This compares with the importance for balance also stressed by Larry Lessig: “A free culture is not a culture without property; it is not a culture in which artist’s don’t get paid…(but) a free culture can be queered by extremism in the property rights that define it. That’s what I fear about our culture today.” (Lessig, 2018)

Inherent in this balancing act is the recognition that we the people, the commons, are the ones who should have the weights in our hands, not the regulators and not the institutions. In the 1980 film The Verdict, a film which falls beautifully in to the Overcoming the Monster archetype, Paul Newman’s lawyer character stands before a jury at the final summing up. He is destined – most certainly – to lose the case on a point of law. He reminds the jury that today, they are the ‘law’ – not some law book, not some statute. He asks the jury before him – us – to disregard this ‘law’, and like Aaron echoing these words later in time, asks them to apply justice instead. He says: ‘In my religion, they say: act as if you had Faith – and Faith will be given to you. If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves, and act with justice. And I believe there is justice in our hearts” (Mamet, 1981). Of course, he wins the case. 

Digital Transformation and the GLAMs

The debate regarding digital transformation in GLAMs has been brought into sharp focus recently because of the pandemic. It has raised the idea of what a GLAM is for today, what it can be in the future, and how digital transformation can help achieve its remit, if at all.

  • Digital Transformation makes material from an institution accessible to a wide range of users, including users that would not have had the chance to visit the institution ever in their lives, for reasons including geography or finances. Furthermore, material can extend beyond the physical confines of the GLAM and create interest and debate that would have been impossible if the material had remained offline, thus ‘extending the reach’ of the institution. Also, since GLAMs can close their doors at ‘reasonable hours’, staff and resources can be diverted or utilised in other ways. Users, for their part, can access the material at any time and from the comfort of their own homes, thus enabling learning and entertainment in an environment that is suitable to the user, and re-visitable at any time of their choosing.
  • Digital Transformation raises the possibility of making ALL the material in a GLAM collection accessible. Much of GLAM collections remain in storage – I enjoyed reading this article from the New York Times: “The Good Stuff in the Back Room” – most museums show only between 2 and 4 percent of their collections! Digital Transformation can reduce the physical limitations of an institution’s space, and thus the institution can devote space and showcase exhibits that it feels is worth highlighting.
  • Digital Transformation, while not preserving the material, can enable its preservation. In order to fulfil their remit, GLAMs exhibit material. The very act of doing this compromises preservation, since the best way to preserve material is to metaphorically ‘put it in a box in a dark room and lock the door’. Sarah Kenderdine takes this concept further: digital transformation also removes the dangers that threaten cultural heritage on a broader level: iconoclasm, natural disasters such as fire, and climate change.

GLAMs have a number of concerns. I have long had the feeling that some GLAMs see themselves more as repositories of knowledge rather then sharing/educational bodies, and this knowledge is to be kept safe and held – ‘preserved‘? The age of the digital brings with it many challenges…

  • How are they going to survive? Much of Cultural Heritage is seen as part of the tourism industry. This emphasises the huge importance of visitor numbers: ‘the tyranny of the footfall’. Paying customers finance the GLAM to a certain degree and so the existing business model has to be continued. But it is interesting to see the success of the Tate in their incorporation of digitisation into their model, and to see that the online numbers and revenue increased the years after the implementations of the After Dark project and the Tate Time Machine. As a little experiment, I went onto the Tate’s website to look at a Turner painting, but the experience deflated me a little. The painting is kept at low-resolution unless you want to ‘buy’ a higher resolution version, and Turner’s biography was accompanied by an article on his life from Wikipedia! This may be the reason the Tate are doing well in this new digital world – they know how to ‘exploit’ the user while moderating value…
  • For GLAMs to embrace digital transformation, the highest standards of digital transformation need to be incorporated. There is a very real fear that digitialising will create an ‘inauthentic link’ and will offer copies of material that is unrepresentative – error strewn, or altered to provide an educational context. I was reminded of this in Sarah Kenderdine’s TEDx talk (referring to her work with the Yungang Grottoes): “Using pigment studies we recoloured the buddhas to give an impression of what they would have originally looked like” ( Sarah Kenderdine, TEDx Gateway 2013) – I really hope they didn’t get the colour wrong! And this brings us to the question of where to draw the line between what is ‘ideal’ (original), and what is desired/achievable (imaginatively restored – albeit in a scholarly fashion)? If we are to preserve the authenticity of the original material, then do we only read Chaucer in Middle English, with no translations? Surely the line can be drawn up by applying scholarly standards, best equipment, latest technology, and competent archival experience?

GLAMs would find it tempting to keep upholding the gold standard: visiting the site physically and having your own interaction with the material. But if the material is stuck in a glass case or hung on a wall behind a ‘do not cross’ line, then are the possibilities raised by technologies such as 3D imaging, where users can virtually turn objects upside down/examine them closely, such a bad thing? And doesn’t it behold us to apply the highest standards of digital transformation to this and apply them for the future?

We need to reassure custodians of heritage that not only is digital transformation the way of the future, but also the ‘right’ way of the future (as shown by Sarah Kendrine when she emphasises the democratisation of future material) and that standards would be upheld throughout the process…

“If we treat the past as a dynamic entity, its future is vital, and I believe that sensory, social and democratic experiences of heritage allow us to imagine the future better”- Sarah Kenderdine, TEDx Gateway 2013.

Sundering Text

Like Jerome McGann’s readings of The Innocence, as referenced in Marking Texts of many Dimensions, it’ll take me many more ‘passes’ through his text before it starts to ‘talk back’. I’ve only done three, but keeping in the spirit of things, I’ve heard some of the outer ripples of his ‘big splash’, and this is what they say…

I like the way he interprets what we are talking about (‘text’ for what of a better word) as a living thing, not as something that exists on a platform such as a page, but on (in) another level that creates meaning.

His contrasting of a library and a poem are fascinating  – one is a machine of memory and information, the other a machine of creation and reflection; he treats the poem as an organism that creates new life whenever it is ‘read’ or ‘understood’ –  a poem, therefore, lives as something other than a text. This has parallels with Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria: Coleridge stresses that the inimitable (best, highest) form of creation can exist only in the mind, and as soon as we start to write, our work is immediately diminished.

Turning to his Ivanhoe Project, I found his description of what the game attempted revealing; to McGann, great works of the imagination carry, by definition, multiple versions of themselves – not just many meanings, but ‘many lines of possibility and development that can appear to us later’ (in dreams, perhaps, like Coldridge’s Kubla Khan?) And the aim of the Ivanhoe Project was to develop those lines: it was an exercise in “revealing, through deformance (I couldn’t find this word in the dictionary ☺️) the multi-valent narratives embedded in Ivanhoe” (Ivanhoe Group, 2005)  – one of the threads of the game was to imagine someone was now inhabiting Mary Shelly’s cottage on the shores of Lake Leman, and discovers a trunk of letters from someone named ‘Mary Shelley’!! (The reason I don’t play video games is because I would never stop, and games like this would be the cause.)

I would absolutely love to listen – and I stress listen – to McGann, because I sense that he has himself found, in the act of writing, that ‘text’ is a very blunt instrument for what he is trying to say. He feels that games like the Ivanhoe Project are the best way to convey/express/teach/appreciate great works of the imagination –  once the works are on ‘paper’, they have lost one ‘pass’; and any further ‘passes’ in attempted interpretation will further damage the beauty of the original work – i.e. the work from inside the creator’s mind. D

An addition:

 Since writing the above a month ago, I became interested in exploring further what McGann means by ‘deformance’, and here I feel McGann has his finger on the pulse of remarkable insights as to what creativity is/means, and especially the notion of a shared creativity; a common creativity, supported by universal understandings that are held by us all and while for the most part are unseen, unheard and unfelt.

By ‘deformance’, the “disrupting or re-organising (of) a text’s original order (so as to)…bring to our attention possibilities of meaning that we might not have seen otherwise” (Schacht, 2012), McGann seems to me to be exploring a form of ‘quantum physics’ of creative impulse that can be buried in ‘clumsy’ text, removing the ugly foundations of what was thought to be sound, reliable structures of meaning and uncovering the previously hidden mosaics that lie underneath. He references typesetting errors (which are unintended and ‘outside’ occurrences) as methods to discover new meaning in text, and forgery as another important type of de-formation (reminescent of the ‘Rip, Mix and Burn’?). But with the advent of the digital machine, many more varied and imaginative passes of deformance can be attempted/trialled/expanded upon; the sundering and re-stitching of texts to create new interpretations. His genius lies in the approach of these issues from a standpoint that encompasses literature, philosophy and science, and therefore in the recognition that they are all intrinsically linked, in much the same way he sees the creative impulse linked in us all.


Alshawaaf, N., Lee, S.H., 2020. Business model innovation through digitisation in social purpose organisations: A comparative analysis of Tate Modern and Pompidou Centre. Journal of Business Research.

ARP Project, 2005. The Ivanhoe Game [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.13.21).

Coleridge, S.T., 1817. Biographia Literaria [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.13.21).

Council of Europe, 2018. Understanding the Impact of Digitisation on Culture [WWW Document]. Culture and Cultural Heritage. URL (accessed 1.11.21).

Internet Society, n.d. Your Digital Footprint Matters. Internet Society. URL (accessed 1.11.21).

Kirschenbaum, 2004. The Ivanhoe Game: Assignment [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.13.21).

Lessig, L., 2005. Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, Reprint edition. ed. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Lessig, L., 2002. The Future Of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Reprint edition. ed. Random House USA Inc, New York, NY.

McGann, J., 2004. Marking Texts of many Dimensions: A Companion to Digital Humanities. Blackwell Pub., Malden, Mass. Section II, Chapter 16

Mikulec, S., 2017. ‘The Verdict’: David Mamet Screenplay. Cinephilia & Beyond. URL (accessed 11.10.20).

moviemaniacsDE (2014). The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (WWW Document). YouTube. URL [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].

Portela, M., 2004. Jerome McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. Comparative Critical Studies 1, 371–376.

Schacht, P., 2012. Interpretation, Performance, Deformance – Practicing Criticism – Geneseo Wiki [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.13.21).

Schreibman, S., Siemens, R., Unsworth, J., 2004. Companion to Digital Humanities (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture), Hardcover. ed, Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Blackwell Publishing Professional, Oxford.

Swartz, A., 2013. Guerilla Open Access Manifesto [WWW Document]. Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. URL (accessed 11.10.20).

Tedx Talks, 2014. How will Museums of the Future look? Sarah Kenderdine [WWW Document]. YouTube URL

Valeonti, F., Hudson-Smith, A., Terras, M., Zarkali, C., 2018. Reaping the Benefits of Digitisation: Pilot study exploring revenue generation from digitised collections through technological innovation. pp. 56–63.

Wdorner, 2010. McGann, Deformance, and some TEI. Theories of Texts and Tech. URL (accessed 1.13.21).