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Digital Reflections


This section of the project reflects on the processes and responsibilities of representing a physical object in the digital realm and asks what the digital can tell us about the past and vice versa. The act of digitization performed by this project serves as another iteration of the scribal mansucript culture that produced the copies of Anne Hyde's paper. In fact, one can argue that they are merely an extension of the life of the textual network that began in 1670 when Anne first put pen to paper. This project becomes a node in that network and seeks to revitalize all that it links to.

Part I: Digital Scribal Replication

The story of Anne Hyde’s conversion, as told through the texts provided on this site, participate in the manuscript culture conceptualized by Harold Love in Publication in the Scribal Medium. The publication of Anne’s paper follows a narrative arc. The paper begins as an explanation intended for a private audience, then print and scribal copies of the letter find a wider audience which inspires response and criticism, and finally the letter is implemented as a primary source in later Catholic works.

A remaining question in regards to the documents from the Milton House Archive is: where do Folders 12 and 13 fit in this narrative? There are two likely possibilities: they could have been copied from either Anne’s holograph or from the later print version of the paper. If the Douai-Milton House connection is to be believed, then it is more likely that Folder 12 and 13 are copies of the print edition. However, the origin of both texts is unconfirmed—they could originate from Anne’s court circle who received the original paper.

Regardless of where Folders 12 and 13 fit in this timeline, they still stand as evidence for the existence of an active scribal culture, even in the age of print. Love writes that during this time existed “a culture in which scribal transmission might be chosen without any sense of its being inferior or incomplete” (35). This would be an applicable description to the community at Douai where copies of the printed edition of Anne’s paper were probably rare. Residents of the College may have copied the paper for their own uses. Anne’s paper caused enough of a controversy to produce the Answers mentioned above, such a theological debate would surely be of interest to the scholars at Douai.

Love’s text also helps Anne to regain some agency in the process of the publication of her letter. Though the print edition of her letter is posthumous and therefore lacking her approval, she still ‘publishes’ her letter by addressing and distributing it to her friends. This is an example of Love’s “weak” sense of publishing where “the text has ceased to be a private possession,” rather than the “strong” sense characterized by “public availability” (36). By releasing her narrative into the community of the court, “individual control over the social use of the text has been replaced by the control of a community, creating a status delicately balanced between the public and the private” (44). In other words, Anne initiates the transition of her conversion narrative from private knowledge to public. She sacrifices control over the dissemination of her paper, but this sacrifice of control is still her choice.

According to Love, scribal or personal replication of manuscripts was still popular in the court of Charles II (56). It is reasonable to suspect that Anne understood the replicatory consequences of distributing this letter amongst her friends. As a woman, Anne may have seen this as the only route to having her reasons published. Women writers, especially poets, still had difficulty publishing their works in print at this time and resorted to the scribal mode of publication in order to publish their works. Anne would have been familiar with these constraints and solutions through the poetry of Katherine ‘Ordina’ Phillips, who even scribally published “A verse address by Ordina to Anne, Duchess of York […] as the dedicatory poem to a lost manuscript collection of the poems” (Love 57). For Anne, scribal publication was an accessible mode of publication and her position as Duchess of York meant that there was a wide circle potential scribes who would spread her conversion narrative.

As seen in the two copies of Anne’s letter from the Milton House Archive, “A text will continue to multiply until interest in it fails and no further replications take place. But this process will be distributed, not centralized, with each copying demanding a separate act of will to continue the life of the text” (Love 45). What is discovered through the examinations of these replications, both scribal, and in print, is that Anne’s conversion was much more relevant than a footnote in the biographies of James II. Her conversion narrative presents Anne as a complex woman who understood scribal publication and was not afraid to publically defend her private religious motivations. The array of texts that her paper spawns creates a legacy of rhetorical and political dialogue that has far more important historic implications than the court gossip upon which biographers tend to focus. Anne’s conversion narrative, in all of its published forms, enriches her biography.

By producing digitized versions of the scribal copies found in the Milton House archives, this project posits that digitization is another instance of scribal publication. In the act of reproducing copies of Anne’s paper in a digital format, this project continues the tradition established when Anne’s paper was first replicated. While the methods of replication are remediated through digital tools rather than pen and paper and the means of dissemination are amplified through the project's position as a publicly accessible web project, the same issues of transmission still apply.

In hopes of a wider dissemination of a text, digitization sacrifices some of its source material. While the majority of users will be satisfied with digital fascimiles of these texts, just as early modern readers would be satisified with scribal copies, it is still important to acknowlege how a text changes in the process of digitization. Whenever an object is digitized, materiality is lost. Even high-resolution imagery cannot simulate the weight or smell of the paper, the ink’s appearance under different light sources, or the physical context in which the document is viewed. We need look no further than Folder 13 to see the challenges of transmission that arise in the process of copying a source by hand. Why is text of Folder 13 so different from Folder 12? Who supplied the additional details and modified phrasing? What source was the scribe copying from? The end product is a variation on Anne’s letter that delivers an almost identical meaning, but in a way modified through the process of scribal transmission.

The digital publication of these documents creates its own variations in meaning. The conditions of the reception of the text are changed in the process of digitization. The ability to simply click through multiple variations of the same source material is luxurious in comparison to the conditions the original scribes experienced. These scribal copies were made because originals were not reliably available. The original scribes and readers would not have had the luxury of comparison that this project allows.

A digitized text, available in infinite copies also strips the original of its value. There is something lost int he worth of production when material becomes digital. The scribal copies took effort to produce, even if Anne’s paper is only a few pages in length. Time was needed to make the transcription, as well as access to writing implements and source material, not to mention the ability to store the copy safely (this is why it is possible to read it today). Storage of documents includes the physical manipulation of the paper. Fold marks, deposition of dirt and other evidence of wear, can tell us how a paper was stored. A static digital image does not allow for the recreation of such storage practices. While the loss of this information may not obscure the content of the text itself, the material conditions of reception are heavily mediated when digitally delivered. The images hosted on this site are not the documents, but rather digital versions of those documents. By providing these digital variations of the original source, this project participates in the scribal system of publication explained by Love. Instead of the pen and paper, the camera and computer perform the scribal act. The copies are not distributed by hand, but rather through open availability on the internet. The nature of data allows for the continuation of this process: anyone can access this site and its images and create further copies.

This immediate ease of access is one of the reasons why this project has made the digital copies of these documents available. As explained above, Anne gains agency through the scribal publication of her paper. Her biography expands beyond the shadow cast by her relationship with James and allows to her to exist as a historic figure with an important literary and theological legacy. Through the digitization of scribal copies, this project reinforces the scribal tradition, which in turn brings added dimension to Anne's biography.


Part II: Digital Assumptions

This belief that the reproduction of these documents acts as an extension of the scribal network creates a different perspective from which to view our modern digital archives. The texts living in the digital realm are no longer artifacts, but direct continuations of historic texts. These texts are no longer confined to a particular historic moment, after which they cease to be relevant and become museum pieces. Instead, the lives of the text are extended as different copies of them are made available. The study of the history of digital reproduction becomes just as important as the study of the original production and distribution of the text.

Scholars have already commented on the importance of recognizing the means by which digital archives are produced, especially in the case of Early English Books Online (EEBO). Ian Gadd’s “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online” is concerned with exposing the underlying sources and influences of EEBO in order to combat assumptions made by students and scholars of early modern bibliography. He does this primarily through a history of EEBO, a process that begins in 1918 and runs through the present day. Gadd believes an understanding of EEBO’s history will allow for its best use by scholars. He also cites a decrease in the number of physical bibliography classes as an opportunity for misinterpretation of EEBO’s resources.

EEBO’s history begins with Pollard and Redgrave’s Short Title Catalog; when combined with Wing’s catalog they formed the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC), which was converted into electronic form in 1994. Important to note is the ESTC’s hybrid nature—Pollard and Redgrave and Wing had different criteria for inclusion in their catalogs and so there are gaps in the ESTC. In 1938 University Microfilms (now known as ProQuest) began microfilming texts listed in the Short Title Catalog and Wing’s catalog. In 1998 scans of these microfilms were made available online, forming what we know today as EEBO.

Gadd argues that this move to digital hosting creates easier access to the texts at a lower cost to institutions; however, easy access should not be mistaken for complete access to the entirety of the ESTC. Because there are texts in the ESTC not available in EEBO, Gadd argues EEBO creates “an illusion of comprehensiveness” for its users. Furthermore, Gadd reveals that EEBO and ESTC have a partnership that allows EEBO to draw bibliographic metadata from ESTC; however, this information is edited by EEBO to fit its own criteria. So not only does EEBO not provide electronic editions of the entirety of the ESTC, it also edits metadata for the texts that it does provide access to.

The difference between a copy of a text and an edition of a text is one of the major discrepancies created by these acts of data curation. In the era of handset type there is the possibility for textual differences between copies of books within the same edition. EEBO chooses a single version of the text from each edition, meaning it does not show the differences between copies. Because of these restrictions, Gadd insists that EEBO is a useful supplement to research, but not a substitute for physical interaction with texts. He does hint at EEBO being a potential treasure trove of information for media scholars studying microfilm and its techniques.

Gadd's article is important in the context of this project because it asks users to consider the resources available in the creation of this site. What are the limits of the resources that this project draws upon? How does the structure of the site limit or enhance the information that describes the items that have been digitized? Where do the resources provided by this site fit into the research process? Omeka, the content managment system used to host this site, is built upon a metadata system specifically designed to handle projects in the digital humanities. Omeka anticipates the need for a standardized method of digital curation and employs the Dublin Core metadata standards in order to ensure that projects produced on the Omeka platform contribute to the ecosystem of digital scholarship in a way that ensures cross-project compatibility and future-proofs accessibility.

Where Gadd focuses on the EEBO’s development as a sort of bibliographic organization, Diana Kichuk’s essay “Metamorphosis: Remediation in Early English Books Online (EEBO)” is a detailed analysis of the technical construction of EEBO and the impact of remediation on the process of using EEBO as a research tool. Kichuk relies on the concept of remediation put forth by Bolter and Grusin in order to stage this examination of EEBO. Bolter and Grusin’s theory of remediation posits that no new media is actually ‘new,’ but are instead emulations and extensions of existing media forms. EEBO is a site of considerable and compounded remediation. A discussion of the limits of EEBO as a scholarly source must involve concepts of remediation. Kichuk provides a history of the technical processes that constitute EEBO, from the original microfiche images that made up the Early English Books (EEB) microfilm collection, to the scanning of the microfilm and online hosting of those scans. Importantly, EEBO preserves the flaws of microfilm—cropping, inconsistent image quality, and black and white coloring. Kichuk regards the EEBO Text Creation Partnership—an initiative to transcribe select EEBO texts—as the creation of an entirely new work, so many degrees removed from the original source that it could never be considered a facsimile. Scholars tend to ignore EEBO's acts of remediation under the guise of “suspension of disbelief.” Like Gadd, Kichuk sees the positives of EEBO as expanding access to those unable to encounter the original texts, but still warns against treating EEBO as a substitute, rather it should be a supplement. A true digital facsimile will require an entirely new project where books are recreated in three dimensional environments with high standards of image quality.

This article is similar to the Gadd piece in its warnings against taking EEBO at face value. While Gadd is more concerned with the historic origins of EEBO and the impact those origins have on content, Kichuk focuses on the technical processes that gave life to EEBO. The two articles act as an excellent pair. They teach users not only how to critically use EEBO, but how to assess digitized works in general. Gadd and Kickuk emphasize the need to understand the assumptions made by both the user and the content provider when using digital tools to view material objects. When a user views the images provided by this project, they should keep in mind the processes of remediation that Kichuk describes. In the case of the Milton House Archive, images of each document were taken with a digital camers, stitched together using photo editing software, and then uploaded to the web. Neatline, the Omeka plugin used to display the images, allows the user to pan and zoom over these digital fascimiles, exposing the data-defined origins of each image when the pixels are revealed at high zoom levels. Even the user's monitor settings have an impact on this experience, providing variable resolution and color qualities that are the product of both hardware and software. Presenting a material object in the digital realm for the first time becomes moment where the remediation of information is extremely evident. Kichuk's dream of a three-dimensional digital archive are exciting, but will ultimately expose new issues in digitization that are native to three-dimensional capture and display.

Part III: Institutional Perspectives on Digitization

Taking a step away from specificity of EEBO and early modern bibliography, we can turn to those considering digitization on an institutional level. Former director of the Smithosian, Wayne G. Clough, published the “Best of Both Worlds: Museums Libraries, and Archives in the Digital Age” in 2013. This is document outlines the Smithsonian’s strategy for how their museums, libraries, and archives can integrate digital technology in order to fulfill the demands and expectations of a “generation of digital natives.” Digitization is a tool the Smithsonian leverages as a method of encouraging outreach and access in order to support education.  As the title suggests, Clough wishes to provide a hybrid experience of world-class physical and digital education. He sees the digital age as an opportunity for a closer relationship with the objects the Smithsonian has collected. Digital delivery will not “respect arbitrary institutional boundaries,” spreading information into more and newer places.

Digital resources play a role in the continued history of the Smithsonian by expanding access to younger Americans. Clough acknowledges that the Smithsonian museums are an attraction of national significance and he sees the digital realm as a place where the Smithsonian can extend beyond its physical presence on the National Mall—an opportunity “too important to resist.” Clough is also aware of the large and varied digital projects being conducted throughout the world, especially digitization efforts and online education, and that collaboration across these initiatives should be encouraged. Cloud technologies will allow for connections across these diverse assets. His conclusion is a call for such cooperation, but also insists on digital enhancements to physical exhibits as the starting point for any digital revolution in the Smithsonian experience.

Clough’s digital strategic plan is ambitious and optimistic. He focuses on the positive benefits of digital resources, but he fails to address the challenges of the wide-ranging efforts he proposes. He makes several naïve assumptions: broadly describing younger museum-goers as “a generation who think and communicate differently from previous generations;” a belief that digitizing documents is easy because they are “two-dimensional;” and a general avoidance of defining what it means to be ‘digital.’ Over the course of nine chapters, Clough makes some outstanding promises and predictions, but has left very little room for details and issues that digital humanists have been struggling with for decades.

Ultimately, Clough’s message seems to be, ‘the digital is good and we should do it.’ It reads as a far more political than pedagogical or critical document. Clough doesn’t engage in debates on the digital, he simply sees it as another asset the museum can leverage, not a reinterpretation of the collection. There is not much in this primer on how networks of institutions would work or the effects such collaboration would have on scholarship and learning. While Clough’s insistence on taking advantage of digital resources is admirable, such a surface-level understanding of the underlying realities of the digital age is not encouraging. There is a wantonness in Clough’s approach that threatens to leave many resources scattered in its wake.

Read in response to Clough, Jerome McGann's essay "On Creating a Usable Future" provides a far more critical—but just as enthusiastic—call to digital arms. McGann's essay serves as a manifesto on why humanities scholars should be invested in the development of digital projects. The essay was composed in response to meetings held to organize The National Digital Public Library—a plan for a massive online library that brings together the holdings of libraries and archives across the nation into one publicly accessible source. McGann sees a crisis arising: departmental and university politics are preventing scholars from having a stake in the planning of this massive project. By refusing to accept the inevitability of a digital future of the humanities, the old guard is missing their chance to influence the future of thinking. McGann encourages scholars to involve themselves in the digital. He assures them that participation in this realm is not much different from the traditional means of scholarship; however, there is a considerable social aspect to digital humanities that scholars must familiarize themselves with. McGann closes with a warning: if scholars do not participate in the formation of the digital humanities, then corporate and technologist interests will. These factions do not have the deep understanding of analog scholarship that is needed in order to stage an effective transition to the digital—only scholars possess that knowledge.

This is a battle cry, plain and simple. McGann insists the “crisis in the humanities” is not about tenure or promotion—it’s about relevancy and agency in the unstoppable transition to the digital. By engaging in digital work, scholars are preparing the way for the future of the humanities. McGann is nothing short of inspirational, but his warnings are terrifying: if institution don’t realize the ground is shifting beneath their feet, they may find out too late that they have nothing left to stand on.

These four writers offer important perspectives on projects in the digital humanities. Gadd finds importance in acknowledging the resources out of which digital projects arise. His examination of EEBO's origins performs archeological work that is crucial in understanding an underlying politics of such an important resource. Kichuk's focus on the technological interventions that make digitization possible insists scholars consider remediation's role in the research process. Clough's plan for the Smithsonian, while failing to consider some finer points of digitization initiatives, still makes the important point that access to knowledge via digital tools is important to a born-digital generation of learners. Finally, McGann's essay is impossible to ignore if scholars wish for any stake in the future of digital humanities. McGann encourages scholars to own the processes that will determine the future of digital resources, even if that scholar is resistant to digital tools.

Part IV. Scribal Culture and the Network

As a parting gesture, this project acknowledges that it places itself within a network of digital resources, all connected via the internet. These digital resources serve as the contemporary iteration of the scribal network that originally circulated Anne's conversion letter. Connecting early modern networks with modern digital ones provides provides a new perspective from which to view knowledge acquisition in the digital world. If a contemporary network model inspired by the scribal networks of the Early Modern world does exist, then the creation and sustainment of those networks in their modern iterations can be informed by the habits and customs of the networks that inspired them. This realization extends the life-span of texts: no longer do they only exist in their historic moment, but continue to act upon the organizational structures tasked with archiving them for continued use. The digitization of these documents does not represent an sudden break or revival in the history of Anne's conversion narrative, but simply another iteration of the process of publication. The Kumu network chart at the top of the page provides an overview of the network of sources as it currently stands. This project introduces a new node in the network that brings many sources together. In the future, the network may expand or contract depending on the fate of each project or institution, just as networks of early modern scribes and readers could be connected or disconnected through familial, economic, and political ties.