Alexander Pope's Dunciad: Book Two

Standing on the Shoulders of Dunces

How useful would it be to have a map that would accept searches from users and display, for example, social location information derived from Alexander Pope's Dunciad?. We would be able to look at the fictional participants in his mythic games, where they performed their mock-heroic feats, and also see where these same characters were located in the real eighteenth-century London. My map of Edmund Curll's shops takes one small aspect of one of these characters (the locations from which he did business) and shows their locations mapped to the years in which he operated. The "application" that resulted is very simple and simplistic. It lacks all kinds of information, especially the ability to co-locate the fictional Curll with the real... but it is a beginning. Sadly, it took me a lot of time to produce, most of the time being spend in learning how to make it work. However, I can now produce something similar without that initial time investment.

Sandra L. Arlinghaus suggests that there is often a proprietary attitude associated with the use of new technology for humanities research, and an unwillingness to share hard-earned knowledge (465). Unfortunately this can also lead to a lack of standardization, making the work of one scholar largely unusable by another. Doing research that also includes development of tools is best served when the scholar considers his or her tools in the same light as, for example, an article to be published. There is an assumption that a published critical article will be accessed and possibly cited by later scholars. Why not apply the same thinking to the tools and processes one develops along the way?

I Don't Know How to do That

I have some very limited experience with programming and a long, generally comfortable, association with computer technology. My experience certainly helped produce the Curll map, but I started with basically nothing. Matthew Kirschenbaum, talking about his interactive graphics installation in "Lucid Mapping and Codex Transformissions in the Z-Buffer," outlines the conceptual processes that led to the work, a 3D textual interface. Initially his work on the project was conceptual and did not require much technical knowledge to plan. I mean, he used Photoshop 4.0! A lack of technical knowledge does not limit the planning stage of a digital project. With the power of digital tools available to scholars today, one does not need to ask if something is possible.

Lean on Me

Carole L. Palmer and Laura J. Neumann suggest that an increase in interdisciplinary humanities research has been portrayed as "shifting territories; as merging, fusing, and intersecting domains; and as mingling and migrating individuals" (86). The preponderance of cartographic terminology is notable, and clearly suggests that mapping is an excellent method of dealing with the challenges of interdisciplinary research. Palmer and Neumann present three useful questions for approaching boundary crossing (or boundary breaking) work:

1. What information activities are involved in research that crosses disciplinary boundaries?
2. How do researchers find out about and use information from areas outside their core domain?
3. How does the research environment influence these activities?

It is worth reiterating: projects which may eventually require some very specialized technical work will necessarily start as questions, and will lead to the development of frameworks for answering those questions. Inadequate knowledge of, for example, a particular programming language, is ameliorated in collaborative environments where knowledge networks make up for individual shortcomings.

 

References

Arlinghaus, Sandra Lach. "Maps ex Machina." Geographical Review, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Oct., 1994), pp. 465-468. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/215760>

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. "Lucid Mapping: Information Landscaping and Three-Dimensional Writing Spaces." Leonardo, Vol. 32, No. 4 (1999), pp. 261-268. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1576717>

Palmer, Carole L. and Laura J. Neumann. "The Information Work of Interdisciplinary Humanities Scholars: Exploration and Translation." The Library Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), pp. 85-117. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309582>