3.405 digitizing pictures, cont. (85)

Mon, 28 Aug 89 19:04:06 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 405. Monday, 28 Aug 1989.

(1) Date: Sun, 27 Aug 89 12:00:49 EDT (42 lines)
From: "Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM.bitnet>
Subject: 3.400 digitized pictures, cont. (44)

(2) Date: 27 August 1989, 14:08:22 EDT (22 lines)
Subject: digitizing pictures and exploiting the Third World

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 89 12:00:49 EDT
From: "Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM.bitnet>
Subject: 3.400 digitized pictures, cont. (44)

Sterling Beckwith understands on one hand that the value of digitizing a text
in its original form is to play with the image in various ways, but
misunderstands on the other hand why an old-text-freak would be itching to
MESS UP the tell-tale information on his favorite coffee-or blood-stained
incunabulum. Sterling seems to think that codicologists and analytical
bibliographers are more interested in product than process, when--in fact--such
scholars have been involved in the processes by which texts came about since
the days of Mabillon. The tell-tale information a codicologist uses to
reconstruct these processes is much enhanced if one can shift the layers of
evidence around, as it were, so that the coffee stain (by which is meant any
stray mark of no likely relevance to the history of the text) is more visible.
Digital image processing, I believe, allows just this. For example, the lower
text on a palimpsest can be more easily read if the computer enhances all marks
on the page which fall within the range of contrast identified with the lower
text. Kevin Kiernan at the University of Kentucky is engaged in such work with
the Beowulf manuscript. This does not imply that one cannot and does not
return to the unmanipulated digitized version or even to a photograph, from
time to time, and no one is interested in messing up information, but a
static photograph of a manuscript or incunabulum has much less to offer than a
high resolution digitized picture whose contrasts and colors can be manipulated
in order to discover more about the processes which put various stains and
scrapes on the foundation material. As a matter of fact, even the original has
less to offer to a scholar with a magnifying glass than does a high quality
digitized version on the right equiptment, because you cannot ordinarily
privilege or marginalize categories of visual information (which is what
digital image enhancment allows) in the rare books rooms of our great
libraries. I assure you that very few humanists are chasing technology for its
own sake. It certainly would be easier simply to use an ordinary photograph,
and in many cases, all that is required to edit a text properly (once you've
examined the construction of the manuscript or made collations of the
incunabula), is to work with a microfilm or photograph. But in many other
cases, the ability to deconstruct (!) and then reconstruct the physical history
of the book via digital image processing is necessary to edit the text with
which one is concerned or to comment significantly upon it.

Patrick W. Conner
West Virginia University
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------26----
Date: 27 August 1989, 14:08:22 EDT
Subject: digitizing pictures and exploiting the Third World

Why should anyone want a digitized image of a coffee stain? Good
question. Not many people do. But if the coffee were Nero's or Walt
Whitman's, then at least the biographer could say that N&W drank coffee
(or suppose the coffee stain was Mozart's as he worked on the Requiem?),
or that, like Balzac, they were nervous when they wrote because they
drank such strong coffee (forensic evidence on the original would
indicate that). If the photographic image of a watermark, digitized and
recorded in an image on a database, could save a scholar a trip half way
round the world to the original, is preserving and then allowing access
to the image through a service like BITNET. OK?
On the question of exploiting the Third World in the buying of cheap
labor for key-punching: I thought that photographing an image of the
text would obviate at least part of the need for such labor. If
scholars can scan and enter texts, possibly encoding them as they
enter them, and if other scholars can then compare the texts with
pictures of the texts, hightech devices may be used, yes, but no
exploited labor enters into the process. Then where is the problem,
morally or ethically? Roy Flannagan