16.002 Lyman Award to Jerome McGann

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Tue May 07 2002 - 01:46:24 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 2.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Tue, 07 May 2002 06:29:26 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
             Subject: Lyman Award to Jerome McGann

    Press release
    National Humanities Center
    Research Triangle Park, N.C.

    >The grandson, son, and brother of printers is the first winner of an award
    >that honors pioneers in a still-new and sometimes controversial area of
    >the humanities -- the use of digital tools to expand traditional notions
    >of scholarship and teaching.
    >Jerome J. McGann, the John Stewart Bryan University Professor at the
    >University of Virginia, has received the first Richard W. Lyman Award,
    >presented by the National Humanities Center. The award honors Richard W.
    >Lyman, who was president of Stanford University from 1970-80 and of the
    >Rockefeller Foundation from 1980-88, and is made possible through the
    >generosity of the Rockefeller Foundation.
    >McGann, who is also on the faculty at Royal Holloway College, University
    >of London, received the first award, along with a prize of $25,000, in a
    >ceremony at the Time & Life Building in New York City on May 6.
    >In recent years, scholars in the classics, English and American
    >literature, history, and other humanistic disciplines have increasingly
    >used computers and the World Wide Web to create and distribute facsimiles
    >of rare manuscripts; to archive, index, and annotate literary, artistic,
    >and scholarly materials; to link text, visual images, and sound; and to
    >create a new social structure that will break down boundaries between
    >learning, teaching, and research. The Lyman Award recognizes the exciting
    >results of these efforts, according to James O'Donnell, professor of
    >classical studies and vice provost for information systems and computing
    >at the University of Pennsylvania.
    >"The award honors an individual who has made important scholarly
    >contributions that could not have been made without the innovative and
    >wise use of information technology," says O'Donnell, who led a committee
    >of seven scholars who selected McGann. "It's not a technology prize --
    >it's a recognition of scholarship that all in the field will recognize.
    >But it's also a recognition that information technology is a powerful tool
    >precisely for the most substantial scholarly accomplishments."
    >McGann's digital/scholarly credentials include the Rossetti Archive, a
    >hypertextual instrument designed to facilitate the study of Dante Gabriel
    >Rossetti; the Ivanhoe Game, a Web-based software application for enhancing
    >the critical study of traditional humanities materials; and extensive
    >scholarly writings on computing in the humanities, including Radiant
    >Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web (Palgrave/St. Martin's,
    >2001). A noted scholar of the Romantic and Victorian poets and of
    >textuality and traditional editing theory, McGann has also written several
    >books of poetry. His free adaptation of Thomas Lowell Beddoes' "Death's
    >Jest Book" will have a New York premiere in the summer of 2003.
    >The Rossetti Archive is one of about 40 digital projects underway at the
    >Institute for Advanced Technology (IATH) at the University of Virginia, of
    >which McGann is a co-founder. Like William Blake, the subject of another
    >IATH project, Rossetti is ideally suited to "an all-purpose, multimedia,
    >hypermedia environment for editing cultural works," McGann says. "You
    >can't really edit Rossetti in textual form because he is, like Blake,
    >actually more than Blake, a multimedia artist. He designed furniture; he
    >designed jewelry, he designed stained-glass windows; he is a poet, a prose
    >writer, a painter."
    >The archive allows scholars and students to examine and integrate for
    >interpretation the entirety of Rossetti's works in all their material
    >forms. The archive at present organizes more than 8,000 distinct files and
    >digital objects. When it is completed in four years it will contain about
    >It brings to practical realization the scholarly proposals for a new
    >approach to editorial method that were advanced in the early 1980s by
    >McGann and the late D. F. McKenzie. These proposals call for an editorial
    >method that focuses not merely on the linguistic "text" but on the entire
    >graphical and bibliographical object, as well as its network of social and
    >institutional relations. "These proposals were vigorously contested at
    >the time," McGann recalls. "One of the chief objections argued that while
    >a 'social theory of editing' -- that's what the new approach was called --
    >might appear attractive in theory, it could not be implemented in
    >practice. 'Scholars edit texts, not books.' Or so it was said. When I
    >undertook the archive, I set out to prove otherwise. In practice, not
    >McGann relishes the collaborative nature of the Rossetti Archive and of
    >projects such as the Ivanhoe Game, developed with his colleague Johanna
    >Drucker, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, and a
    >team of graduate students and computer scientists. "In 1965, '75, and even
    >now for most people, what you do is you go off and write a book by
    >yourself. Of course you are in contact with the work of many others
    >through your readings and so forth," he says. "But it makes a great
    >difference if you are engaged in intellectual activity and it is
    >face-to-face with many people having input. That collective environment
    >gives you access to whole new orders of critical reflection."
    >Not everyone is flourishing in this new environment. As a recent article
    >in the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, tenure committees at many
    >universities have yet to cross the digital divide, discounting -- or
    >worse, discouraging -- electronic projects. Nonetheless, McGann notes,
    >digital expertise is an increasingly marketable skill for the young
    >humanist willing to put in the necessary time to acquire it. And at a time
    >when even important scholarly books often fail to sell even 500 copies, he
    >sees digital publishing as an important avenue for a new generation. "I
    >believe that our scholarship will increasingly be transferred to a digital
    >archiving and delivery system," McGann says, "and our scholarship will be
    >even better for it."
    >It might even make the footnote sexy. Using the example of a film student
    >working on Hitchcock, McGann notes that while a book might reproduce a few
    >still photographs from a movie, a digital publication can display an
    >entire scene. "You don't have to produce a set of abbreviated textual
    >notes that have to be translated or expanded," he says. "You can show it
    >all, and then scholars can check what you are doing against the full array
    >of the data you are working on."
    >While the digital tools available to humanists have improved dramatically,
    >McGann looks forward to a quantum leap in the coming years, as scholars
    >working with computer programmers are forced to think hard about their
    >disciplines and what they want to achieve in digital space. "The truth of
    >the matter is that paper-based instruments and tools are far more
    >sophisticated, if your interest is in representing the way imaginative or
    >poetical works exist and how they work," he explains. "If your interest is
    >in reference-room information, then there are very, very good tools in
    >place right now. But transferring imaginative works into digital space is
    >a very different issue. Our present tools are quite inadequate. Trying to
    >help us develop new ones is one of my main interests."
    >His accomplishments and ambitions place McGann in an important tradition,
    >according to Willard McCarty, senior lecturer, Centre for Computing in the
    >Humanities, King's College London, and a member of the award's selection
    >committee. Noting that the first scholar to apply computers to the study
    >of literature, Father Roberto Busa, once said that "since man is a child
    >of God and technology is a child of man, I think that God regards
    >technology as a grandfather regards his grandchildren," McCarty adds, "But
    >the job of the humanities scholar is to look beyond the claims made for
    >technology and the obvious uses, to question long-term consequences and
    >implications -- and most significant of all, to discover how the new
    >knowledge-making instrument empowers our imaginations. The Lyman Award is
    >important because it recognizes individuals whose work has gone furthest
    >in realizing this empowering potential. Jerome McGann has been named the
    >first recipient because his explorations and reflections on them have most
    >compellingly engaged us in the long conversation about the significance of
    >the computer in our culture and in our lives."
    >For more information contact: David Rice, +1 919-549-0661,

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