The foremost scholars in the field of digital humanities are still, after years of research, discussion, and collaboration, having trouble defining exactly what their course of study is. I, too, find the subject to be very perplexing. Technology absolutely plays a role in our world today, but we are still trying to determine every role that it plays, and the roles that it could take on in the future.
For example, the minds behind the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts are attempting to make original copies of Jane Austen’s work available in digital form. These can then be accessed by the general public or scholars interested in studying the author’s work. Also, committing the works to digital form will preserve them for generations that otherwise may not have had access to these rare artifacts. This is one function of digital humanities. Technology has been able to make classic literature and historical artifacts available in ways that the creators of such records would not have dreamed of.
After Friday’s class discussion, I realize that the purpose of the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts is not only to provide access to the author’s work. This is really the aim of a charlatan—as Unsworth says, to provide a “quick and dirty” representation of a work. A charlatan gives information that is mostly for pleasure and does not give the observer anything specific. Something that is truly DH, Unsworth says, has to have a way to be wrong and it should allow for error or editing.
The Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts are an example of a source that is truly DH because it provides not only access, but insight. Charlatans give access to a work, as does the Fiction Manuscripts, but the manuscripts also give a new look at something that we have seen before. The Fiction Manuscripts also allow for interactivity because an observer can search the site. Unsworth says that this is something that can distinguish a DH source from a charlatan.