The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary

Critical Writing
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Journal volume and issue: 
7:1 (2013)
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Abstract (in English): 

In 1995 in the midst of the first widespread wave of digitization, the Modern Language Association issued a Statement on the Significance of Primary Records in order to assert the importance of retaining books and other physical artifacts even after they have been microfilmed or scanned for general consumption. "A primary record," the MLA told us then, "can appropriately be defined as a physical object produced or used at the particular past time that one is concerned with in a given instance" (27). Today, the conceit of a "primary record" can no longer be assumed to be coterminous with that of a "physical object." Electronic texts, files, feeds, and transmissions of all sorts are also now, indisputably, primary records. In the specific domain of the literary, a writer working today will not and cannot be studied in the future in the same way as writers of the past, because the basic material evidence of their authorial activity — manuscripts and drafts, working notes, correspondence, journals — is, like all textual production, increasingly migrating to the electronic realm. This essay therefore seeks to locate and triangulate the emergence of a .txtual condition — I am of course remediating Jerome McGann’s influential notion of a “textual condition” — amid our contemporary constructions of the "literary", along with the changing nature of literary archives, and lastly activities in the digital humanities as that enterprise is now construed. In particular, I will use the example of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland as a means of illustrating the kinds of resources and expertise a working digital humanities center can bring to the table when confronted with the range of materials that archives and manuscript repositories will increasingly be receiving.

(Source: Author's abstract, DHQ)

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The Deena Larsen Collection Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities
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Scott Rettberg