The Digital Middlemarch Project has its origins in a larger, growing movement in the Liberal Arts: the Digital Humanities. Attempts to pin down a specific definition of “Digital Humanities” have proven difficult. More definitions exist for this phrase than there are characters in Middlemarch, and this is no exaggeration. On the City University of New York’s Academic Commons website, the resource guide for the Digital Humanities includes a separate section for defining the field. Included among the links provided on the guide is Jason Heppler’s website “What is Digital Humanities?”, which offers visitors a different definition selected at random each time they visit the page or click “Refresh.” Examples include, “Application of computational technology and approaches to traditional and novel problems in the social sciences and humanities,” by Daniel Paul O’Donnell and “The pursuit of knowledge and inquiry in a cluster of subject areas (literatures, languages, linguistics, history, classics, anthropology, archaeology) with the use of some digital method,” contributed by Elizabeth McAulay. Good luck finding these examples again, though: according to Heppler’s comments on the site, his data set includes over 500 definitions for the field. All of the contributions come from Day of DH, a self-described “open community publication project that brings together scholars interested in the digital humanities from around the world to document what they do on one day, answering the question, ‘Just what do digital humanists really do?’”
If there is one thing that this proliferation of definitions and online resources can tell us about the Digital Humanities, it is that perhaps the more important question is not “What are the Digital Humanities?” but, in the same the vein of logic that prompted Day of DH’s own creation, “What can the Digital Humanities do for us?” Both questions may be equally open-ended, but it is clear that non-rigid answers to the first have allowed for unlimited responses to the second. These responses have come in many forms from all avenues: Stanford University’s mapping the Republic of Letters, the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair as an iPad application, and the National Library of Spain’s Quijote Interactivo—a digitalized version of Miguel Cervantes’s seventeenth-century novel, complete with multimedia galleries. The Digital Humanities exist partially as realized projects and partially as projects yet to be conceived—projects that wait in the space of possibility for imagination to be applied to the technology that is already available.
The Digital Middlemarch Project sprang from Professor Hensley’s suggestion that a digital object of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-2) could be produced using such technology. The actual conceptualization of that object didn’t emerge until the process itself began, meaning that we could hardly predict the end result of the project, as this digital remediation of Middlemarch has never before been undertaken (at least, to our best knowledge). Now, in the throes of this project, the digital mapping of the social networks in Middlemarch is beginning to take shape.
The next section of this project will explore the project’s intention and goals, the methodology behind the processes to reach those ends, and the ideological problems of the Digital Middlemarch Project. The final model and reflection questions can be found on this page. Student reflections on the experience are also consolidated here.