This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.
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This narrative is excerpted from a pre-publication draft of Conclusion: Cyberinfrastructure, the Scaife Digital Library and Classics in a Digital age, Christopher Blackwell (Furman University) and Gregory Crane (Tufts University). This paper has now been published in Digital Humanities Quarterly v3 n1 - Winter 2009. The draft was provided in response to an e-mail request from the collector that referenced Professor Crane's 4/6 presentation at the Project Bamboo Workshop 1d (Princeton) workshop and other published materials.
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[...] ePhilology emphasizes the role of the linguistic record in producing and organizing ideas and information about the ancient world. [...] Memographies allow philologists to explore vast topics far too large for individual scholars in print culture.
[...] North American English language newspapers printed perhaps 50 billion words each year in the late 1860s. If we simply analyzed these newspapers, we could open up whole new lines of inquiry, tracking a range of topics: Which newspapers reprinted stories from which? What sorts of things did people say in newspapers from different parts of the country with different party affiliations about slavery over the course of time? What poetry and fiction appeared in these newspapers? What products were advertised? All of these are eminently tractable problems: we don't need perfect transcriptions or perfect services to begin identifying the trends behind these topics. If we begin to think about 19th century newspapers in other languages around the world, the challenges and opportunities become even greater.
Clearly we can begin to pursue topics that require analysis of much more data than any human being can see, much less contemplate. We can begin to trace topics that have a life in human tradition that goes beyond any single period or immediate context. Such topics have lives of their own. We can now write histories or (to pursue the metaphor of living things) biographies of these topics. The geneticist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in 1976 to describe the cultural counterpart to biological genes: memes include any thoughts or behaviors that can be passed from one person to another and examples include "thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs and dances." The term meme provides a useful concept because it stresses the autonomy of ideas as they circulate through our biological brains and storage technologies. The concept of a meme allows us to consider both information about a historical topic that existed in the material world (e.g., the life of the historical Alexander the Great) and topics that have a life of their own (e.g., Alexander as a hero of Iranian folk tales). We use the term memography to describe the history of a meme within a larger body of material. [...]
The biological Plato, likewise, vanished more than two thousand years ago but his writings have been copied ever since and the historical Plato continues to exist as the topic of discourse. Scholars could, in print culture before the advent of searchable texts, laboriously track down many Platonic testimonia, e.g., the explicit quotations and most obvious allusions to particular passages in Plato. German classicists have begun to apply text mining algorithms to search for quotations and allusions that previous generations missed. If we wanted to understand the role of Plato and the ways in which others have quoted and used his dialogues, we would need to work in every language where Plato was influential. This would include not only such common languages of classical philology as Latin, English, French, German and Italian, but virtually every European language that left behind a substantial body of written discourse. If we then consider that Plato has had a major presence within Islamic thought and realize that we will need to consider Arabic and Persian as well, it quickly becomes clear that no single scholar can create from the primary sources a global overview of Plato's influence from antiquity through the present. The nineteenth-century newspapers mentioned above present just another component from the sources that shed light on who said what about Plato.
In an age of very large collections, we can, however, begin to design systems that will provide automatic visualizations of topics such as Plato and Plato's works.
Each of the above and similar processes is analogous to the sensors by which scientists track data in the material world. Each of the above processes will produce noise as well as a usable signal. The results will not, of course, be scholarship, but rather data within which patterns can emerge to stimulate scholarship - in the end, human beings will have to contemplate what the systems have found. They will refine the questions that they ask, contemplate the results again, and then repeat their analysis in an iterative process. But, despite all the noise within the system, we will quickly start to see patterns about who has said what at various times about which passages of Plato in a variety of languages. [...]
No one will ever be able to see, much less read and contemplate over time, the primary sources underlying broad topics such as the history of Latin over two thousand years or even the reception of Plato. Of course, this is hardly new: no living humanist publishing on major canonical authors such as Homer or Shakespeare can claim to have read and pondered more than a subset of conventional published scholarship in the conventional languages of European and American scholarship. But the rise of large collections and emergent systems with which to analyze those collections allows us to shift our stance away from the limits of what we can read with our two eyes and towards the challenges of working with machines that can scan large bodies of material and then (as we will see through the discussion of Plato's challenge below) allow us to focus in detail on passages in more languages and from more contexts than was possible before. [...]
A memography contains elements that are deeply traditional in form and general purpose, even if it represents an engagement between author, reader and source materials so quantitatively broader in scope as to constitute a radical change. [...]
Characteristics of a memography include:
Whether we are producing or reading (or both), most memographies will force us to interrogate primary materials from more contexts, linguistic, cultural or both, than we can expect to have studied in detail - the most powerful memes will work their way across time, genre, language and culture and it is this very quality that leaves a trail too long and complex for any single human mind. We must look to machines which can find and preprocess material relevant to a given meme through immense bodies of data.
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