Monday, July 04, 2011

Things ain't what they used to be

It's only another one of those laments about how the Internet might be useful, but is cheapening human experience. This time it is about the fantastically useful digitisation of historical source material. I am eternally grateful for the web sites maintained by institutions and enthusiastic individuals which make obscure 19th century pamphlets and newspapers available on my screen. However, for Tristram Hunt, this smacks of inauthenticity.
But it is only with MS in hand that the real meaning of the text becomes apparent: its rhythms and cadences, the relationship of image to word, the passion of the argument or cold logic of the case... There is nothing more thrilling than untying the frayed string, opening the envelope and leafing through a first edition in the expectation of unexpected discoveries. None of that is possible on an iPad.
He is right about that thrill. I remember a sense of disappointment turning up at a library to discover that the original copies of the Herald of Anarchy that I had been reading only a few weeks previously had been replaced with a microfilm due to the fragility of the paper. But, funnily enough, none of the words had changed and they seemed to mean exactly the same as they did before.

Lucy Inglis nails it,
Original documents are a pleasure, a privilege and treasure. They are also a fecking nuisance when you've traipsed all the way to Countytown and the very thing you wanted, had called up about and were told would be there is now being withheld because it is too fragile.
Absolutely, and when you are trying to write something in rural Greece, being able to call up these wonderful sources at a click of a mouse is an even bigger pleasure, privilege and treasure.



Vita Brevis said...

You've put a shirt on!

The Plump said...

I was frightening the goats.