Colloquium: Steampunk to Qubits: Using Technology in the Humanities

Steampunk to Qubits: Using Technology in the Humanities 

Professor Andrew Prescott, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London

 4 PM, November 16th, Marksbury Theater

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In the 1870s, a fierce religious controversy broke out in England about the date of the Athanasian Creed, and demands were made that it should be removed from the prayer book. It was thought that the earliest copy of the Athanasian Creed was in an ancient psalter preserved in Utrecht. Primitive silver nitrate photographs were used to try and date the Utrecht Psalter but the poor quality of these photographs led to the manuscript being completely misidentified and wrongly dated.  The use of the more sophisticated autotype photographic process eventually enabled a more accurate date to be assigned to the manuscript.

This tale is a salutary one as humanities scholars come to terms with using digital technologies to investigate manuscripts, books and material artifacts. The story of the use of technologies by humanities scholars is a long one, pre-dating the digital age. Information scientists seek to distinguish between data and the medium by which it is transmitted and stored, but for humanities scholars the complex interaction between texts and the medium in which they are preserved is of fundamental interest. This talk will explore the issues presented by some of the objects on which humanities scholars work and seek to outline areas for possible collaboration and new work.

Urecht manuscript images

Andrew Prescott was from 1979 to 2000 a Curator in the Department of Manuscripts of the British Library, where he worked closely with Professor Kevin Kiernan in realizing the Electronic Beowulf project. He edited Towards the Digital Library (1998), which described the British Library’s first major digitization programme, Initiatives for Access. He has worked in digital humanities units and libraries in Sheffield, Lampeter and Glasgow, and has recently been appointed to the Chair of Digital Humanities at King’s College London.