Matthew Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor of English and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (forthcoming from MIT) and keeps a widely-read blog at http://www.otal.umd.edu/~mgk/blog/.
The Remaking of Reading
Computational text analysis, especially text mining coupled with mass-scale book digitization, is rapidly reaching the point where it can supplant some of the specific affordances of bookspace and the basic limits of human cognition with new kinds of reading practices, variously called "distant or distance reading" or "not reading." At the same time, the growing competition between rival scanning projects is responsible for the rapid public prototyping of intensely engineered new reading interfaces, coupled with the frenetic multiplication of online editions of printed books. All of this at a moment when the NEA, in a widely publicized 2004 report, diagnoses reading itself to be "at risk."
In this talk, which is intended to be accessible to the non-specialist as well as the serious practitioner of computational text analysis, I will attempt to merge what Lev Manovich has termed "history of the present" with the by-now well established field of the history of the book or "l' historie du livre." Can we approach today's electronic reading not only in terms of technical praxis but also with the critical self-awareness that is the lasting contribution of a field like the history of the book?