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Back to the Future: Philology in a Digital World


For the first hundred years of their existence English departments spent much of their time editing and otherwise taking care of "their"  data. At some point in the sixties folks began to think that most of that work had been done, and editing rapidly lost prestige. The assumption that most of the work had been done worked for a while, but the digital turn has changed things. As Jerry McGann pointed out in 2001, "In the next fifty years the entirety of our inherited archive of cultural works will have to be re-edited within a network of digital storage, access, and dissemination." English departments have been very slow to respond to that challenge, but the combination of very old-fashioned philological labour with new and very powerful digital tools offers exciting challenges both for the curation and the analysis of the textual data on which our work and livelihood will depend in the decades to come. 


Martin Mueller is the author of Children of Oedipus and Other Essays on the Imitation of Greek Tragedy 1550-1800 (1980), a monograph on the Iliad (1984), and a variety of essays on the Nachleben of ancient literature, Shakespeare's use of his sources, and the place of literary studies in a professional and technological environment

He is the editor of the Chicago Homer, a multilingual database that uses the search and display capabilities of electronic texts to make the distinctive features of Early Greek epic accessible to readers with and without Greek. He is also the general editor of WordHoard, an application for the close reading and and scholarly analysis of deeply tagged texts, funded by the Mellon Foundation. Together with John Unsworth he is the co-principal investigator of MONK (Metadata Create New Knowledge), a project to create something like a "cultural genome" of close to a billion words of written English from Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1474) to Virginia Woolf's fixing of December 1910 as the beginning of the modern world--and a date conveniently close to the current expiration of copyright. MONK is also funded by the Mellon Foundation.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.