The Uncanny Valley and the Ghost in the Machine

Cartoon of young man viewing a butterfly captioned "Digital Image of LJS 101" and asking Is this a manuscript?"

A discussion of analogies for thinking about digitized medieval manuscripts, presented by BiblioPhilly co-principal investigator Dot Porter at the University of Kansas Digital Humanities Seminar, September 17, 2018.

In this talk, which presents research and  concepts in the embryonic stage, Porter asks “If a digitized manuscript isn’t a manuscript, how can we present it in ways that explore aspects of the original’s manuscript-ness, ethically and with care, while both pushing and respecting the boundaries of technology?” Although this practice of thinking about what it means to digitize a manuscript and what that becomes seems really philosophical, Porter continues, she contends that this is really a practical question. She presents the concept of the Uncanny Valley, from robotics, in which the more human and lifelike a robot appears, the better received it is — until it becomes too lifelike, and even creepy. This is the territory of the Uncanny Valley, and the way this might inform thinking about digitized manuscripts.

Porter’s presentation draws upon a number of digital representations of manuscripts, including images, page-turning interfaces, videos, and collation models. She concludes with a discussion of the concept of “The Ghost in the Machine” and the degree to which a digital representation of the manuscript can and cannot convey the Ghost or the aura of the manuscript.

Read the whole thing here:


BiblioPhilly and the “Library of Stains”

CLIR postdoctoral fellow and BiblioPhilly cataloger Erin F. Connelly is known in the history of science community for her work on medieval medicine, especially #ancientbiotics, but she also has a scholarly appetite for stains. Here she is with the subject of her dissertation, The Lylye of Medicynes, and with some of the stains that grace its pages. [Click to reach her actual tweet.]

Since last fall, Connelly has  been part of The Stains Project, also known as Labeculae Vivae (Stains Alive), together with colleagues Alberto Campagnolo (CLIR fellow, Library of Congress) and Heather Wacha (CLIR fellow, University of Wisconsin – Madison). The project focuses on “dirty” old books and the stains found in them, using them as a tool for gathering scientific data that will provide clues to how previous generations used and stored their reading material. This project examines a variety of stains found on parchment, paper, and bindings from medieval manuscripts, in some cases using multispectral imaging to yield even more information.

Why stains?

Notes project co-founder Wacha, “The Library of Stains project is conceived broadly as a first foray into providing a fixed dataset for characterized stains that are commonly found on manuscripts, a sound methodology for the replication of gathering and analyzing the data, and a clear explanation for how to implement and use the database as a means to further the study of medieval manuscripts and their conservation. In so doing, the Library of Stains hopes to equip scholars with additional tools for analyzing their manuscripts vis à vis provenance, use, transmission, preservation and materiality.”

Like our own books, which are likely to carry the remains of yesterday’s lunch and other nonliterary evidence of our reading habits, the more than 400 BiblioPhilly manuscripts include many messy texts — not surprising, considering that many of them have been used regularly as working texts by teachers, students, and scientists. Working on the metadata for some of these manuscripts provides a natural hunting ground for Connelly: spills, wax drippings, fingerprints, dead bugs, and other enhancements of well-thumbed manuscripts (she also keeps an eye out for tears and repairs). Here are a few of her recent BiblioPhilly finds:

The Library of Stains  has been funded by a Postdoctoral Fellowship micro-grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), whose generous funding has also made BiblioPhilly possible. Both the Library of Stains and BiblioPhilly are made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bonus links:

The Lighter Side of BiblioPhilly: SkullSmackdown!

It all started about this time last year, when Bibliophilly cataloger Erin Connelly began tweeting out gloomy images from the Office of the Dead sections of Books of Hours during Advent. (PACSCL amanuensis objected vehemently when so many lovely Nativity images could have been used instead.)

Fast forward to late summer this year, and BiblioPhilly cataloger Diane Biunno also posted some images of the dead. Someone suggested a scorekeeping contest — and #skullsmackdown was on.

Lewis E 206, f. 89r -- Erin Connelly's favorite skull. Now online in high resolution here:
Lewis E 206, f. 89r — Erin Connelly’s favorite skull. Now online in high resolution here:

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