Digital Humanities Projects
— by Robert W. Williams
The General Purpose of the Retextualizer Project
Retextualizer is a browser-based application for digital humanities research that is designed to facilitate new interpretations of a text, specifically by disassembling texts into meaningful components (here sentences), and then reassembling the components into different configurations, whether in reverse order or in random arrangements.
Retextualizer rearranges the original essay by juxtaposing sentences—perhaps jarringly—that were not initially so positioned; it thereby can provide the conditions for new insights into the text, its ideas, and its themes.
Each Retextualizer web page repeats the project's general purpose, as well as the instructions, which also can be read below. In addition, each project page will contain further information relevant to that specific essay.
Retextualizing the Works of W.E.B. Du Bois
"Apologia", Suppression of the African Slave-Trade [SSTA](1954)
[This project was posted for the 15 May 2017 update.]
"Postscript", The Ordeal of Mansart [PSOM](1957)
The Project Goals of Retextualizer
Digital Humanities Research:
Texts can be read in sequence as created and/or presented, publicly or otherwise. With computers, we can digitally interact with such works. In their written forms as typescripts or manuscripts texts can be digitized and then can be (re-)analyzed and (re-)interpreted via computer software.
The digital manipulation of texts includes deformance, as Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels called it in "Deformance and Interpretation" [New Literary History, 30:1 (1999): 25-56; Accessible online].
Literary works have unstable meanings, McGann and Samuels argued, and discussed several methods to use on literary texts, typically poems, including a reversal of the poem's lines.
Such techniques of deformation have received support, such as:
Cohen, Matt. 2006. "Trangenic Deformation: Literary Translation and the Digital Archive." Walt Whitman Archive [Website]. Online.
Sample, Mark. 2012. "Notes towards a Deformed Humanities." Samplereality [Blog], (Posted May 2). Online.
Criticisms of literary deformance have been put forward:
Hoover, David L. 2005. "Hot-Air Textuality: Literature after Jerome McGann." TEXT Technology, 14:2. Online (PDF).
Hoover, David L. 2007. "The End of the Irrelevant Text: Electronic Texts, Linguistics, and Literary Theory." Digital Humanities Quarterly, 1:2. Online.
Robert W. Williams's Research:
The current Retextualizer application builds on a previous version which had no copying, viewing, or sentence-numbering features. I initially coded the basic randomizing and display functions in May 1999 as a way to create and present randomized versions of essays by Immanuel Kant and Walter Benjamin.
Since that first version, digital humanities research has come to influence my scholarship, most notably by means of computer applications, such as concordancers and collation software. Those digital tools help me to understand how Du Bois paired words and phrases within their contexts, and also to illustrate how he re-used and modified text in different works over time. The Retextualizer project continues this avenue of my research.