It is interesting how valuable this last project will be for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a moderate to severe academic crush on Dr. Jarica Watts. I think she is brilliant in every way imaginable, and she is one of the reasons that I love Modernist Literature so very much. Why is this important? Let me tell you. In a meeting I had with Dr. Watts, we discussed the possibility of adding a digital humanities minor to my college career. I was nervous, as I was not very skilled with computers, but she insisted it would help me. She didn’t just tell me; she showed me.
She helps to work on a project right smack-dab in my preferred field of study: modernist periodicals. The Modernist Journals Project is creating a database of modernist periodicals that everyone can access. But it goes beyond that. They also utilize OCR so they can recognize patterns in the periodicals and quickly find lost gems under the mountain of periodicals. As someone who has spent over six hours looking for Joseph Conrad’s The Lagoon in volumes and volumes of the Cornhill Magazine only to find nothing, this is extremely appealing. OCR may be the most valuable tool there is for old book lovers. We can still see the beautiful pages with the little decorations or the tea stains from eons past, but we can also find exactly what we need through a few keystrokes. In many ways, this is the future of conservation, as people will have easy access to books that may be too old to undergo continual use. OCR gives them an incentive to keep their hand oils off the pages and instead use the easy research route.
Now, this does not mean that there is no use for the book after it is scanned? Of course not! With the scans and OCR, you can’t see the book as a piece of art. You can’t see the binding, feel the pages, or smell the history of that book. You can get the information from the book, but you can’t really understand its owner until you have handled it. Does is easily open to a saucy page, or barely open at all? Have there been repairs to the spine or the cover? It is bound with cheap leather or the finest silk? These are all questions that allow us to see past the text and into the eyes of the book’s owners.