McGann receives first national
award for digital humanities
by Stephanie Gross
professor Jerome McGann has long been at the forefront of
applying technology in the study of humanities. One of his
innovative projects was editing The Complete Writings
and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Hypermedia Research
By Robert Brickhouse
J. McGann, an authority on 19th-century literature, has been named
the first winner of a $25,000 national award that honors leaders
in the use of computers to expand traditional notions of humanities
scholarship and teaching.
the John Stewart Bryan University Professor of English,
received the first Richard W. Lyman Award, presented by the National
Humanities Center, in a ceremony May 6 at the Time & Life
Building in New York. The award is named for Richard W. Lyman,
former president of Stanford University and the Rockefeller Foundation,
and is made possible through support from the foundation.
noted expert on Romantic and Victorian literature and the history
and theory of texts, McGann is also the Thomas Holloway Professor
of Victorian Studies at Royal Holloway College, University of
grandson, son and brother of printers, McGann has long been at
the forefront of the application of computer technology in the
study of the humanities. One of his innovative projects was editing
The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
A Hypermedia Research Archive, published by University of
Michigan Press. The massive archive allows scholars and students
to trace the Victorian author and artists work from manuscripts
into print, and to view his drawings and paintings, read reviews
and scholarship or use search engines for new research.
is on the advisory board for a similar archive for the 18th century
poet and artist William Blake. He has also written extensively
on computing in the humanities, most recently in Radiant
Textuality: Literature After the World Wide Web, published
Lyman Award recognizes the exciting results of these efforts,
said James ODonnell, professor of classical studies and
vice provost for information systems and computing at the University
of Pennsylvania, who led a committee of seven scholars that selected
McGann. The award honors an individual who has made important
scholarly contributions that could not have been made without
the innovative and wise use of information technology.
recent years, scholars in the classics, English and American literature,
history and other humanistic disciplines have increasingly used
computers and the Web to create facsimiles of rare manuscripts,
to archive and annotate literary and scholarly materials, and
to link text, visual images and sound, ODonnell said. The
results are breaking down traditional boundaries for learning,
teaching and research by stimulating new ways of exploring materials.
Rossetti archive is among about 40 digital projects affiliated
with U.Va.s internationally known Institute for Advanced
Technology, of which McGann is a co-founder.
Rossetti and Blake are ideally suited to an all-purpose,
multimedia, hypermedia environment for editing cultural works,
McGann said. You cant really edit Rossetti in textual
form because he is, like Blake, a multimedia artist.
award also cites McGanns work in creating the Ivanhoe
Game, a Web-based software application for enhancing the
critical study of traditional humanities materials. He developed
the game with his colleague Johanna Drucker, professor of media
studies at U.Va., and a team of graduate students and computer
added that he believes digital expertise is an increasingly marketable
skill for the young humanist willing to put in the effort to acquire
it. And at a time when even major scholarly books often fail to
sell 1,000 copies, he sees digital publishing as an important
avenue for a new generation. I believe that our scholarship
will increasingly be transferred to a digital archiving and delivery
system, he said. And our scholarship will be even
better for it.
numerous traditional studies, McGann also has edited Byron:
The Complete Poetical Works and The New Oxford Book
of Romantic Period Verse and is author of Fiery Dust:
Byrons Poetic Achievement and Poetics of Sensibility.
He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and,
among many other honors, has held two Guggenheim and two National
Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.
accomplishments and ambitions place McGann in an important tradition
of humanities scholarship, according to Willard McCarty, senior
lecturer at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, Kings
College London, and a member of the awards selection committee.
job of the humanities scholar is to look beyond the claims made
for technology and the obvious uses, to question long-term consequences
and implications and, most significant of all, to discover
how the new knowledge-making instrument empowers our imaginations.