Professor Johanna Drucker’s book, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, brings to the forefront the interpretive, emergent, situated, subjective, and aesthetic positions and acts involved in knowledge production in the field of digital humanities. The book describes projects Drucker and other researchers undertook at SpecLab at the University of Virginia from 2000 to around 2008.

This book contains many ideas to digest, ruminate about, and practically apply to digital humanities projects. Several definitions and descriptions are deepening my understanding of digital humanities and speculative computing:

“The field of digital humanities is not simply concerned with creating new electronic environments for access to traditional of born-digital materials. It is the study of ways of thinking differently about how we know what we know and how the interpretive task of  the humanist is redefined in these changed conditions.” (xiii)

and

“The event of interpretation in a digital environment includes many steps: creating a model of knowledge, encoding it for representation, embodying it in a material expression, and finally encountering it is a scene of interpretation.” (xiv)

Drucker is concerned with knowledge and its representation through digital means, which involves conscientious consideration and employment of both praxis and theory (hack and yack). For example, when creating a digital surrogate of an existing text, the practical choices made, such as whether the text will be scanned (creating a facsimile) or keyboarded (which may cause the surrogate to lose some of the original formatting), concomitant with the metadata and HTML/XML schemes used to categorize and display the digital surrogate, have theoretical significance and implications – the practical choices effect how the digital surrogate will be interpreted and understood.(6) Drucker states: “…the visual form in which information is presented has a great impact on how that information reads and what it is assumed to communicate.” (74)

Another concept discussed in various ways throughout the book is the performative aspect of a digital environs. For example, metadata schemes, programming codes and protocols, and markup tags in combination “do” something, meaning, a new reality is created and brought into being each time the digital environment is accessed.

I find this book wildly evocative and challenging theoretically and practically. One week was not enough time to assimilate the concepts and ideas, and I look forward to spending much more time with it.

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