James Smith’s chapter in Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research, explores the idea of connotation vs denotation, or in other words, the intended meaning as set out by the author vs the meaning that has been assimilated by the reader. Traditionally within the humanities authors use intertextual references, and depend on the reader to have consumed enough literature to understand the intended message of the article. It is only when the reader and the author are on similar grounding that the full weight and meaning of the text as intended can be interpreted. Smith states that ‘it is critical that the scholar read far and wide in their career: the greater the shared background, the more efficient the communication’ (p. 274).
Within the digital humanities, we embrace the leap from intertextuality to hyper-textuality. The political, historical and cultural context of an article or artefact is easily shared through embedded hyperlinks in digital publications. This immediately improves the efficiency of communication and elevates participation as the wide experience and knowledge of the author is in a small way shared with the reader.
We can’t expect the reader to put down our text to follow a reference; to do so might mean travelling to a nearby library (Smith p. 273).
While an author doesn’t want to lose the reader’s interest as they head off to the library, equally an author doesn’t want to lose a reader down an online rabbit hole. There is a delicate balance between providing referencing hyperlinks that encourage the reader to broaden their horizons of knowledge to better understand the piece at hand, and losing the reader to another piece of writing. The benefit of in-text hyperlinks is that no matter how audacious a claim may be, one’s authority can be immediately verified by referring to the primary and secondary sources either implicitly or explicitly used within the author’s piece. Thus, a writer can at the very least show how they have come to their conclusion by directing the reader to immediately accessible resources on the world wide web. In methodological terms, when we reference our sources in this manner, we are in fact giving the reader access to the data on which we are basing our claims.
Narrative within the humanities cannot be replicated within sciences as there are elements of innate experience and expression that moulds an author’s work. Scientific research which embraces the semantic web, holds nothing back. Dan Gelzelter of openscience.org, expands on the idea of “Open Source, Open Data, Open Access, Open Notebook” to include a list of fundamental goals of the initiative.
Transparency in experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data.
Public availability and reusability of scientific data.
Public accessibility and transparency of scientific communication.
Using web-based tools to facilitate scientific collaboration.
Pairing the goals of Open Science and the semantic web, as described by Tim Berners Lee in his Ted talk in 2009, with the humanities in as many ways as possible, will increase the knowledge and understanding of scholars everywhere. The problem of connotation vs denotation will become a smaller one as consumers/scholars/readers avail of the resources that are increasingly being made available online.