It seems to me that the idea that digital humanities can be an efficient way to analyze large amounts of data in a short period of time is a lie. If anything, the work that it takes to even create the bodies of data to be analyzed is extremely laborious, tedious, and time-consuming. That being said, this exercise was quite beneficial in that it allowed me to learn through practice that any sort of lab work with data (in the humanities and elsewhere) requires constant interpretation and reorganization by the individual performing the research. After getting the text in a rough outline in the Oxygen application, I found myself staring at the screen wondering what to do next. Which words or phrases should be tagged in order to capture the essence of the piece and make it accessible to other scholars? How should said phrases be tagged, and is one choice more appropriate/better suited than the other? These were all questions that I (and I imagine anyone who has ever done this type of work ever) had to deal with as I began working back through the document. I ultimately decided to focus my search on proper nouns and follow capitalization as an indicator of the importance of the respective words or phrases that followed. Is that how others do it? I have no idea. Have the choices of others in situations like this had an impact on my prior research in any number of fields? Absolutely.
The fact that our subject manuscript is an object of personal correspondence further complicates the process in my opinion. Rather than look for thematic or literal repetition (an approach I would most likely take for a poetry anthology, for example) I was left looking at only a handful of paragraphs that I needed to attempt to organize and pick out the relevant data without the benefit of having other works of or even more information about the author. This led to a process of comparing the transcribed version with the original document in order to see any changes in the handwriting (why are words underlined? What’s with the odd quotes around select phrases? Why does the size of the writing vary at points?) that may serve as pointers to areas of emphasis or authorial intent.
The experience of reading an original manuscript is radically different from being exposed to the digitized version. This variation in the experience and understanding of reading a document raises broader questions in regards to how to best utilize these tools and what caveats should be offered when using a digital text rather than an original manuscript. One must always be aware of the choices that the publishers/editors/volunteers/digital humanities students must make as they transcribe a written or printed text to an online database. As I’m writing this I realize that any translation of a text from one medium to the other necessitates the awareness that the true text or meaning (if such a thing exists) can only really be known by the author, and the concepts and stories that we encounter are always being presented in a form, pattern, or context that has to some degree been modified by the medium which contains it. Obviously, I’m unable to say with any confidence that the original manuscript is well represented in my XML edition, but even the attempt to transcribe, the work to understand theory through methodology, has been illuminating.