The Mind is a Metaphor is a project begun and maintained by Brad Pasanek that attempts to gather and categorize metaphors referring to the human mind, fancy, or consciousness. He began the project as a tool to assist him with his book, and as a result the content is primarily contained within what he refers to as a “very long eighteenth century (1660-1819).” The project is expansive with over 14,000 different entries. It also makes good use of TEI encoding tools to categorize the collected metaphors into a wide arrangement of subcategories that range from the gender of the author to the time period and his or her nationality.
Considering the scale of the database being discussed, perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the project is its user friendly interface. The subcategories are located on the left hand side of the home screen, and a search bar is easily located after a single glance. The wealth of information is thus broken down into digestible portions, and the ability to search for a specific author or metaphor combined with the ability to search within the provided parameters (which can also be combined for more specific browsing) creates a site that is equally approachable for the casual browser and the researcher who needs a specific piece of information. Though this is not an issue with the actual site, a weakness of the project would have to be the relatively limited appeal that the corpus maintains for a broader audience. The wealth of entries obviously demonstrates that authors have shared an interest in expressing their understanding of the human mind through metaphors for several centuries, but the specific focus on a single literary technique used to discuss a single topic restricts the academic utilization of this database to projects that are almost identical to that of Pasanek.
That being said, if a scholar or a student sought to track changes in perception of the human mind across the Enlightenment (with an expanding amount of entries from other time periods as the database continues to grow), then this site would be the perfect place to start. The majority of the entries are accompanied by a citation so a researcher would be able to move from the single metaphor provided on the website to the broader context within which it originally appeared. This effort at proper citation with the aim of providing a springboard into further research suggests that the site is mainly targeting an academic or scholarly audience. Anyone interested in finding catchy quotes about the human psyche will find their time on this site rewarding, but the decisions surrounding the organization, citation, and categorization of the entries are indicative that the primary focus of this project is found in academia.
In regards to how this project can relate to the tools of the digital humanities or literary studies in general, I would argue that Pasanek’s work employs the masterful use of TEI to break down a large corpus into a navigable database. There are sixty three unique subcategories provided on the homepage, and multiple subcategories can be selected at once to provide a more exact search. In addition, if the user has a specific metaphor in mind, he or she can also do a direct word search via the search bar. The effective organization of this site via tagging and cross referencing (many of the entries are tagged in multiple categories) is the hallmark of this project. In addition, the site could serve as a valuable research tool for individuals seeking to pursue a comparative approach to styles of writing reflected in: time periods, genders, political affiliations, religious affiliation, or genre. Pasanek was interested in more than the opinions of well-known authors. This is reflected in the variety and diversity of the entries that the site contains. As I mentioned before, the site is limited thematically, but it is a rich resource for those interested in comparing the work of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences (the included citations are a huge asset in this regard).
Finally, the work of Pasanek and all of those who have and are assisting him is a testament to what can be done well with the help of digital tools. The database was created with a specific project in mind, but as it continues to grow the options for utilizing it in different ways will also vary accordingly. If we thing of the different methods of literary analysis as a matter of relative scale, this project makes a unique contribution to the field. The database itself contains no analysis, it is simply a collection of the quotes and metaphors (though perhaps one could argue that the categorization reflects the opinions and analysis of Pasanek, it should be noted that there is no interpretive content beyond that). Any close reading or further analysis is firmly the prerogative of the reader. Ultimately, the unique power of this database is that it presents an almost overwhelming amount of material that would initially demand a high level of distant reading to even begin to understand, but it is paired with extensive tagging and categories that grant the reader the power to directly control the scale with which he or she encounters the text. When combined with the fact that the database is continuing to expand into a broader field than the 18th century, this measure of control given to the user makes a dynamic and versatile tool for those interested in the subject matter. Unlike some of the perhaps more controversial advocates of the digital humanities, Pasanek makes no mention of an attempt to “falsify” or otherwise over rule previously established notions and techniques within the field. He provides data for others to make use of, and he does so in a unique and masterful way. His mind is in a league of its own.