On March 4-5, 2011, the National Humanities Center in Durham, NC will host a symposium on “The Virtual Nineteenth Century.”
Participating scholars intend to take on the notion of “virtuality,” a buzzword that theorists of new media have used to explain the (supposedly) revolutionary “changes in social interactions and in mental states that our current highly ‘wired’ world has made possible.” The organizers of this symposium dare to ask: “how revolutionary is this new revolution? To what extent do its very premises harken back to an earlier set of assumptions about the nature of modernity?” The symposium on “The Virtual Nineteenth Century” seeks to unearth these earlier assumptions and “to explore the ways in which new thinking about communications, art, and technology developed in the nineteenth century helped put in place a concept of the ‘virtual’ that forecasts many of our contemporary concerns.”
Ironically, it is scholars of the nineteenth-century who have succeeded in creating a pioneering organization “devoted to forging links between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first.” The so-called Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship (NINES), is a tagged site that currently allows users to search 952,635 peer-reviewed digital objects from 100 federated sites. The website “aims to gather the best scholarly resources in the field and make them fully searchable and interoperable; and to provide an online collecting and authoring space in which researchers can create and publish their own work.” This is a great source for peer-reviewed work about the long 19th-century (1770-1920), primarily in Britain and America; a valuable resource for digital humanities research materials; and a software tool repository for new forms of research and critical analysis.
It’s too bad that the upcoming NEH event will not be streamed on-line, so that those who can not make it to Durham in person, may still participate, dare I say it, virtually. If you are lucky enough to attend this symposium, send us a description and let us know what you think about the historical roots of “virtuality.”
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