Giuseppe Arcimboldo's painting known as "The Librarian" (1566). Image by Skokloster Castle, via Wikimedia Commons.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s painting known as “The Librarian” (1566). Image by Skokloster Castle, via Wikimedia Commons.

Why Digitize?

Although a website facilitates sharing the results of digital analysis of the contents of Galileo’s library, digital and computational methods have much more to offer than the remediation of books and manuscripts. Many of these results occurred in tandem with a need to teach the tools used to create them. Having a contextualized repository of the results creates a valuable teaching space about digital humanities scholarship.

In addition…

A digital text allows humanists to continue to appreciate the linearity of language (such as narration in an epic poem), but also to treat the units of that narration as pieces of one puzzle or potentially many puzzles, as the comparison of Galileo’s prose to Ariosto’s and Tasso’s poems has shown. (As one colleague pointed out, printing the densely marked dispersion plots in those results would burden the printer in a traditional journal as well!)

Treating information as data has the potential to bring to light previously unconsidered relationships, like that of Giulio Cesare LaGalla to renegade printers in Venice. We can visualize networks of information exchange that reinforce and challenge our understanding of material culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Static network graphs are difficult to read, which make them difficult to teach (either their creation or their interpretation), so the web seemed a natural home for these preliminary results.

Information that resists becoming data forces us to ask how those valuable fragments from archives and primary sources can nonetheless add to our understanding of the problem. For Galileo’s library, this led to the heuristic of the book isotope. The types of visualizations are easier to view in a browser (I hope), and the Galileo’s Library website (version 1.0) offers a helpful platform for experimenting and thinking through the problems that this heuristic raises.

The biggest challenge, and the one that potentially holds the greatest reward, is asking how the digital version of the library can help us to better understand how knowledge was constructed in the early modern period. The next phase of this project considers that possibility from its foundation to the user: the database, the platform, and the interface. What follows is an extended reflection on the database design.

Galileo’s Library 2.0 – Starting with the Database