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Back to the Future: Philology in a Digital World

 

For the first hundred years of their existence English departments spent much of their time editing and otherwise taking care of "their"  data. At some point in the sixties folks began to think that most of that work had been done, and editing rapidly lost prestige. The assumption that most of the work had been done worked for a while, but the digital turn has changed things. As Jerry McGann pointed out in 2001, "In the next fifty years the entirety of our inherited archive of cultural works will have to be re-edited within a network of digital storage, access, and dissemination." English departments have been very slow to respond to that challenge, but the combination of very old-fashioned philological labour with new and very powerful digital tools offers exciting challenges both for the curation and the analysis of the textual data on which our work and livelihood will depend in the decades to come.