[submitted by Marc Muschler]
INKE’s ongoing investigation into the digitization of scholarly material has led to some interesting conclusions regarding the nature of scholarship and its future within electronic environments. This is particularly pertinent in relation to programs like NewRadial, which facilitates the visualization of this data in an electronic format. Roger Schonfeld recently released a paper entitled, “Stop the Presses: Is the Monograph Headed Toward an E-Only Future?” which discusses the monograph’s role within the greater context of scholarly discourse and the predicament faced by academic institutions and publishers which must come to terms with the increasingly digitized world of academia. Through Schonfeld’s discussion of the inherent differences between monographs and other modes of academic discourse he brings to light some of the complications surrounding the visualization of scholarship, particularly in relation to e-book formats and “bigger picture” methods of visualization. Schonfeld’s article brings attention to the question of how current forms of data visualization can accommodate the creation of critical discourse, and whether or not we need to rethink our approach to scholarship in an increasingly digitized academic environment.
E-reader applications and big data visualization programs serve to visualize data on significantly different levels, yet they share several problems in common which relate to the digitization process that Schonfeld discusses. One such problem is that of visualizing scholarly materials within a workable and comprehendible digital frame. In the field of literary criticism, an essential aspect of academic discourse is the gathering of sources in order to utilize the knowledge of other scholars to benefit your own ideas and writing process. While physical books serve as a tangible method of research and are used quite significantly, websites such as JSTOR are increasingly popular among academics because they allow the user to access literally thousands of sources pertinent to their own discussion without the necessity of searching through the vast print archives of a library. While the digitization of these texts into an e-reader format certainly has many benefits, one thing that this method of representation and organization lacks is the ability to visualize material within a larger framework and thus contextualize it in reference to the greater catalogue of related primary and secondary source material that relates to a specific field. As the lexicon of critical discourse grows and becomes more accessible, there is an expectation that scholars will be able to incorporate (or at the very least acknowledge), as much of this information as possible in their own works in order to stay relevant and informed within the greater academic community. This task is incredibly difficult without either an extensive knowledge of all pertinent academic works and scholars within a respective field, or the ability to sift through the massive amount of information in a comprehendible and discernable way.
Programs such as NewRadial offer one solution to this predicament, operating as an intermediary between close reading perspectives and big data clusters, thus visualizing big data groups within a comprehendible digitized visual environment. Through the radial and nodal system of organization, a user can access the same information seen in an e-reader format on a “big picture” scale, thus allowing for the user to search and sort through massive volumes of information outside of e-reader paradigms. NewRadial allows the user to map their way through their sources from a scalable perspective, thus offering a unique method of discourse organization that can incorporate but no longer get lost in the large volume of scholarly material available. However, what NewRadial lacks is the ability to interpret these sources on the textual level that an e-reader program can provide.
Working towards a more fluid integration between NewRadial’s “bigger” picture perspective and applications that generate close reading environments is one potential solution to the dilemma of properly accommodating massive amounts of information while still retaining a degree of comprehensiveness when undertaking an academic project. Schonfeld’s discussion of the increasingly digitized nature of monograph publication alludes to the greater trend in academics of moving towards digitized discourse. The necessity of connecting close reading and “big picture” formats is becoming increasingly necessary within the academic community as this digitization process continues and NewRadial offers a manageable bridge between these scales.