Musings on interactive history and response to Franco Moretti

I don’t want to write too much about what I have to say about the interactive educational website “Do I Have a Right?,” lest I give away too much of my presentation tonight. However, the website has provoked me into thinking harder about interactive historical websites and how easy it could be for a creator to lose sight of his or her intended purpose.

Timothy Burke’s response to Franco Moretti allowed me to appreciate a little better what Moretti has to say. His endorsement for a cautious and limited application of Moretti’s theories on tracking the proliferation of literature genres makes the idea a little more practical. It is common for the developer of a new theory, I think, to over-predict the usefulness of their new developed method. Maybe I’m borrowing heavily from Rosenzweig’s Digital History in saying that (see the introduction, on techno-positivism). In any case, whereas I at first rebelled against the usefulness of data-mining and tree-making as proposed by Moretti as a lot of hopeful madness, Burke’s defense makes me wonder if Moretti’s techniques won’t be used quite often in small doses by all historians. I sense a coming storm. And I wonder, if historians do move into a phase where Moretti is popularly used, how that phase might end and how it will be perceived afterwards?


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