Last week, at the last session of a series of conference about new approaches to Classics (Alte Texte – neue Ergebnisse), from the University of Hamburg talked about the reception of new technological inventions in the Humanities (Exzerpt, Photoauftrag, Datenbank: zur Entwicklung und Bedeutung technischer Hilfsmittel in der Geschichtswissenschaft). He focused in particular on the ways scholars had access to the primary sources and how they started to use devices enabling them to transport the information these documents contained to their working places where they could explore them further.
First he discussed the advent of photography which allowed scholars to move beyond copying manually the texts and get more accurate documents to work on once they left the library or the archive where the primary sources were. As a second step he mentioned the usage of photocopies and other ways of reproducing faithfully a great number of sources and documents. Finally in a third step he dealt with the digital tools that are available now.
However, it is not so much this tripartition which is striking, but his observation that it is actually this third step that raised the most vigorous criticism from scholars. He was himself rather surprised by his findings and wondered whether there may be witnesses of such a suspiciousness against the technologies used previously. However, if his observation is correct, it may also raise the question of that would be so peculiar about the currently available digital tools and technologies to be more subjects to criticism than previously used tools.