Is the Internet of any use to the study of the humanities? One clearly strong area is in the provision of electronic texts; there are now enough out-of-copyright literary, philosophical and historical works scattered around the Internet for it to be a rival to Wordsworth’s Classics. And Internet sites are increasingly doing more than just offering plain ASCII versions.
Firstly, HTML can be used to establish connections between different sections of a text, and between a text and critical apparatus. The version of Pride and Prejudice at the Jane Austen site at Texas is an instance. Passages in the text (for example, the names of characters or words that indicate important themes) are defined as links, leading to analyses of these characters or themes, which in turn include links to other significant passages concerning them in the novel.
Secondly, word searching can be done on a body of texts. The Shakespeare Home Page at MIT is one that allows the user to search for the occurences of words in all or some plays. A search will return the lines containing the word(s) searched for, plus hypertext links to the text of the relevant scene.
Thirdly, Internet sites can act as resource packs, drawing together related resources. A good example is The Rossetti Archive. Rossetti was both a painter and a writer, and several of the pages enable the user to move easily between, say, the text of the poem The blessed damozel, reproductions of manuscripts of the poem, and versions of the painting of the same title.
All these things can be (and have been) done on CD. But the Internet makes them widely available; it is adding something extra to the study of the humanities unthinkable a couple of years ago.
How to find what Humanties Resources are available? Good general gateways are HUMBUL, the Voice of the Shuttle, and Computing in the Humanities from Pennsylvania. Among sites for specific subjects, the Gateway to World History at Connecticut and the UK Institute for Historical Research provide links to many historical resources. The Media and Communication Studies site at Aberystywyth provides a very thorough list of links to resources in Television, Broadcasting and Media studies, and the Internet Movie Database describes itself, with justice, as “the most comprehensive free source of movie information on the Internet.”. For literature, the CTI Centre for Textual Studies site and the UK mirror for the Literature section of the Voice of the Shuttle are two of many starting points. Alphabetical (author or title) and keyword-in-title searching facilities for electronic texts are provided by the lists maintained at the On-line Books Page and the ALEX catalogue at Oxford. The Universities of Bristol and Liverpool provide well structured lists of links to Philosphy resources on the Web; both provide links to Dey Alexander’s survey Philosophy in Cyberspace. Myself, I’m off to study some Rossetti onscreen.
(Links to all the sites mentioned here (and more) can be found on the pages leading off from http://www.sussex.ac.uk/library/pier/subjects.dir/arts.dir/arts.html.)