Speaker: Matthew Davis
Traditionally, databases have been seen as a repository for scholarship—a place to store information for later retrieval. This only taps into part of the potential of the potential of databases, however. Carefully constructed and articulated databases serve not only to store information, but are an aid to critical thinking that identify points of tension, clarify what seems muddled, and allow the examination of textual cruces. Moreover, thinking about the database in terms beyond the repository belies a falsehood that has become a societal truism: that data is itself objective.
Popularly thought to be free of bias and thus a window to objective “truth,” this bias can be seen in phrases like “the wisdom of crowds.” In reality, however, the “thing”-ness of the material object is never completely captured, understood, or explained. A version of that thing, mediated by the tools, ideas, and experiences of both the researcher and viewer is instead inscribed and read from whatever medium is used. By putting such moments of mediation foremost in the mind of the scholar, databases serve to prevent the text reverting into a black box, receiving input and generating output, but in a way that cannot be understood or articulated.
Beginning with an examination of Davis’ work with medieval and early Tudor written and performed texts—specifically the Chantry chapel at Holy Trinity, Long Melford, the parish registers “Baldwyne” and “Herveye,” and the fifteenth-century poems of John Lydgate—this first part of a two-part talk will explore what the process of mediation the database brings to the relationship between these works reveals for larger questions surrounding the role of the laity in late medieval and early Tudor religious culture.