In the digital humanities we often talk about distant reading and big data. In the more traditional humanities we often talk about close reading and the importance of small details. But it seems to me that both approaches to cultural material—distant, close, big, small—fail to reckon with what it means to change the scale of things.
The premise of this proposal is that changing the scale of something is one of the most transformative modes of producing knowledge. I’m thinking of actual, visual scale. Imagine a short passage from literature, blown up to fill an entire poster board, which students take turns annotating. The words in the story, once lost in a sea of text, become a separate entity, manipulable in an entirely new tactile way. Or take a panel from a graphic novel or a historical photograph, and zoom, zoom, zoom using a document camera. What do we see now that wasn’t there before?
As I said, I’m thinking of visual scale, but certainly there are other magnitudinal changes to consider. The size of a textual corpus is another obvious scale adjustment, but what about the other senses, like touch or sound? I’m drawn personally to theorizing closeness—to seeing the world in a grain of sand—but it’s just as crucial to rethink the distant and far.
In this session we’d discuss tools and techniques for changing the scale of things, what changing the scale of things means for teaching and research, and in general strive to move beyond the binary distinction between distant and close in order to think about scale in new and inventive ways.