Simulating Reading: Digital Research Beyond the Database

Craig Saper


In the last decade, much digital humanities research involved databases. Digital technology allowed not only for expansion of concordances, but also, and more importantly, for new types of tagged, hyperlinked, and radiant texts. Databases changed the experience of reading.
My research also involves a database, but I now realize that the consequence of building this peculiar database has led to what I believe is the next major aspect of research on the experience of reading: simulation.
We usually associate simulation with physical activities like driving, flying, or guitar playing. More recently, we associate simulation with social systems, urban planning, or athletic activity, and terms like Wii and Sims suggest a visceral interaction with databases of information.
The reading machines on my website allude to Bob Carlton Brown's machine proposed, in one iteration, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He called the texts prepared for the machine “readies”. The texts running through the machines on this website include some of the readies produced for Brown's machine by modernist poets and writers.
This project, began as a mere supplement for a biography I am completing on Brown, led first to a way to think about databases, interfaces, and mechanized procedures as alternatives to the dominant processing technologies and procedures, and later to a realization that one could simulate reading situations and experiences usually only described. So, the Brown machine simulation becomes a prototype for a series of simulations on other reading situations both in the past and potential futures.


databases, interface design, simulation, reading, reading machines, prototyping, Bob Carlton Brown

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