“Multimedia and Multitasking: A Survey of Digital Resources for Nineteenth-Century Literary Studies” by John A. Walsh is a meet-the-parents moment for the digital scholar. Walsh acquaints his reader with the “parents of the digital age” (Walsh unpaginated); the nineteenth century and the industrial Revolution. He believes the nineteenth century “holds a special attraction for digital literary scholarship” (unpaginated) because of the parallels and similarities shared between the two eras’ proximate chronology. Like the digital revolution, the industrial revolution effectuated “rapid technological and social change” (unpaginated), resulting in a boom of information, and technologies to communicate that information.
After a brief historical overview of nineteenth century’s rich literary achievements, Walsh parallels the literature and culture of nineteenth century to the digital age. He links multimedia, the combined use of several media in computer applications, to forerunners like Blake, Ruskin and Rossetti’s work. Therefore, digital media is particularly conducive to the presentation of “multimedia primary works and related scholarship” (unpaginated).
However, there is an additional justification for Walsh’s infatuation with the nineteenth century. He claims the nineteenth century is “the final age of literature…freely accessible and unencumbered by copyright restrictions” (unpaginated). Copyright laws have prohibited the entry of works developed since 1923 to public domains until 2019, with the possibility of a further extension by wealthy copyright holders. This reopens the can of worms relating to open source distribution which I discussed earlier, and it appears that this proverbial can of worms will remain open for the foreseeable future.
Finally, Walsh includes at the end of his essay a number of digital projects targeting nineteenth-century literature that sum up his discussion of multimedia remarkably well. His examples illustrate the physical and financial restrictions of printed texts but, also, how the availability of digitized texts “is a great boon to literary scholarship” (Walsh unpaginated”).