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ORBIS featured in the "Journal of Digital Humanities"



One of the Stanford's latest (and greatest) digital humanities efforts is ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, a collaboration between the Stanford University Libraries and Professor Walter Scheidel of the Stanford Classics Department. ORBIS was released in early May, 2012, to great acclaim and accompanied by masses of web traffic and multiple write-ups in the popular Internet press. But now it's receiving more attention of a different and more substantial nature: professional reviews and attention in the scholarly press.

The latest issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities (a peer-reviewed, open access journal published by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University) includes three different articles dedicated to ORBIS:

  • "Modeling Networks and Scholarship with ORBIS," a detailed and useful introduction to the methods and principles that underlie the complex work, written by our two SUL colleagues who were responsible for its creation: Elijah Meeks (Digital Humanities Specialist) and Karl Grossner (Digital Humanities Research Developer).
  • "ORBIS: An Interactive Scholarly Work on the Roman World," a presentation of ORBIS as a sort of prototypical example of what many believe will be an important genre of research publication for the digital humanities: the "Interactive Scholarly Work." This important theoretical article was also written by Elijah and Karl, and will, I predict, be widely cited as interest in this new scholarly genre takes hold in the Academy.
  • A highly positive "Review of ORBIS" by Stuart Dunn, a Lecturer in the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London. Dunn writes that "ORBIS is an exciting and innovative experiment in simulation modelling in history and archaeology, which starts to critique this distinction; even if, by its own clear admission, it does not yet have the answers. [...] The possibilities for [its] future are immense."

ORBIS "blurs the line between archive, tool, and publication," as Elijah and Karl write. "To treat such objects [as ORBIS] only as tools, and implicitly capable only of providing that which they were designed to provide, undercuts the possibilities of advancing the use of models and modeling in the humanities." Thanks first to Karl's and Elijah's excellent collaborative work in creating ORBIS, and now to their thoughtful theoretical and practical writing about it -- as well as to the continuing flow of outstanding peer review -- ORBIS is quickly taking its place in a new canon of Interactive Scholarly Works specifically, and of research publications in the digital humanities generally.

by Glen Worthey

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March 9, 2016