The Digital Humanities and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Edited by ELIAS MUHANNA. Berlin: DE GRUYTER, 2016. Pp. vi + 271. $140, [pounds sterling]74.99, [euro]99.95.
Under review is an edited collection on how to perform computer-supported research in Islamic Studies. Such computing technology can be used for "digitization, publication, and interpretation" (p. 4), and in the last two decades this has been done on such a scale that we can no longer deny the transformative effect it has on our work; the fields of Islamic Studies and Middle East Studies have entered the Digital Age. Elias Muhanna, the editor, sums up his mission statement as follows: "This transformation in the technique and approach of scholarship prompts us to consider the lines of inquiry opened by these new resources, just as it asks the question of what methodological instincts and practices may be eroded by the rise of computational paradigms" (p. 2). Since 2013, Muhanna has given shape to this prompt through his Digital Islamic Humanities Project. Out of the project have come three conferences; the book under review functions as the proceedings of the first. Unlike other proceedings, this volume is not a collection of disconnected contributions; rather the chapters form a fairly comprehensive treatment of the possibilities of using (and abusing) computing technology in Islamic Studies. I would even argue that had it not been for the steep price, this book could be used in the classroom, as virtually all chapters assume no previous experience and feature many full-color illustrations. In this review, then, I shall discuss this book on its merits as an introduction to Digital Humanities (DH) for scholars and students of Islamic Studies.
The book is divided into two parts: The first five and the last chapter are of a more conceptual and theoretical nature, while chapters six through ten are all showcases of different kinds of technology, detailing how they can be executed and showing what kind of results may be obtained.
The first chapter, by Muhanna himself, functions as an introduction. Muhanna demonstrates how DH is something many of us are already engaging with to some extent in our daily work without realizing it. Learning more about DH is therefore to learn more about our own practice and to understand both the benefits of expanding it and the pitfalls if wrongly applied.
Travis Zadeh discusses in chapter two a number of theoretical issues concerning the use of digital texts, and at the same time gives an overview of what resources are available and where on the Internet to get them. The chapter is verbose but still highly recommended. Zadeh's main point is that digital versions of texts and the way we operate them do not supplant our older methods. For the sake of reproducibility, the cornerstone of good scholarship, references need to be made to immutable and clearly distinguishable sources. Digital files swerve around the Internet and sometimes disappear altogether, it is often not made clear on what they are based, and their digital nature makes them inherently prone to change. Since printed...