‘CyberBibles’: notes from a seminar by Tim Hutchings

Last Thursday, I attended Tim Hutchings’s ‘CyberBibles’ seminar, organised by Francesca Benatti for the Digital Humanities Research Network at the Open University (this is the same seminar series within which Ann Hewings and I spoke about the teaching of corpus linguistics a couple of months ago; like Ann and I, Tim is more of a social scientist than a humanist, but nobody seems to have complained so far about this dilution of things digitally humanistic). If you weren’t there, you missed a treat. On one level, this was an extraordinarily in-depth study of electronic reading and its differences from the reading of print, using a highly specific case study. On another level, the Bible will always be at the same time one of the most interesting possible case studies in textual culture and something rather more than a case study, regardless of whether you’re interested in the digital, print, or manuscript eras. On yet another level… no, this is just silly. I don’t have to say why it was an interesting topic; that should be obvious. And in any case, the current introductory preamble is in danger of overwhelming this entire blog article. Just read the rest, it won’t take long. It’s mostly tweets!

Context, context. In sympathy for those who couldn’t make it on Thursday, I thought I’d give live-tweeting a go (always one to try an academic fad!). However, I couldn’t get any signal, and my phone has problems with the university wifi system. Fortunately, I had the idea of live-tweeting with a time delay, scheduling my tweets 120 hours into the future. And here they are, because I always intended to use this blog as a way of writing up responses to other people’s research presentations, and these little 140-character notelets form a concise record of what I found most provocative in Tim’s talk. So, dissatisfied with merely missing the point of live-tweeting, I’m going to extract it completely and throw it out of the window.

Two further bits of contextual information necessary to understand these tweets are: (a) that the ‘CyberBibles’ Tim studies are not just Kindle or ePub editions of the Bible, but dedicated Bible apps (and in some cases, single-purpose Bible e-readers) with a huge range of features, often featuring multiple Bible translations as well as copious additional materials (for example, maps and virtual reality reconstructions), and (b) that Tim surveyed and interviewed users of these programs and devices as well as interviewing their creators and designers.