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Professor Huang Yi-Long on the Cutting Edge of Humanities Research in the Digital Age
The large-scale digitalization of ancient Chinese texts began around the turn of the century, and the number of Chinese characters digitized to date amounts to six to seven billion. To put that into perspective, if you were able to read so fast that you could read the entire text of the Dream of the Red Chamber (around 730,000 characters) every day, then it would still take you around 30 years to read seven billion characters! Yet, you would still have read only a fraction of the extent corpus of ancient Chinese texts.
 
"This is something the scholars of the previous generations had never encountered," sighs Huang Yi-Long, the director of NTHU's Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences. Having previous worked in radio astronomy, it was quite some time ago that Huang became aware of the great impact technology was going to have on research in the humanities.
 
It was some ten years ago that Huang developed what he calls the "electronic textual research" (ETR) method, basically a system for using digitalized databases and internet resources to conduct humanities research. Over the past four years Huang has been applying the ETR method to an experimental research on the Dream of the Red Chamber as a way of demonstrating that the digital age is here to stay, and has much to offer scholars working in all areas of textual research. In today's humanities research a monopoly on data is no longer a real advantage, what really makes a difference is being able to conduct research in a systematic and precise fashion, beginning with the formulation of a problem, and then proceeding to collect all the necessary data, analyzing it, and presenting ones conclusions.
 
Recently NTHU teamed up with the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, the Beijing Palace Museum, and Zhejiang University to hold the 2014 Workshop on Digital Research in the Humanities at Zhejiang University. Together with Xue Long-chun and a number of other scholars, Huang presented the participants with a number of interesting cases demonstrating how ETR is conducted. As with traditional research methods, ETR requires making an exhaustive search for all the related material, and in the hands of a seasoned humanities scholar ETR is a highly effective research tool. The general consensus is that ETR and traditional research approaches are complementary rather than contradictory. As Huang puts it, "Ultimately, there is no difference between ETR and the traditional approach to humanities."
 
In the past, researchers had to use various types of printed indexes to search for relevant information. By comparison, making use of digital resources puts a vast array of data at ones fingertips. The most essential skill is to know what keywords to search for. As a result, ETR raises the standards for academic research. According to Huang, "You may be a great scholar in the traditional sense, but if you’re not making good use of the latest technology, then you aren’t reaching your highest potential."
 
In his ongoing efforts to establish a new paradigm for humanities research in the era of "big data," in 2010 Huang began to make an in-depth study of the Dream of the Red Chamber, a field known as "redology." Huang presents the results of his recent investigations in his book Duet: A Dialogue between Redology and the History of the Qing Dynasty. Published by the NTHU Press, the book is widely expected to have a significant impact in the fields of redology and ETR.
 
Huang Yi-Long, the director of NTHU’s Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences and Academician at Academia Sinica.

Huang Yi-Long, the director of NTHU's Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences and Academician at Academia Sinica.

Huang Yi-Long’s ETR methodology has been well received in greater China, as explained in this article recently published in the Shanghai newspaper Wen Hui Bao.

Huang Yi-Long's ETR methodology has been well received in greater China, as explained in this article recently published in the Shanghai newspaper Wen Hui Bao.

 

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