The life and letters of Prince Edward Island proprietor captain John MacDonald of Glenaladale: an exercise in humanities computing

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University of New Brunswick


The introduction of the Internet and the World Wide Web has been one the most significant developments of the last decade. Many historians have approached the Web with reluctance, hesitant to use it to conduct their traditional scholarly tasks of researching, publishing, and teaching history. Communication theorists such as Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan foretold many aspects of the Web's impact in their analyses of past communication media. Applied to the Web, their ideas provide a deeper understanding of what a new medium of communication might mean for scholars in humanities disciplines. Indeed, in the last decade the term “Humanities Computing” has been coined to describe efforts to apply computer methods to humanities data. This thesis explores some of the processes and potential of Humanities Computing as it pertains to the presentation of primary documents on the Web. It takes the form of a case study using the correspondence of eighteenth-century Prince Edward Island land proprietor John MacDonald (1742–1810), a central figure in the conflict between the Island government and the land proprietors. MacDonald took an active interest in his land on the Island and became the voice of landowners making their case to the British crown. Digitized letters drawn from his correspondence will be featured on the Web as part of the Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives, making use of the Web as an alternative to print in presenting, analyzing, and interpreting history. The digitization of the MacDonald letters is an exercise in Humanities Computing through the application of current Web and digital technology to primary source material, which, in turn, demonstrates the benefits of doing research on the Web.