What Jane “saw”?

The new digital exhibit “What Jane Saw,” reconstructing Jane Austen’s 1813 visit to a show of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ paintings, has been getting a lot of attention, including a splashy feature in the TimesThe exhibit shows off some of the best of the digital humanities, incorporating an aesthetically pleasing presentation that both offers real new knowledge for scholars of the period and reaches out to members of the public in an accessible way. At the same time, the project shows the most basic processes of remediation, as Bolter and Grusin have detailed, at work. The goal is to achieve a sense of immediacy—seeing “what she saw,” experiencing “time travel,” in project director Janine Barchas words. But this very sense immediately runs up against the awareness of the many, many differences between what we are experiencing and what Austen did. Austen, of course, could not have conceptualized this kind of “exhibit,” nor can we really access the sights, sounds, and smells of the British Institution in 1813. The exhibit should prove incredibly useful for Austen and DH classes precisely for that potent conjunction of immediacy and hypermediacy.


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