Will new digital technologies radically transform the nature of research in the arts and humanities? Generally I think I might be relatively old fashioned about this.
Of course new technologies may change our modus operandi, and may alter the kinds of research we do. For example the (arguably disproportionate) dominance of the monograph and the article as the sole legitimate ‘units’ of contribution to scholarship in the humanities, may be challenged as digital tools make it easier to share annotations and micro observations, and to create vibrant, dynamic, living conversations around texts and topics. Technology will make it easier for us to traffic in small things like footnotes, asides, linkages, and momentary reflections in addition to the big things, like five-hundred page theses or multi-volume Festschriften.
But I strongly suspect that many of the core virtues of scholarship will remain the same. We may have tools and technologies to help us out with things which were previously a lot more laborious such as creating comprehensive concordances, searching for the occurrence of a certain name in literary Nachlässe, collaborating more easily and more effectively and so on. Lone researchers will be able to do things which perhaps in the past could only be undertaken by large teams of researchers over decades. But these tools and technologies will predominantly be there to support the creation of interesting insights and interpretations, hypotheses and meditations, to support scholars in continuing doing things which they have been doing for centuries.
If we can compare scholarship to walking around in the countryside, then perhaps digital tools are like satellite navigation systems. They can help us plan routes and get a big picture of where we are, but they are no substitute for direct acquaintance, or years of immersion. A good scholar will still have an intimate knowledge of the landscape: which part of the river dries out in the summer, the way that that tree has grown over time, where that stile crosses the path, the way to lift the gate on its hinge to make it turn more easily, the way the path slopes down the hill, and so forth.