new digital teaching tools new digital teaching tools new digital teaching tools Digital Humanities: Course modules designed to teach people to think about how technologies affect us

The Humanities and Communication Technology
By Frank Eastman

The Humanities have always been about knowledge-making: they are, collectively, our methods for exchanging ideas, analyzing our behaviors, and making sense of our surroundings (see Humanities Definition). If formal knowledge-making methodologies have anything in common, it is dependence on communication technologies to preserve and enculturate themselves. From the birth of the alphabet to the introduction of broadband internet connectivity, technology has influenced, perhaps guided, how and what gets said and who gets to say it. It is only natural, then, that the humanities would examine technologies, questioning how they have colored what we call knowledge. The field of Digital Humanities has evolved out of those examinations.

Espen Aarseth calls this emerging field "Humanistic Informatics."

While we rightly position much of our attention on the content of a "text" (here used loosely to encompass a whole range of communications: a book, a movie, a speech-act), it seems that, very often, we ignore the materiality, form, and context of our exchanges. Especially as we enter the digital age, with its seemingly unending ability to digitize and "perfectly" copy anything, form and meaning grow further apart in our conceptual universe.

Hayles discusses the effects of this sort of disconnect on our view of the mind and even modern conceptions of what it means to be "human." She as well as other thinkers in the field of Digital Humanities question whether it is truly possible to entirely disconnect content from form and media, arguing that the methods, physical means, and context by/through which we choose to communicate are themselves an inherent part of the communication.

What is the impact of computer and internet technologies on cultural artifacts such as books and libraries? How does our society's valuation of media change in response to these new technologies? Critics such as Charles Jonscher and Geoffrey Nunberg believe that it does not change much at all. Nonetheless, media revolutions of the past have changed the social order of knowledge, and thinking has altered in response to technologies such as the alphabet, writing, and print. Also, narrative is a literary form that has been profoundly altered by various technologies. As can be seen in the works of Marie-Laure Ryan, for instance, narrative is itself a technology insofar as it is a tool for shaping thought: its physical conditions of existence -- the "medial ecology" in which it lives -- as much as any new worldly events shape what we think. The blog as much as Watergate have changed how we perceive our world.

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