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

This site provides course modules for use in college classes that present Humanities methods for thinking critically about how meaning is generated in new, multi-, digital media. At the moment, late 2006, the methods presented here are almost all literary. We hope to expand the site by presenting methodologies from other disciplines as well.

The Humanities

have many definitions. As a group of disciplines, they share a concern not only with what is said but with how. An English literature professor might ask how the meaning of any sentence is affected by its style or form; a history or classics professor, by its context; a philosophy professor, by its underlying assumptions. The disciplines of philosophy, history, literature, and classics all acknowledge that every use of language implies not just any single proposition, but a whole "form of life."(1)

"Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also
interior transformations of consciousness."(2)

Information

Some things are easier to say in a poem than in a novel, and vice versa. Contemporary media communicate messages to us beyond their content. These implicit messages are hard to register consciously. Looking at the effects on societies produced by various media revolutions, both large and small, is one way to begin to hear those implicit messages. The invention of the phonetic alphabet, of the printing press; the invention of biography, the novel, the mass-market novel, the tour guide; the invention of radio, television, movie theater, and computer -- all of these changed what can or cannot be said, and perhaps even thought. Studying form and history will help us understand how various media -- computers, email, DVDs -- affect the messages they communicate(1) and even what it means to be human.

Albert Borgmann has defined information as "a relation -- intelligence provided, a person is informed by a sign about some thing in a certain context" (Holding On to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium, 38). Though sign and context may be discipline specific (that is, ensconced within some area of expertise), humanities methods in general seek to make clear how that relationship among intelligence ("frameworks"), person, data, and context actually works. (see more in "the field" ---->)

How are the Humanities connected to digital or multimedia?

They are not simply connected as modes of critique. Learning how to use metaphors and other literary devices promotes creativity in science and technology. Vannevar Bush's famous essay is an essay rife with metaphor. Bush conceives organizing information in terms of a network of trails long before the Internet or the Web became technologically possible.(2) The metaphor he used for speaking and thinking about memory was literalized as the World Wide Web (and by hypertext in general) which both link blocks of information in a network. "What is now proved," William Blake has said, "was once only imagined." The study of humane letters can promote the imagination necessary for innovative technological development.


(1) Ludwig Wittgenstein. Back

(2) Walter Ong, "Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought," in The Linguistics of Literacy, ed. Pamela Dowling, et. al. (Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1992), 293-321, 301. Back