The End of Western Civilization As We Know It

March 21-28, 2008

Over the past couple of years I’ve written a number of posts in which I wrestle with what technological change means for the future of higher educationgeneral education, and history education specifically. Much of my speculating and ranting in these posts has centered on what seems to me to be a clash between the traditional methods by which knowledge is delivered to students (curriculum, teaching) and the world that our students live in (tech-centric, socially networked, etc.).

There has been much talk recently about “maximising” and measuring academic impact through blogging and social media (as well as the academic impact of online publications and resources), but what is not often discussed thoroughly is what the meaning of “maximising” is in this context.

“Maximising” seems to refer to the quantitative, rather than the qualitative, implying that “impact” is necessarily related to how many people or visits or clicks or downloads a given online resource is getting.

[T]he seven or eight major projects I have co-directed are, from my perspective at least, fragments of a single coherent research agenda and project.

And that project is about the amalgamation of the Digital Humanities with an absolute commitment to a particular kind of history: ‘History from Below’.  They form an attempt to integrate the British Marxist Historical Tradition, with all the assumptions that implies about the roles of history in popular memory, and community engagement, with digital delivery.  In the language of the moment, they are a fragment of what we might discuss as a peculiar flavour of ‘public history’. 

Perhaps there are historical reasons why, at this particular moment, the humanities are so self-reflective. No perhaps about it, actually. We are somewhat lost at sea and the “digital” is part of the reason. This does not mean, however, that reflection is productive, and certainly not all reflection is productive…. I am particularly interested in the problem of rethinking rhetorical education to address shifting literacy practices. This, to me, is not narcissistic, though it does involve looking at the rhetorical practices of humanisits since it is fairly clear that what we will teach students is a function of what we do ourselves.

…Composing is a networked phenomenon because thinking is always already relational. I mean you are composing/thinking in words right? You didn’t invent that language, right?

Lecture at King’s College London, 25 January 2012

….A standard point of historical reference in thinking about the modern information revolution is the arrival of print in the fifteenth century, but perhaps a closer parallel is the way in which the growth of empire and the resulting changes in industry and agriculture transformed Britain in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. David Simpson has pointed out how Wordsworth’s reference to ‘bright volumes of vapour’ in his poem ‘Poor Susan’ in the Lyrical Ballads may refer to the over-production of cheap and worthless literature – a data deluge whose effects preoccupied Wordsworth.

In previous posts, I’ve shown how WordSeer can be used to explore small, well-defined questions:what word did Shakespeare use for ‘beautiful’? Is the occurrence of the word ‘love’ the same in the comedies and tragedies? This post is different. WordSeer has now developed enough to support a simple, but complete, exploratory analysis.

The question we’ll think about is this:

“How does the portrayal of men and women in Shakespeare’s plays change under different circumstances?”

As one answer, we’ll see how WordSeer suggests that when love is a major plot point, the language referring to women changes to become more physical, and the language referring to men becomes more sentimental. You can watch a screencast here, or just read this post.

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The monologue in a crowdsourced world: have digital resources rendered the inaugural lecture obsolete?

The longer I work in DH, and the more I consider what the digital medium makes possible the more the idea of me standing up and telling people what I think and thus by implication what they might think seems frankly bizarre. I increasingly dislike the idea of the single voice speaking with some kind of a spurious authority. One of the great assets of the digital, and what it encourages and enables is multiple voices entering into a dialogue and creating new knowledge out of conversation and discussion. In what follows, therefore, I propose to look carefully at this apparent contradiction.

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As I continue to plan out this spring’s Digitizing Folk Music Historycourse with the ace librarians, archivists, and technologists at Northwestern University’s library, I keep returning to the concept of annotation as a core concern for digital historians.

I suspect that literary scholars have done a lot of thinking about annotation, but have historians? Chauncey Monte-Sano has a good post about teaching annotation on the teachinghistory.org website. Her post is directed toward K-12 education (important!). But I think the art of annotation also has bigger implications for historical teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. So too, it proposes new modes of research, publication, and scholarly communication in the field of history.

Collection Achievements and Profiles System and DPLA Crawler Services

This is a quick strawman proposal for what the Digital Public Library of America should build as the first parts of a generative platform. This document is not in a finished state, but just as the DPLA has been good at opening up its process with the Beta Sprint, I wanted to release this document early even in this unfinished state.

We have the advantage of arriving late to the game.

In the cut-throat world of high-tech venture capitalism, the first company with a good idea often finds itself at the mercy of latecomers. The latecomer’s product might be better-thought-out, advertised to a more appropriate market, or simply prettier, but in each case that improvement comes through hindsight. Trailblazers might get there first, but their going is slowest, and their way the most dangerous.

Digital humanities finds itself teetering on the methodological edge of many existing disciplines, boldly going where quite a few have gone before.