digital rhetoric

Manifest Technologies, Humanists and the "if only"

Cathy Davidson has an interesting post on HASTAC in which she begins to lay out "A Manifesto for Technology in the Age of the Humanities (if only Humanisits will claim our Age)." Yes, it’s a big IF. But here she lays out something I think is important:

First, the goal of the humanities is to think through what it means to
be human. That is a "universal" question with many specific local and
ontological meanings and applications that need to be thought through
in all ways, from the philosophical, aesthetic, spiritual, linguistic,
political, and cultural to the neuroscientific, biological,demographic,
and environmental. THAT is Big Picture Humanities.

And then later in her post,

Our HASTAC mission is to understand what it means to be human in the
present moment and to work collaboratively with others who share this
goal to come up with the most complex and interesting and engaged
answers (hardly stable or final ones) that help make our students more
informed and astute students of a complex world.

Where does
technology fit in? Not to sound like a broken record, but it is the
HASTAC credo to be prosumers, consumers and producers. Customizers (all
hail, Web 2.0).   To develop and apply new technologies to education,
life and society, while also thinking critically, culturally, and
historically about the meaning of new technologies in learning, life,
and society.

Looking at this big picture, obviously what it means to be human is changing in significant ways. We are accountable for our actions on a global scale in a way we have never realized before. That demands a shift in ethos that is difficult to wrap one’s mind about. We also have access to media through a global network and significant computational power, unthinkable even a generation ago, sitting here right under the keys on my laptop. It’s not that all humanists should be "technology experts," but if we recognize books as technologies then perhaps we are. Humanists have always been prosumers when it came to books: consumers and producers, customizers.

I would say that there is more uncertainty about what it means to be human than there was a quarter century ago, and as such, this should be an "Age of the Humanities." Davidson notes that our job is "to come up with the most complex and interesting and engaged
answers (hardly stable or final ones)." The question, for me, is can we do that? Are we willing to give up the largely stable answers to the question of what it means to be human that define the disciplinary paradigms of the humanities?

Davidson is off to speak to the NEH about this. I might ask the NEH the same question. I wouldn’t even bother looking to the NEH to support the kind of work I do with technology. I don’t think they could manage to see what I am doing as being "humanistic." In my view, the Humanities can either die with the outmoded notion of humanity from which it emerged or it can be reborn with renewed currency by opening itself to the mutations which humanity is undergoing.

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