course overview

Theory and Practice of ‘Doing’ // From Digital Humanities to Posthumanities
English 5529 // Mondays 6:00pm to 8:30pm // Hellems 259
Professor Lori Emerson // Office Hours Mondays and Wednesdays 3:00 to 4:30pm at the Media Archaeology Lab

Our course begins with a classic text, C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures from 1959, to make clear the longstanding, perceived gulf between the sciences and the humanities and the resulting anxiety the humanities have had about how to advocate for their worth. Jump ahead fifty years and suddenly we’re in the midst of he digital humanities as well as various other media studies practices that have made their home in the humanities. Now, the anxieties are perhaps more about the displacement of traditional humanities work, not by the sciences but by a new humanities that’s inflected by scientific practice and, at times, a “spirit” of entrepreneurialism that’s particularly associated with the tech/startup world. As such, we then move from Snow’s text to an overview of the state of the profession in the 21st century, focusing specifically on the ramifications of doing collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based, hands-on work that engages with or relies on digital media in the humanities. This first part of the course then gives way to the second part, in which we explore more deeply a series of interconnected questions. What does it mean when humanists start placing “doing” at the center of their research agendas? What does it mean to do hands-on work in a digital humanities lab versus a media archaeology lab or a makerspace or a hackerspace? Are these scholars or practitioners appropriating the trappings of scientific labs for the sake of cultural capital or are they in a unique position to critique not only the way labs are often hierarchical, closed structures built around single individuals but also the way the data generated by these labs is too often seen as neutral or necessarily, timelessly true? Can 21st century hands-on work actually work not only to finally close the divide betwee “the two cultures”, science and humanities, but can it also work to displace the longstanding anthropocentrism at the heart of the humanities?

I hope that as we answer these questions, we build a sustained argument over the span of fifteen weeks for the place and for the importance of “doing” as a central part of the 21st century posthumanities or posthuman humanities.

Required Texts
Please purchase the following books from Innisfree Bookstore:

  • Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Polity Press, 2013)
  • Andrew Pickering, The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, & Science (Chicago UP, 1995)

You may wish to purchase these additional books on your own:

  • Stewart Brand, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. (1987)
  • Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979)
  • C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures (1959)

Course Requirements and Policies
First, I expect you to contribute to class regularly. In fact, class will be fantastic if you participate regularly! But also keep in mind that participation begins with attendance; both absences and tardiness will affect this portion of your grade. Your participation grade will also reflect the quality and thoughtfulness of your contribution in class, respect shown to class members, and evidence of completion of reading assignments.

Second, you’re required to a) post a minimum 250-300 word response to the week’s reading on our class blog by Sunday 5pm; b) five out of the ten blog posts should put a specific instance of “doing” in the humanities (whether a DH/media studies project, a center, or a lab; you can find an in-progress list of centers, labs, and hackerspaces here) in conversation with the assigned reading for that week; and c) please make sure you comment on at least one other person’s blog post. You’re welcome to use your blog posts as the basis for your presentation.

Third, you will also give a presentation in which you are responsible for presenting your thoughts on the assigned reading and leading discussion during the first half of class.

Fourth, as a way of introducing you to the broader intellectual community of academics, artists, and administrators who are invested in hands-on work, you will also interview someone who has or still does play a major part in running a lab, a digital humanities center/initiative, a hackerspace, or a makerspace. This person could be a director or they could be an affiliated scholar or artist. The key is to ask these individuals questions that allow them to inform readers about the nature of their work and, especially, about the philosophy underlying their work – the ways in which their work builds on and intervenes in long-standing practices or assumptions. You’ll need to choose someone to interview and confirm with the individual that they’re willing to be interviewed by Monday September 28th. You will then post your interview on our class blog no later than Monday November 9th. Keep in mind: interviews do not have to be long but they should be compelling and interesting!

Fifth, since MA/PhD and MFA students may have different goals, you’ll have the choice of writing either a final research paper that’s the basis for an article OR writing a conference paper OR creating a DH project or a piece of practice-based research/research-creation. Given the argument of the course – that “doing” is an ideal mode of thinking – I strongly encourage you to do a project; however, I recognize you might want to produce a piece of traditional scholarship instead because of specific career goals you have in mind.

Your final grade will be calculated as follows:

  • weekly blog posts: 25%
  • presentation: 20%
  • interview: 20%
  • final paper (12-20 pages, either a conference paper or the basis for article) OR final project: 25%

Please also note: I do not accept late work. If your final research paper or final project is not submitted by the due date you will automatically receive an F for that assignment.

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