Blog Post

"Mobile Humanities"

At the end of yesterday's HASTAC 08 conference,
TechnoTravels/TeleMobility: HASTAC in Motion, one of HASTAC's founding leaders as well as one of the conference
organizers, David Theo Goldberg, made an inspiring parting set of remarks. During those remarks, he coined a new term: "Mobile
Humanities." This term adds a new dimension to the traditional "digital
humanities" by emphasizing not only the digitizing of the enormous
range of cultural documents across time and place, but also HASTAC's
goal to ensure that humanistic thinking is crucial to how we think
about the information age, new technologies, the academy, disciplines,
and learning, not only in formal education but lifelong. Mobile
Humanities isn't just about technology but about all of the social
arrangements changing as a result of mobile technologies, past and
present. And, in the end, Mobile Humanities are about inspiring humanists to
think about their charge as educators, to take seriously the challenges
their students face and the future that those students will help to


In an online follow-up conversation after the conference, David wrote that what we need, now, is a "mobile humanities: a humanities that is mobile, and a disposition to mobilizing the humanities"--to actively engage humanists and ensure that humanists are actively engaged.

Anne Balsamo, another of the conference organizers, joined in on this post-conference online conversation, underscoring that the point of this year's HASTAC 08 conference theme was to be "bold and brave in crossing new territories, in finding the guides and the travelling companions who want to effect change as we move from one moment to another, in this, one of the great eras of social and technological and educational change." She emphasized that Mobile Humanities "isn't about being nowhere (mobility as a romanticized notion of nomadism or homelessness), but rather about being responsible and present some where that is always in dynamic motion (in time, in spaces that are not fixed in the ways we think, in spaces that are themselves the crossroads of flows of energy/information)."

She noted that Jorge Larrain has a theory of ideology that suggests that the only way out of "ideology" is to keep moving. [Jorge, Larrain. The concept of Ideology (1979)]

Yesterday, in pondering all the things I had learned, thought, discussed, seen, heard, and experienced in the three rich days of HASTAC 2008 (including at the astonishing intellectual treasure-trove at UCLA, under the direction of Todd Pressner, as well as all I learned on the revelatory bus tour from Irvine to LA guided in a three-hour historical monologue by Norman Klein), I repeated John Seely Brown's term "awe." Awe is a Middle English word that connotes not only wonder but, beyond that, also a sense of that which is bigger than oneself, more powerful, and sometimes even frightening. The Information Age is clearly that for many people. Vast computational powers and tools mean that we know more about the mind, brain, body, as well as the solar system, ecology, and even ancient and previously unknown histories than we ever were able to know before. It is an age of tremendous transition on every level where the fundamental questions about what it means to be human and what it means to create and be part of a culture and what it means to have and understand a history are all being tweaked and twisted and taunted by new inventions, new understandings of creativity, new definitions of ownership and authorship and intellectual property, new forms of communication and learning and interaction. As with all great eras in the history of science, this is a great era in the history of the arts and the humanities precisely because of these dislocations. How much of humanists, as educators, done to address these profound dislocations? Some embrace them. Some experience dread. Both of those emotions are encompassed by that word "awe."


David's inspiring words were the perfect way to end HASTAC 2008. It was a conference full of debate, full of critique, full of invention, and rich with creativity. The air was full of the excitement. I've never heard so many engaged and lively conversations, and across so many disciplines and generations, too. It was not boosterism but challenging, informed insight. Critique and creativity. That, of course, is the HASTAC motto: that you cannot create the next generation of technology nor the next generation of learning without careful and considered critique. Those things aren't contradictory; rather, they contribute to one another. That's what Mobile Humanities aspire to as well.


Mobile Humanities need to comprehend the paradigm shifts of our era and what those transitions and transformations mean, relative to past shifts, relevant to the present transitional cultural moment, and constructive and inspiring to the future.


[The photographs are of Pogo-Phonic, a sound installation by media artist Gil Kuno featuring The Vurtego Pogo Team. The pogo stick triggers sound samples so that the pogo-ers become "the complicit composers in an audio composition." It was fun, intriguing, and fascinating to think about different ways that one could embody sound, sport, synchrony, and kinetics.]





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