Blog Post

Undisclosed Location

If you happen to be my Facebook Friend, you know from my status updatesthat I've spent the last year at an Undisclosed Location. Where isthat, exactly? And why?

 

It's not like I'm in the Witness Protection Program (although sometimes that seems appealing). If you happen to be part of the HASTAC/MacArthur team, you are (all too) aware that I am on line just about 24/7. I even make an appearance at the beloved ol Franklin Center every once in a while. *__*

So what is this bit about the Undisclosed Location?

 

Readers of this blog know I'm on my first leave in about a hundred years. Well, more like my first in thirteen years, to be accurate. That's a long time in academic life. For most of the intervening years, I was an administrator, working twelve months a year. For a lot of it, I was a vice provost, working corporate hours (which is to say, rarely not working). I learned an astonishing amount during those years. I wouldn't change those experiences for anything. I was lucky to have been offered such an exciting job, the equivalent of the R and D person in industry with innovation as my mandate. I had a blast. I entered worlds I hadn't thought to enter before. Looking back on it, it's hard to believe that we began creating ISIS (Information Science + Information Studies; http://www.isis.duke.edu/index.html), the predecessor for HASTAC, in 1998. 1998. That's a long time ago. The ISIS Mission statement: "Our mission is to study and create new information technologies and toanalyze their impact on art, culture, science, commerce, society, andthe environment."

 

In those original documents for ISIS we were already envisioning possibilities for interactive, collaborative, collective development of both next generation technologies and for social networks that would contribute to that development (we were thinking Linux back then) and would think, collectively, about the issues of intellectual property, digital divide, access, open source, reliability, credibility, privacy, net neutrality, media history and theory, and so forth. We didn't have the term "participatory learning" yet but we were already making collaboration across disciplines the hallmark of the program and creating a capstone course in which students both developed and critiqued, emphasized creativity and analysis, development and social networking, problem solving, process, collaborative creation in virtual environments, and created something important together, something that would last. The first year, they created an interactive map for the Duke campus that still resides on the main Duke website. That was four years before Wikipedia was a gleam in Jimmy Wales's eye or even before HASTAC began.

 

We were also building the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Programs, a center of centers with a humanities institute as its anchoring core, some shared programing and infrastructure, and the very best interactive technologies on the whole campus at that time. Again, 1998 is when we started all this. We loved sending humanists to committee meetings in the business school, law school, medical school to talk not about IT but about how technology, collaborative networked technologies, could create knowledge communities for research and teaching. The Franklin Center came up with a nice mission statement, and it is still on the Franklin Center's beautiful homepage today: "A consortium of programs dedicated to the idea that knowledge should be shared." (http://www.jhfc.duke.edu/)

 

And then in 2002-03, David and I started HASTAC. And we wrote "A Manifesto for the Humanities in an Age of Technology" for the Chronicle of Higher Education ( Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, "Why We Need the Humanities Now: A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age," The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 2004). http://chronicle.com/weekly/v50/i23b00701.htm; www.uchri.org/images/Manifesto_Humanities.pdf. Or try: http://www.jhfc.duke.edu/resources/manifesto.php) (Or see the Comment section below, where I've cut and pasted it in for your viewing convenience.)

 

We didn't really think it was all that radical to remind people that ALL technology is about social affordances, all technology is about cultural relationships and hierarchies, and therefore technology is not only the province of the humanities but it is mandatory for the humanities to be responsive to, take responsibility for, and be a leader in this digital age.

 

We got dubbed "charlatans" for that, and for creating HASTAC. We were called "charlatans" by the president of one of the major humanistic learned associations. In public. At a national meeting. Charlatans. Nice word, huh? We knew we had to be doing something right if we were ruffling that many eminent feathers. We decided not to respond but to simply stay the course, and, well, it's turned out pretty well. HASTAC is thriving, the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition is thriving. And the HASTAC Scholars will soon be reporting on so much that is happening now that, well, the world is full of charlatans in 2008. Charlatans of the World Unite! Together, we can throw off our chains. Yes, indeed.

 

So what does all this history have to do with an undisclosed location. Heck, I've earned it.

 

It's quiet here. I have five more months secluded in my oasis of thinking, five more months undisclosed, thinking my own thoughts and reading and writing about the relationship between brain biology and learning. I am having so much fun. Sometimes my secret hideaway is one place, sometimes another, but, mostly, I'm taking some time away from it all, whatever "it" is, to stay close, stay inward. Undisclosed. For now, well, I like it here. I like it a whole lot.

 

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Photographs of an undisclosed location by the author. Sugimoto's shrine steps made of photographic lens glass, Naoshima, Japan, and seascapes from Bermuda, Madeira, Liguria, and Point Reyes. Paintings by Lisa Lesniak. 19th Century Photograph, handpainted, of a new graduate from a North Carolina teachers' college for African American women, anonymous.

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2 comments

A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age
By CATHY N. DAVIDSON and DAVID THEO GOLDBERG

In a 2002 interview, the so-called global economic adviser Jeffrey
D. Sachs insisted that interdisciplinarity was the only way to solve
world problems.
The need, he said, was "to focus not on the disciplines but on the problems
and to bring together five main areas in an intensive dialogue: the earth sciences,
ecological science, engineering, public health, and the social sciences with
a heavy dose of economics." What was missing, of course, were the
humanities and the historical, comparative, and critical analyses the humanities
provide.

Sachs is not alone in his disregard. Few observers of higher education would
deny that support for the humanities is declining in an environment in which
universities are increasingly ordered according to the material interests,
conditions, and designs of the sciences, technology, and the professions. We
contend, however, that if ever there were a time when society was in need of
humanistic modes of inquiry, it is today. More than ever, we require the deep
historical perspective and specialized knowledge of other cultures, regions,
religions, and traditions provided by the humanities. And precisely because
of the rapid developments in science and technology, we must think carefully
about the nature of the human, the ethics of scientific investigation, and
the global effects of technological change. Those questions -- the province
of the humanities -- are vital and need to be recognized as such by universities,
by society at large, and, we admonish, by humanists themselves.

To this end, we pose three fundamental questions: Is there a place for the
humanities in the contemporary university? If so, what place? And what kind
of humanities?

As scholars with experience as directors of two interdisciplinary humanities
institutes -- one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, one at a public-university
system and one at a private university -- we offer the following manifesto
for the humanities. We note that we define the humanities as our institutes
have, in a way resonant with Sachs's prescription: as problem- or issue-based
rather than disciplinary, and collaborative rather than individualistic in
their model for research and thinking.

Further, our manifesto is both normative and descriptive. It is normative
in the sense that we see it as a prescription for the kind of humanities best
suited to the contemporary university and its global arrangements. It is descriptive
in that we believe that the humanities have already gone through some of the
intellectual transformations we describe, but that universities and humanists
themselves have not yet fully appreciated the magnitude or the implications
of the change.

Although humanists, for example, often engage in multiauthor, multidisciplinary
projects (such as collaborative histories, anthologies, and encyclopedias)
with the potential to change fields, universities and their faculties have
been slow to conceive of new institutional structures and reward systems (tenure,
promotion, etc.) for those who favor interdisciplinary or collaborative work.
We believe that a new configuration in the humanities must be championed to
ensure their centrality to all intellectual enterprises in the university and,
more generally, to understanding the human condition and thereby improving
it; and that those intellectual changes must be supported by new institutional
structures and values.

Over the last two decades, the humanities have been reconfigured both
across departmental divides and within those entities called "traditional humanities
departments." The work being done in those departments -- the syllabi
in undergraduate courses, the reading lists doctoral students prepare, the
books their professors write -- are already marked by a disciplinary heterogeneity
that would have been almost unrecognizable as pertinent to any specific disciplinary
thinking a generation ago. Humanities departments have been transformed in
many different directions, with many different emphases, but all show the marks
of such crosscutting interdisciplinary areas as ethnic studies, gender studies,
cultural studies, and new kinds of area studies or global studies; critical
theory has broadened the base of reading into philosophy, sociology, ethnography,
anthropology, and political and social theory. Concomitantly, those areas of
social science often called "narrative" or "interpretive" ("soft
science," in a phrase we deplore) have adopted literary theory and methods
of narrative and subjective, memoiristic writing. Performance theory has (at
long last) broken down the barrier between humanistic writing about the arts
and actual artistic production (creative writing, dance, music, visual arts,
performance art, multimedia art). Science studies, critical legal theory, and
science-and-information studies are all within the province of humanistic study.
Service-learning models have further extended the reach of the humanities and
the arts into the larger community, through speaker series, book clubs, outreach
programs, as well as "in reach" programs where community leaders
educate academics about their ideas and practices.

We are not proposing such changes. Look around! While some were busy fighting
the culture wars, a different battle across disciplinary lines was being fought
-- and it was won. The humanities in 2004 are a many-splendored thing.

Take, for example, the remarkable excitement in areas such as classics.
The melding of traditional linguistic and historical areas (such as
epigraphy or
papyrology) with new techniques of 3-D digital imaging and visualization,
coupled with an expansive political geography that acknowledges that
the ancient world
extended across Asia and Africa as well as over what is now known as Europe,
has changed the map of antiquity. "Postcolonial classics" may
seem like an oxymoron, but some of the most exciting work in classical
studies has
been carried out by archaeologists who have read contemporary theories
about the economic, political, and psychic impact of colonization and of
war or revolution
against a former colonizer. Critical race theory and gender studies have
added new contours to our understanding of the past as well. Humanists
delving into
the contentious issue of paying reparations to descendants of African-American
slaves, for example, have been talking to classicists to sketch out a deep
and complex portrait of slavery and the impact of racism in societies that
stretch from centuries past to the United States today. Each field is richer
and deeper because of the others.

The important point here (and it can be extended to medieval and Renaissance
studies, too) is that the influence is multidirectional. We are not talking
about making older fields "relevant" (the rallying cry of humanists
in the late 1960s). We are saying that new interdisciplinary paradigms help
us uncover whole new areas and objects of study that, in turn, complicate the
paradigms. Rather than denounce some of this work as "present-ist," humanists
need to embrace the complications of interdisciplinarity. Those outside
the humanities should draw on the humanities as they do the same.

In some core sense, however, humanists do not receive credit for the
contributions they make in the same way that, for example, scientists
receive credit for
discovering a way to prevent or treat a formerly incurable disease or social
scientists are quoted as authorities on current events. While a relatively
minor scientific discovery (sometimes even one based on a study not yet
replicated) can become a headline in the media at large as well as
on our university Web
sites, the form of knowledge offered by humanists is less frequently viewed
in terms of "discovery." Insight, analysis, logic, speculation, historical
knowledge, linguistic mastery, geographical precision, aesthetic production,
or complex religious understanding are somehow not "new" -- even
when they are.

Yet when university administrators make the case for the importance of higher
education to legislators or potential donors, they often summon up a humanities-based
concept of general education -- even when they do not acknowledge it as such.
They typically argue that a four-year degree, with a liberal-arts foundation,
provides a better launching pad to responsible citizenship in an uncertain
world than, for example, specialized acquisition of skills in a trade school.

We need to bring to the surface for our administrators, and our university
public-relations officers, how much the distinctive underpinning of the
modern research university (as well as of the liberal-arts college)
is the humanities.
If all we want is expertise, industry is a far better place to learn science
and technology than a university. But, in fact, industry, more than anyplace
else, wants not only highly trained scientists; it wants scientists who
can also understand applications, intellectual property, issues of
equity, human
awareness, perspective, and other forms of critical analysis and logical
thinking that are specifically the contribution of humanistic inquiry.
The university
that loses its foundation in the humanities loses, in effect, its most
important asset in making the argument that "education" and not "vocational
training" is worth the support of taxpayers, foundations, and private
donors.

The humanities engage three broad sets of questions: those of meaning, value,
and significance. Meaning concerns interpretation of data, evidence, and texts.
Value ranges over the entire field of cultural, aesthetic, social, and scientific
investments. Significance, implicating both the former two, raises questions
of representation, in the sense of accounting for (explanation) and of capturing,
in the sense both of offering a faithful rendition (description) and of making
broad claims (generalization).

This way of thinking links the humanities, old and new, engaging the best
of both, yoking traditional humanities interests -- interpretation and questions
of value (ethics, aesthetics) -- to newer ones such as a critical and reflexive
focus on representation, on the latter's conditions of expression, signification,
and power. It prompts the following characterizations of the humanities:

* History matters. The humanities at once reflect and depend upon historical
scholarship. This point is deeply tied to the antifoundationalist disposition
in today's humanities, with its skepticism of grand universals. The focus must
be on the specific context. That is true as much in the histories of the formation
of knowledge, of disciplines and their limits, as it is in particular subject
matters -- the objects of analysis -- with which we now concern ourselves.
We cannot fully comprehend any object of analysis, like the AIDS catastrophe
in Africa, without understanding the historical conditions of its emergence,
modes of being, and representation.

* Relationality reveals. The relational view -- socially, conceptually,
historically -- that the humanities bring to the table provides insights
and perspectives
not otherwise available. For example, a catchphrase like "American women
have more freedom than any other women in the world" cries out for
a greater understanding of different conceptions of being a woman. Why
are rape rates
in some countries significantly lower than in the United States? Why do
numerous countries where women seem to have few rights still have female
leaders? The
point is not to dismiss the idea that American women enjoy freedom, but
to comprehend what it means. To do that requires an understanding of particulars
-- and of global connections and comparisons.

* Conscience and critical memory trouble. The humanities serve as the conscience
and memory of intellectual and social life, and of the academy itself. Did
the universities in Germany heroically oppose the rise of fascism, weakly collaborate,
or some of both? When have scientists acted, and not acted, in the best interests
of society? We learn the lessons of history, but we do not always enjoy them.
The humanities both reflect the world and its representations, and serve to
reflect critically upon them. What a burden to bear! No wonder we're not always
welcome at the dinner table in this day and age. No longer are we only (if
we ever were) the entertainers of the court.

* Creativity counts. The humanities and the arts are vital to one another,
coterminous and codependent. They support, shape, and inspire each other. After
all, both are concerned with representation, with signification and interpretation,
with value and evaluation, as well as with the conditions that make those things
possible. Both are based on assumptions that there are multiple forms of intelligence.
The relationship of the humanities to the arts, however, cannot be simply subject
and object (the aesthetic production as an object of study by humanists). Artists
have traditions of expression, voice, and performativity from which those of
us in the humanities have much to learn. The very highest standard of collaboration,
for example, is what dance troupes, actors, and musicians do as a matter of
course: combine an array of individual talents into a whole. Although artists
and humanists often compete for the same restricted funds, by insisting on
the interconnections among our endeavors -- and by acknowledging that those
trained in expressive cultural forms may be better communicators of certain
messages than humanists -- we can shape intellectual projects that widen the
scope, audience, and importance of our intertwined endeavors.

* Social policy contains social assumptions and values. The humanities, social
in character even if all too readily hermetic in practice, can help delineate
the assumptions and values in social arrangements. Global health policy, for
instance, must take into account the social hierarchies, cultural practices,
belief systems, histories and relations among subgroups (ethnic, religious,
racial, sexual, etc.) to be effective. Without deep knowledge of culture, language,
and history, public policy is doomed to fail. No social policy ought to be
conceived, let alone enacted, without humanities infusion.

* Communication clarifies. If we in the humanities are to insist upon the
privilege of informing critical policy making, we must promote dialogue in
clear and concise ways. We bring -- or surely can bring -- to the table interpretive
and critical skills: an ability to analyze formal structures; to reveal hermeneutic
content; to highlight critical values. But, in renewing the public contributions
of the humanities, we need to find the language to generalize from our specialized
training without compromising the critical and interpretative values for which
we stand.

* Diversity is important. The humanities have been the principal (and for
the most part the principled) site of diversity and diversification in the
academy, both demographically and intellectually. Engineering, the sciences,
the social sciences, and, to a lesser extent, the business schools now may
be playing catch-up, recruiting increasingly diverse student and faculty populations;
but the humanities are still way ahead in facing up to the challenge of understanding
diversity in complex and paradigm-changing ways (just consider the contributions
of ethnic studies, gender and sexuality studies, and other identity-based programs).

* Linguistic diversity is essential to real heterogeneity. More than other
areas, the humanities have remained committed to promoting the speaking and
reading of languages other than English. Indeed, the language requirement,
where it remains for the humanities, is part of the reason we have lost students
to the social sciences, where they are happy to speak in a single tongue --
and where students in area studies are happily sent to the humanities to learn
the foreign language of an area of specialization. But the elevation of English
as the global lingua franca of commerce has placed enormous pressure on the
continuing viability of language programs.

We conclude with three points, two institutional and one social. The first
concerns the humanities and new technologies. The humanities have a central
place in exploring the possibilities, the reach and implications, of digital
technologies and cultures: how technology shapes what we think about the human
and the humane. But there are myriad questions. What do we in the humanities
want from those technologies? What do we want them to contribute to our collective
needs and interests, scholarship and pedagogical practices, so that we are
not merely passive consumers or after-the-fact commentators? How can we count
(for tenure or promotion) work that scholars do in a new digital environment
and that will quickly outstrip the work they publish on paper? How do we best
employ new technologies (which our students often find less intrusive than
we seem to) for pedagogical purposes? Most important, how can humanistic training
(taxonomical, philosophical, indexical) be used to solve one of the biggest
problems of the information age: How do we make sense of too much information?
Humanistic thinking is ideally suited to creating next-generation, multimedia
search engines that also order, sort, and minimize information flow. Doing
so is not a matter of hardware or software but of collective thinking and analysis.

The second institutional point is that new humanities require new structures.
As we think through the revolution in electronic communication, we need to
create new models for researchers to work across disciplinary boundaries, making
use of databases and resources that no one scholar, or department, can maintain.
That requires planning at an institutional level. We need, too, to stop talking
around the issue of the single-author monograph as the benchmark for excellence,
and to confront what new kinds of collaboration mean for tenure review, accreditation,
and more.

That brings us to our third point. We live in challenging times, and if we
don't mind our manor (not to mention our manners), we will find our intellectual
and pedagogical environments drastically changed without our more or less consciously
shaping them. We have much to offer, and we need to be assertive in defining
our contribution, labeling it, and getting our message heard.

The humanities provide the social and cultural contexts of the creation and
application of knowledge, the critical reflections upon how knowledge is created
and what its effects and implications are. The humanities promote a broad range
of social and cultural literacies. They offer critical civic competencies,
ways of comprehending cultural and technological values, and the worlds such
values conjure; in short, ways of world making. A world without the humanities
would be one in which science and technology knew no point of social reference,
had lost their cultural compass and moral scope. It would be a world narrowly
limited and limitlessly narrow.

It is true that being "above the radar screen" has a certain
social risk but far less of a risk than being peripheralized, marginalized,
underfinanced,
and out of the collective decision making at our universities or in the
society beyond. The university remains one of the only places in our
public sphere
for informed, sustained, critical analysis. The humanities represent that
practice and that form. We must face the challenge and assume the social
responsibility
of translating our specialized knowledge in ways that might inform the
public, contribute to policy discussions, and, in the process, show
students, faculty
members, university administrators, and state legislators the importance
of the humanities.

Cathy N. Davidson is Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies
and Professor of English at Duke University. David Theo Goldberg
is Director of the University
of California Humanities Research Institute and Professor of African
American Studies and of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University
of California
at Irvine.

________________________________________
http://www.chronicle.com
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 50, Issue 23, Page B7

Illustrations by Matt Manley
Represented by Kolea Baker:
(206) 784-1136
Used by Permission

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Your (partial) retreat sounds wonderful. I've just moved to rural Vermont, which allows for sustained reading, but requires the occassional late, rainy night drive to the public library parking lot to find a wireless signal. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of my cantenna and enjoying your blog.

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