Blog Post

Digital Humanities Manifesto with Todd Presner

Todd Presner launched his new blog today, a worthy addition to any digital humanities RSS feed. Todd focuses on "the development of the geo-spatial web, augmented reality, issues of temporality and GIS, and the technical media that enable visualizations of complex city spaces."

Like a lot of things related to digital humanities, it can take me a few moments to really GET what some of this new media research and work is about, probably because there is often a visual, audio, networked and time-shifting component that text strains to capture. This is part of what makes Todd's work so fascinating, the ability to use different media to explore "layered histories," beyond text. But the learning dimension of Hypercities is equally fascinating, particularly when people actively seek to record digital stories, and embed them in the geo-spatial web.

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Last year, members of Historic Filipinotown participated in this kind of digital storytelling. A group of youth did video interviews of neighborhood elders, participated in historic tours of the newly designated area, and captured a non-linear, visual,and oral history of a dynamic and meaningful community space. It inspired me to think more deeply about questions of place: What does it mean to inhabit a community, and how does that community tell its story over time? Who should tell those stories, and how do we understand history when it is collaborative, as opposed to authoritative. Even though I did not participate in the program, I was drawn into the narrative, and not just through the interactive end product. There seemed to be so many important points of contact in the process of gathering and recording stories, not just for the youth and the professors, but for the graduate students, community members, and especially the elders.

Is this what learning looks like in the 21st century?

Todd describes Hypercities as "an interactive, web-based research and teaching environment for authoring and analyzing the cultural, architectural, and urban history of cities." But it is more than that, too, since Hypercities is redefining and reconceptualizing the humanities with technical media, in often brilliant ways.

In his first blog post, Todd writes about the Digital Humanities Manifesto, which he helped compile, along with Jeffrey Schnapp, Peter Lunenfeld and approximately 100 people who contributed through guided workshops and Commentpress.

The Digital Humanities Manifesto, writes Todd, is intended to "arouse debate about what the Humanities can and should be doing in the 21st century, particularly concerning the digital culture wars...This is a watershed moment in the history of human civilization, in which our relationship to knowledge and information is changing in profound and unpredictable ways. Digital Humanities studies the cultural and social impact of new technologies as well as takes an active role in the design, implementation, interrogation, and subversion of these technologies."

It always helps, during watershed moments in the history of human civilization, to have a good blog to shine a light on things. I'll be following Todd's work and Hypercities, gathering insights and adding them to my own conversation about participatory learning in the 21st century.

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