Team Murder No Brain No Headache.

18Oct/04Off

The Time Machine Of Boredom And Fear

If I haven't made this adundantly clearly in the past, despite my obsessive fixation on techofetishism and flagrant disregard for formatting, punctuation, and grammatical standards, I'm an English major. The internet, as the WWW is commonly referred to by Humanities types, and its direction of text away from the dead tree only distribution channel always elicits a mixed bag of reactions from fellow students and professors. I've recently heard one professor bemoaning the decline of academic publishing due to that pesky intarweb making texts accessible, capable of rapid revision and editing after review by peers and otherwise, and a whole slew of other generalizations about the influence of hypertext on the distribution of the written word. I guess that's where things intersect for me: the preoccupation with channels of distribution, specifically of information packaged as a marketable commodity, and how that might affect the livelihood or prestige of having that information (or equally often, research) transformed into commodity is often shared between the technologist and the literati. In other, probably more clear, words, it's another case of open/free and closed/proprietary information and by nature is as vehemently arguable as any topic on the planet. Depending on the day or the level of CRT burnout my eyes are currently experiencing, I might fall on either side of the argument but I love it when I find folks in the Humanities actively dealing with these issues in a constructive way.

Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities is a fabulous example of how this can play out. There are a collection of writings about teaching, researching, and studying Dickenson and Whitman using the Classroom Electric (forgive the term since it seems like this project, at least the MITHologies section, is frozen at 2001) called MITHologies that is really worth perusing despite their relative old age and limited scope of subject matter. The opinions in the essays are largely more mature in their lack of hysteria and a couple of them are conceptually kickass. I especially liked Jay Grossman's article about teaching Whitman's Civil War by the wide use of otherwise difficult to obtain or sanely navigate resources (the Library of Congress site is the example he uses) compiled into something useful and more linear for the sake of student sanity. He also mentions that many more forks of potential interest can be explored by allowing students to voluntarily explore divergences without simply relying on search terms shots in the dark or bibliographic information slapped into one of those damned 'Further Reading' lists.

Yeah, this is totally 1996 of me but my interest in the gee whiz technologies is in perpetual recession and I'm more actively interested (at least in the sense of things that I'd actually like to invest horrible hand dirtying labor into) in how to use all the crap that we already have. That's why I'm making this a 'Don't Forget' post -- because I'm going to try to find more actual instances of this sort of compromise between academia and the howling void that sometimes is the internet. So indulge my 1996-ness and help me out if you know of any projects (other than the blatantly obvious ones that everyone knows about) that fit this description or any that seem to argue either of the extremes.

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