Monday, September 19, 2005

Call me bemused....

Last week, I suggested to the English Graduate Organization, that we put together a formal request asking our department to include more computer/digital technology in our program. I suggested this address four related issues:
  1. To request an increase in the use of computer technology and computer-assisted instruction in graduate courses so that we can experience these technologies from a student perspective (which I believe to be an important component of learning how to teach with computer technology).

  2. To request an increase in the level of training in computer-assisted pedagogy, both in terms of workshops and formal courses. This may include asking/suggesting that we seek to create a culture of knowledge within the department and that graduate students assigned to monitor our computer-assisted instruction classrooms have some knowledge computer-assisted pedagogy or be actively interested in developing such knowledge.

  3. To request that we be exposed to the theories, methods, and practices of humanities-based computing and digital technologies as it pertains to English Studies.

  4. To request a more formal certification in computer-assisted pedagogy along the lines of Purdue's Instructor Goals for Integrating Technology, available as .pdf from

I was thinking about this issue over the summer when someone on the Digital Medievalist listserv asked if Medieval Studies graduate programs should require a humanities computing course and what such a course should cover. The poster was leaning towards a course that was more conceptual than a course that focused on using specific software to do specific activities. Since this issue was on my mind, I responded:
As a graduate student who is both a medievalist and a technorhetorican (I'm even on the CCCC Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication), I would say yes, all humanities graduate students need an introduction to humanities computing, and I've long been thinking that the conceptual approach you suggest is a good way to start.

As we all know, digital tools are both changing the way we do work in the humanities and they are creating new methods, theories, practices, and opportunities. I'd argue, actually I have been increasingly arguing both locally and in other forums, that to ignore the issue of humanities computing and the increasing role of digital technologies and digital culture in graduate education is quickly shifting from being an issue of not being on the cutting edge to being an issue of negligence on the part of that program. In other words, it's rapidly becoming not an issue of humanities computing on the one hand and the disciplinary subject on the other, but humanities computing becoming one of the various methods and practices of engaging the disciplinary subject.

But I'd go farther too (this is the technorhetorician and the Ongian in me). It shouldn't just be about digitizing material, but also the production and consumption of native digital texts, and understanding of digital culture, digital noetics and practices, and the logic of new media. In other words, not just how to digitize primary sources, but how digital technologies is and can change the way we do scholarship and the way we interact with both knowledge and the world.

For instance, how can the logic of new media -- the cut-up, the mix and remix, juxtaposition, association and linkage, to name a few -- change the ways we can make arguments, explore our subjects, and share and preserve information? [Channeling a bit of Jeff Rice here.] In what ways might the mediated experience of a virtual recreation of an archeological dig change the way archeology is done (for one, would the added financial and physical constraints of creating a real-time virtual reality model of the dig outweigh or be outweighed by the possibility of future archeologists (or the original archeologists) reexploring a dig in much the same way architects create virtual reality models to "walk" through their designs? Or how does our understandings of digital culture help us rethink our understanding of past cultural processes as it has already done for orality and literacy studies and book history? Or, for that matter, how can our understanding of earlier cultural processes help us understand digital ones (see, for instance, John Miles Foley's Pathways Project, or the work being done in textual and bibliographic studies).

We discussed the issue a bit (someone asked why this was needed because we did get some training in computer-assisted instruction), so I asked, to make my point, if anyone at the meeting could name specific ways in which computer/digital technologies were being applied to the study of their field or to literature in general. Those who were objecting could not, even though for a few of them their own dissertation directors are engaged in humanities based computing.

It was silly of me to think that by pointing out that a number of literature faculty in our department are engaging in digital scholarship and computer-assisted pedagogy in their undergraduate literature courses, a fact most graduate students in the department aren't aware of, would be a pretty clear sign that the methods, theories, and practices of humanities based computing and digital English Studies aren't making it into our graduate education.

I learned today that my proposal is actually part of a larger move to force a rhetoric and composition agenda upon the program. Call be bemused indeed. Call me bemused that I specifically discuss the Sidney Bibliography database and in-progress Walter J. Ong database and the electronic edition of Modern Chivalry as some of the digital projects/scholarship being undertaken by our literature faculty and some how this issue gets framed as a movement by the handful of rhet/comp graduate students trying to storm the ramparts (if you're worried that we're trying to take over, maybe you should stop voting us into 3/4 of the English Graduate Organization officer positions -- you've been voting us into these positions for years).

Call me bemused that here at Saint Louis University in the department which Walter J. Ong called home, in the department where Fr. Ong studied under Marshall McLuhan, there is so little understanding and so little discussion of how digital technologies are shaping English Studies.

And call me bemused in that while a good number of rhet/comp people can't get beyond seeing me as a Medievalist who dabbles in rhet/comp as a hobby, people in my own department can't get beyond the fact I do rhet/comp and computers and writing no matter how much literary studies I do. When I die, if my obituary can read "He was a RhetoricianMedievalistCompositionist" and no one objects, if no one says "But...but...he wasn't a rhetorician/compositionist" or "But...but...he wasn't a real medievalist," I can die in peace.

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At 3:03 PM, Anonymous jeff said...

Look at it this way: it's grad school. You tried, but not everyone is on board. Then you get to a job....and still not everyone's on board.

At 6:25 PM, Blogger John said...

That sounds about right. :)


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