ACH Panel: Humanities Computing and the Rise of New Media Centers: Synergy or Disjunction?

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Allen Renear

    Scholarly Technology Group - Brown University

  2. 2. Espen Aarseth

    Department of Humanistic Informatics - University of Bergen

  3. 3. Nancy Kaplan

    School of Communications Design - University of Baltimore, Maryland

  4. 4. Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

    English Department - University of Kentucky

  5. 5. John Unsworth

    Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) - University of Virginia

  6. 6. John Lavagnino

    Center for Humanities Computing - King's College London

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Humanities Computing and the Rise of New Media Centers:
Synergy or Disjunction?

Scholarly Technology Group Brown

Department of Humanistic Informatics University of Bergen

School of Communications Design University of

Department of English University of

Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities University of Virginia

Center for Humanities Computing King's College


University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA





ACH Panel

Allen Renear, Moderator

Summary of Topic
Empirically, humanities computing is easily recognized as a particular
academic domain and community. We have our professional organizations,
regular conferences, journals, and a number of centers, departments, and
other organizational units. A sense for the substance of the field is also
fairly easy to come by: one can examine the proceedings of ACH/ALLC
conferences, issues of CHum and JALLC, the discussions on HUMANIST, the
contents of many books and anthologies which represent themselves as
presenting work in humanities computing, and the academic curricula and
research programs at humanities computing centers and departments. From such
an exercise one easily gets a rough and ready sense of what we are about,
and considerable reassurance, if any is needed, that indeed, there is
something which we are about.
But computing humanists have never been comfortable with the unexamined life,
and, not surprisingly we have had, like many other academic communities, a
little anxiety about exactly how we fit into the more established ecology of
disciplines, fields, methodologies, and the like. Some of this concern may
be a purely intellectual curiousity, some may be more existential - and
certainly some is motivated by a practical concern about how to shape our
institutions and our professional lives in a way that will allow us to make
our best contributions. (Any discussion of the nature of humanities
computing must of course reflect the seminal work of Willard McCarty - see
the papers listed on ).
The recent explosive growth in use of computers by humanists - by all
academics in fact - has added a twist to these ruminations: today all
humanists are computing humanists, even if all are not professionally
engaged in humanities computing. This reminds us that, in fact, it is not
just using computers that distinguishes us as members of the humanities
computing community, but how we use them, or how we think about this use. In
addition, and probably even more importantly, the growth in computer use
suggests that the theories, methods, and techniques which our community has
been developing over the last 25 years are now vitally relevant to all
humanists - which should move our community center-stage in the academic
Against this background comes a striking and thought-provoking recent
phenomenon: the very rapid development of centers and programs for the study
of New Media or Digital Media. These centers seem to be distinguished by
such things as a focus on digital media and culture in particular rather
than cultural products in general, a relative de-emphasis of traditional
disciplinary methodologies from the humanities, and an incorporation of
production as a fundamental aspect of their work. Now common in both Europe
and the United States, they are sometimes staffed by researchers who are
also part of the ACH/ALLC humanities computing community, but just as often
by academics whose background is completely different and who have had no
involvement with this community.
At first glance new media studies (NMS) and traditional humanities computing
(HC) may not appear to have a lot in common, at least their most
characteristic problems seem exclusive and distinctive: HC's techniques for
concordance development, or carefully thought-out markup of texts, contrast
vividly with, for instance, NMS's multimedia production projects, or
theories about the politics of virtual reality. But a closer look also
suggests considerable similarity, and, in fact, there seem to be at least
some common problems and projects. HC, for instance, has long had a general
analytical interest in digital culture, conducting multi-disciplinary
analyses of multimedia systems, educational technology, the use of
technology in the arts, and the use of technology in publication and
communication - and certainly nothing digital is alien to the HUMANIST.
One particularly distinctive feature of NMS is the way it seems to have taken
to heart Robert Scholes' prescription that the production component should
be restored to humanistic studies. In The Rise and Fall of English Scholes
claims that in English studies, rhetoric as oratory gave way first to the
philosophy of rhetoric and then to philology and, finally Theory - and that
we are all the worse for it. Is this a deep difference between NMS and HC?
Perhaps, but then again members of the HC community are certainly among the
busiest producers in humanities: they are typically hands-on practitioners
creating electronic primary sources of all kinds, as well as multimedia
systems and computer tools.
But perhaps any effort to establish some principle of differentiation is not
only idle, but could obscure the opportunities presented by the
commonalities of these two communities. In this spirit the goal of the panel
is to investigate the relationship of new media studies to established
humanities computing not so much as an exercise in taxonomizing practices
and disciplines, but more to share ideas and see how these two communities
can continue to learn from each other and collaborate.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999

102 works by 157 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (19), ALLC/EADH (26), ACH/ALLC (11)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None