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UPDATE: Digital Humanism and English Studies (MLA 2011 Special Session; deadline: 3/20/2010)
full name / name of organization:
john pedro schwartz
MLA 2011 Special Session (deadline: 3/20/2010)
Digital Humanism and English Studies
Humanism is traditionally defined as a moral philosophy that attaches primary importance to humans, to their dignity, concerns, and capabilities. What happens when we include the digital in this definition? Is “digital humanism” an oxymoron? Or is there room for reconceiving the relationship between digital computing and knowledge production—especially in, but not limited to, the discipline of English studies—in a way that harnesses human potential in the pursuit of humanistic ends? The print revolution played an essential role in the rise of Renaissance humanism. Can the spread of digital computers stimulate a digital humanism?
N. Katherine Hayles (1999) has argued that in this age of DNA, computers, and artificial intelligence, information has lost its body and the liberal humanist subject has given way to the “posthuman.” Charles Traub and Jonathan Lipkin (2003) respond to this situation by calling for the emergence of a “creative interlocutor” capable of using digital computers to reinvent historical ways of interacting, thinking, and creating that reinforce what makes us human. Franco Moretti (2005) argues that computation allows humanists to answer questions that, due to their physical limitations as readers, could only be asked before.
These viewpoints raise the question of whether we are reinventing the human in the computer’s image or the computer in our own. Disciplinarily speaking, has the move by English studies toward computing moved it closer to or further from humanism?
In addition to the questions posed above, you may want to consider:
• What is digital humanism? What is a digital humanist?
• What is the relationship between digital humanism and the digital humanities?
• How might digital humanism allow us to reconceive the humanities, in particular the English studies discipline (both literary studies and composition studies)?
• How might digital humanism allow us to reconceive the computer sciences?
• How does the emergence of the posthuman affect our notion of humanism?
• What is the relationship between digital humanism and the various historical humanisms?
• How does the focus on the human element in product design contribute to a conception of digital humanism?
• How does the view of digital computing as a socially embedded activity contribute to a conception of digital humanism?
• How does the view of computing as a fundamentally rhetorical activity contribute to a conception of digital humanism?
• What is the relationship between digital computing and the pursuit of democracy and human rights?
• How has Matthew Arnold’s concept of culture as “the best that has been thought and said” been affected by the digital computing revolution? Is there still room in digital humanism for the value of human excellence?
The MLA Convention will be held between January 6-9, in 2011, in Los Angeles, CA.