Michael Wojcik on Sat, 24 Jan 2009 18:22:49 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Digital Humanities Manifesto

KMV wrote:

> Michael, I have my own thoughts about it, but could you say more about
> what or which you mean by "bogus folk histories"?
> I am working on a history myself and have not been very impressed with
> the largely anecdotal and narrow accounts that I see then being
> universalized, and the term new media has all kinds of problems. 
> --Florian can sum those up much better than I though. ;-)

Pretty much that. I've heard a number of people recently present
"historical" accounts in this area that are more or less just anecdote
or personal impression. Rhetoric, which it the academic field I'm
currently mostly in, tends to fetishize history (the fascination with
"Classical" rhetoric, lots of publication on the history of rhetoric,
etc), but not all that many rhetoricians actually do real historical
research. A good number do, of course, and more are careful to avoid
making historical claims, but there's a lot of the "here's how
hypertext happened" sort of argument being made.

Sometimes these are interesting narratives, but they're often
presented as incontestable fact, or at least as general hypotheses
well-grounded in the available evidence.

I don't want to go into specifics, particularly since I don't have
texts at hand to cite (I thinking primarily of conference
presentations at the moment). It's just a general trend that I've
observed and discussed with a handful of folks - mostly historians.

> I will say though that I think the digital distinction has some
> historical importance as well because of the way it changes reproduction
> and distribution, and because of the way it makes audio, video, text,
> and sill images in a sense equivalent, which has allowed new
> artistic/musical/literary  practices to develop.

OK. I'd have to think about that, but it seems like those are a couple
of places where the digital/analog distinction still carries some
weight. Another might be questions of uniqueness and the metaphysics
of aesthetics: it'd be interesting to consider what Matt Skala's
concept of "bit color" does to Walter Benjamin's concept of "aura",
for example.

> I'd like to know what you and others think would make a better history,
> or what has been left out?

I'm really not sure, mostly because I know I'm not a historian, and I
haven't really thought about what might go into such a history. That's
what bothers me - if I can think of counterexamples and omissions when
I hear one of these narratives, what would some serious digging turn up?

Michael Wojcik
Micro Focus
Rhetoric & Writing, Michigan State University

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