[iDC] The Future of the Humanities

Katie Cavanagh katie.cavanagh at flinders.edu.au
Sun Jul 10 08:55:16 UTC 2011

Greetings All,

I am a Humanities Lecturer who is in the lucky position of having Computer Science students put into my classes as a core part of their degree. So many students were coming 'across the lake' (our campus has a lake with Sciences on one side and Humanities on the other) that they decided to include my topics in the degree.  So I think I might have something to offer this discussion.

I lecture in the Creative Arts, that is, I have small groups of portfolio entry students (concept artists, programmers, video editors, games creators, graphic designers. film makers) who I create topics for. Into these topics stream Media students, Creative Writing, Film and IT students. A few years ago I worked out that I have a pipeline in my topics. We can make XBox games, animated films, graphic novels... Instead of lecturing from a textbook we work at project management, narrative, studying the role of the hero, usability, interfaces, games theory. Together the students are capable of creating extraordinary objects. First year is gaining core skills, second year is working on projects and finding their niche, third year is major individual projects. Students work together across all three years. It's the only way to share the breadth of knowledge - and their generosity with their knowledge is inspiring.

The IT students love the topics as 'in the real world'  IT is often a part of a larger pipeline - the programming interfaces at some stage. Put students in a room with concept artists and people discussing medieval archetypes and students on the whole embrace the opportunity to work in a group and to work on major unique projects that matter to them.

Computer Science is full of creatives who are fascinated with story, activity, grou-pwork and making things. Humanities is filled with excellent communicators who understand story, analysis and communication. The students respect each others roles in the pipelines, and sometimes the programmers want to research story or create the textures or graphics. Sometimes the Humanities students are surprisingly good programmers. Students don't see a insurmountable divide between the degrees, the Universities have manufactured this 'us' and 'them' mentality.

To me, Humanities is where everything comes together. We have flexibility, we embrace creativity, we encourage experimentation, we have codes (behaviour, words, but we have rules that can translate into code), it's a natural fit. What's odd to me is that it does not happen more.

We shouldn't have to defend the Humanities, we're a part of a larger pipeline.  University is a space to learn, to find your place in the world, to work on projects, to be challenged and expanded intellectually. The pipeline model seems to work, they make amazing things, students who would never normally meet learn to respect and work with one another and they see the value of working across disciplines.

Of course, I'm exhausted all the time. But how I love my work.


Katie Cavanagh
Coordinator, BCA Digital Media
Screen and Media Studies
Flinders University
GPO Box 2100
Adelaide 5001
South Australia
p: 61 8 8201 2077
f: 61 8 8201 3635
e: katie.cavanagh at flinders.edu.au

From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] On Behalf Of Mark Marino [markcmarino at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, 6 June 2011 3:39 PM
To: iDC at mailman.thing.net
Subject: [iDC] The Future of the Humanities

Hi, IDC-ers,

Last summer I met a computer scientist who shared with me his hierarchy of knowledge.  In his schema, the sciences were at the top and all branches of knowledge and learning in the academy fell underneath.   By his account, at one time, due to a collective ignorance, much of knowledge was ordered under the Humanities, but slowly over time that ice cap had been chipped away and had floated off and melted into the larger sea of Science where it belonged.  By his account medicine, astronomy, and many other realms of knowledge had been relocated to their rightful place, leaving only certain types of speculative philosophy, perhaps a few arts, and other trivial or superfluous enterprises.

I don't think this computer scientist was misrepresenting his perspective to be provocative, though I do believe he knew exactly which of my buttons he was pushing.  His pedestal for positivism was built upon a larger progress narrative (that a humanities course might even critique).  Nonetheless, it took a long coffee break with a philosophy librarian friend to pull me back from the ledge or perhaps get me off the war path.

In an age where very reasonable folks are questioning the value of a college education, when the digital humanities seem to be flourishing, and when the US and global economies are still flagging sending students into their most pragmatic shells, I wonder if it isn't time for a new kind of humanities course.   I guess I am thinking about something different than what I know to be "digital humanities" in as much as that can mean the humanities plus computers (not to reduce -- I just don't mean that version of DH.)

Remember last year and Cornell's President Skorton's address?

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