[iDC] Future of the Humanities

Oliver Grau Oliver.Grau at donau-uni.ac.at
Tue Jul 19 07:55:29 UTC 2011

Dear Colleagues,

the discussion during the last few days was inspiring and I share most of the views re: the humanities and their future, others not, one or two even read like not-helpful self accusation. 

A. Shouldn't we remember that in relation to the the Humanities, the Natural Sciences, as we know, are not that "natural" as some of their more naive protagonists claim. The enormous impact of the research by Daston, Latour, Breitbach, Foucault and many others has shown that the Natural Sciences are encapsulated in their own Histories, Imaginations, Ideologies and Cultures. If we for example remember the history of Eugenics and its role in the US, Britain, South Africa, Sweden and Nazi Germany we have a sad example how terrible wrong natural sciences can be (here in connection with humanities).  How naive some Biologists or Neurologists for example use their own images Martin Kemp, Elkins, Stafford, Bredekamp have shown often enough. Humanities can decribe the situation, the culture of experiments and the ideological grit, "natural sciences" go through. 

B. Isn't is so, that without the humanities we would not know a lot about the motivation, the subhistories of some technological utopias, like "artificial life", "Robotics", "Virtual Reality/Immersion", "Telepresence", "Electricity" and hundred other Histories? Without Humanities the exponents of those develeopments and our societies would simply not know what they do. A critical, politically aware media art for example reflected during the last decades on those technological and scientific myths and helped the humanities research to produce deeper analysis. Kittler, Virillio, Cubitt, and many others have reflected on that from a historical comparative point of analysis, others, like Baudrillard, more problematic today, did not so much. 

C. I do not think that a better development of the Humanities can only take place beyond the universities. The Universities were influenced for a long time by external (private) institutes like the (Hamburg) Warburg Institute. A bad example is the Langlois Foundation, which did a great job until the owner decided to end the Media Art research initiative and with that the trust a large part of the international researchers put towards this private institution. That's an example why it is also can be  dangerous to work too much beyond the university system. 

D. What the Digital Humanities need from my point of view today is more that we are enabled to do our research and our responsibilities with adequate tools and databases of the 21st century. Large parts of the Humanities are still forced to work with infrastructure from the 19th century (especially in countries that do not spend a lot for reserch in general). At this point in research on contemporary digital cultures, we do not (which is terrible enough) loose the Hard- and software, the displays and interfaces itself, we even loose their (online)-documentation, since there is no concerted international preservation strategy, and no strategy to build sustainable international (collective research) structures, like in the Natural Sciences (see the Virtual Observatory in Astronomy, which provides an international sustainable data pool for international research, there are examples from Biology or Climate Research). The Digital Culture of the last decades needs adequate international and sustainable funding structures, so that the Humanities can fulfill their responsibilites towards our societies. 

Best, Oliver

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