Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hello and Welcome members of ENGL 637 and ENGL 438, new comers to the Web of Mind! This blog space is devoted specifically to our interests as a scholarly community interested in the Victorian period. While you are required to make at least two journal posts documenting your experiences and reactions to the online text of Mary Shelley's Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, I hope you'll bookmark these pages and visit them often whether to trade questions and info about class, to respond to one another in an informal and friendly environment, and/or to generally carry our community outside of our classroom walls.

Just as a conversation starter, working with digital texts is not something I envisioned for myself 10 years ago. At that time I was a teaching fellow at DU and a fellow graduate student went on for what seemed like hours about how I must integrate technology into my humanities classrooms. My eyes glazed over, I made mental notes about how pompous he sounded, and I generally acted like a luddite. That he was right is undeniable. That he was a little pompous is also true. People who are right and know it generally are.

Flash forward to 2001.

Lo! The time is now, saith the Presidents of the MLA and the ALA, to learn how to defend our selves and our discipline in an era of technocratic and shrinking funding.

It's a sad fact that today the humanities are often described as non-essential to creating competitive intellects. Point and case: President Bush's recent plan to help American students exalts the importance of science and math and ignores literature, the Arts, history, etc. Now, we all know that doing science and math well depends upon being able to read and critically think. These are the very skill sets literary studies is guaranteed to fine tune. But because I don't create a better rivet, something measurable in terms of the capitalist model of product relations, I'm often confronted with the assumption that the humanities have no lasting benefit for the individual or society. I, as is obvious by now, disagree.

But that doesn't change the fact that my field is changing. Classes are migrating online, academic publishing is going digital, and fewer presses are in control of what gets published. If we are to have access to all sorts of books, technology needs to become our friend, or at least no longer be our enemy, and we need to start creating digital archives. It's no longer satisfying or practical to sneer at the techno-geek (who makes a ton more money than I do, btw) from some lofty poetical position. I have to embrace my inner technophile and see the art and possibility of reading and authoring in this new context. In my opinion, if I have to go down this path of technology and books online, which I think I do, then I want to have some control over how this technology is developed and some insight into how it works and what it can do.

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