[-empyre-] Engineering the University & intellectual history

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Sun Mar 22 05:48:33 AEDT 2015

dear all

>>[julia schreibt]
...there's strong historical precedent for most of the interesting strands of DH's intellectual history thus far. But they are new in the sense that they are newly visible to the people whose intellectual traditions contributed to the mongrel.

One example is the idea that the systems by which we create and disseminate scholarly information are themselves deeply implicated in the meaning of that information. In traditional scholarly book publishing, a scholar prepares a manuscript for publication and sends it to a publisher who undertakes the process of turning it into a circulating object (the book). The activities that belong to the publisher (page design, typesetting, printing, binding, distribution) are understood to be not only completely distinct from those of the scholar (research, idea formation, writing, revision) but also in a sense to have no bearing on the ideas carried in the book; they may be *appropriate* (the cover design and typography are suitable or unsuitable for an academic book) but they aren't constitutive of the book's meaning. The fact that the scholar is not consulted on these points (and would be unhappy having responsibility for them) shows how little they are considered to have to do with the book's content; there's a strong discontinuity between the two domains. 

..The "new understanding" here (arising from the mongrelization of roles or from the estuarine zone I metaphorically prefer) is that in the digital medium, for digital humanities, our representational and production systems are perfused with intellectual significance. 

I'm waiting for the protests against this intellectual-historical account...
I am not sure I can follow the narrative at all;  
at least I would argue, from my recollection of artbooks, art historical, critical/theory books, historical, anthropological scholarship, science books, catalogues, poetry editions, and many other forms of writerly and graphic art production, ukiyo-e, illustrated books, scores, etc etc over centuries  (I suppose you apply a very narrow understanding what gets done as scholarship?), there has been no discontinuity at all, and thus these claims for a new understanding amongst the digital humanities are justifiably in inverted commas. I can't speak for others, but I surely have been involved in the design, and the dissemination of my stuff, and of course most artists do that as a matter of fact. I would also think, though, that scholars have been as acutely aware of their apparatus as current metadata or hyperdata operators or information management systems.

Johannes Birringer

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