13.0147 new media

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 21 Aug 1999 10:22:28 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 147.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Elisabeth Burr <he229bu@unidui.uni-duisburg.de> (59)
Subject: New Media

[2] From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca> (62)
Subject: Smelly Words

[3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (31)
Subject: cloven fiction

Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 10:16:09 +0100
From: Elisabeth Burr <he229bu@unidui.uni-duisburg.de>
Subject: New Media

Dear Willard,
I've read your message on Humanist. I agree that the
combination of media is something we should think
about. I agree, that the question "what is text" is a
vital question, very puzzling, indeed. What I don't
understand is the problem with "new media". As I
could not come to the states it seems that I have missed
something vital. Let me explain. At the moment there
is a programm in our region, more or less just for the
Humanities. Let's be honest, the government finances
it in order to reduce teachers. But I've heard enough
about this subject at anglo-american congresses in
order to know that this idea is stupid and that the new
media mean that we have to change our approaches.
Accepted. Now, I could think straight away about a
topic which could have been developped even in an
interdisciplinary way: 'Italian neorealisme', i.e. above
all films. They could be used to teach something about
language varieties, how language is being presented,
how varieties are valued etc. They could be used to teach
something about post 2nd world war history and social
structure or the way it is presented, they could be used
in conjunction with italian neorealistic literature comparing
themes, ideology and much more, social geography, the
difference between presentation (idealisation) and reality
as it results from so-called pure facts. I won't be able to do
something about this idea at the moment but as far as I
know my students such a more global approach would/
could introduce them to a small but complex part of reality.
Isn't multimedia about that? Just a few thoughts about how
we would go about it in a traditional way: we would look at
the films (Roma, open city or bycicle thieves for example).
We would notice that the language is not what is presented
in books etc. But we couldn't really see how it is made up. For
this we would need the means to find out something about its
regularities. If we just look at the script, it would be really diffi-
cult to grab the whole setup. The language is part of a certain
type of society, people might come from different regions,
live in houses or huts, work in rice fileds or controll the work,
all might wear differnt cloths, talk differently, i.e. some sort of
reality is presented made up of different elements. My idea is
that the integration of the different media, where this is possible,
obviously, would give us the means to have a look at the inter-
relationship of the different elements and how they contribute
to create a certain reality.
That is why I really don't understand what is going on. What is
the question? Is there a tendency to limit our attention to one
aspect again or is there something else? Is there a different level

PD Dr'in Elisabeth Burr
FB 3/Romanistik Gerhard-Mercator-Universitaet
Geibelstrasse 41 47048 Duisburg
+49 203 3791957 Elisabeth.Burr@uni-duisburg.de
Editor of:

Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 10:16:30 +0100
From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca>
Subject: Smelly Words

Dear Willard,

One way to look at your question about new media is to ask what we want
such a name for. At McMaster we recently went through the exercise of
choosing a name for a new program. We needed a name for the program that
would communicate in one or more words what the object of study of the
program was and the place of the program in the intellectual hierarchy of
the university.

We chose "multimedia" for a number of reasons. First, it was a short name,
which is good. Why use two or more words when one will do?

Second, our audience (administrators, prospective students, government
officials and colleagues) was likely to know what we were talking about.
Whenever I tell someone I do "humanities computing" I draw either a
sarcastic comment or a look of incomprehension that is struggling with an
impulse to flee. "Multimedia", on the other hand, conveys pretty well with
one word what we study and create - we build what people call multimedia
works and theorize about them. Prospective students can make an informed
choice to find out more about the program when hearing about it.

Thirdly, and this is a related point, when choosing a name for a field of
study the obvious choice is to name it after the object of study and
multimedia is still the best word I have found for what we are studying.
"New Media" is more accurate about the novelty, but is doomed to be a dated
name when it is no longer "new", as you pointed out. "Hypertext" or
"hypermedia" were also candidates, but we felt they were not as clear as
multimedia and did not cover the variety of things we are doing.

Fourth, and most importantly, it hints at one feature that I think is
important in computer-based media, that digitization allows us to combine
multiple media into an artistic unity. If Bakhtin is right about the novel
being a form where a diversity of voices can be artistically integrated, is
it not interesting that a multimedia work is likewise a genre where the
artist can integrate media? Multimedia is not about the superficial
grafting of bells to your mail program, it is about the innovative
integration of multiple media into an expressive work. It has more in
common with what used to be called mixed-media installations or multi-media

As for the smell of mortality to the term multimedia, I think you are
simply smelling the decay of the first bloom without looking to see if the
plant is healthy. It is inevitable that terms in this area sizzle, bloom
and fade. The question is whether the plant is healthy after the flower
drops so that we can use it to name fields of study, programs, research
agendas and so on. Multimedia has lasted better than most and has proven
quite servicable for everyday use. Perhaps the winds blow differently in
England, but here in Canada the word has taken root and will bloom again.


Geoffrey Rockwell

Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 10:16:48 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: cloven fiction

In Humanist 13.146, Matt Kirschenbaum usefully objects to my
characterisation of his panel at ACH/ALLC (and a fine one it was too) thus:

>The focus of the panel was on digital images and their role in electronic
>editions, archives, and libraries. It included presentations that were
>both technical (Viscomi, Kirschenbaum) as well as speculative (Drucker,
>McGann, Martin). Using John Unsworth's shorthand definition of
>humanities computing from the session Allen Renear chaired --
>"Humanities computing, I submit, inverts the method/object relation that
>characterizes (New) Media Studies, and uses new media--meaning computers
>and the methods they require--to study traditional humanities content"
>-- it seems to me that my image session was firmly oriented around
>humanities computing thus defined, and not new media studies.

Fair enough as a place to begin (which is where we are), but I would think
*only* as a place to begin. In humanities computing we may start out with
our new instrument and (roughly speaking) apply it to old data, but then
the fun starts and nothing is quite the same. This is a story we're all
familiar with, but (why is this?) we so often choose to ignore it. First of
all, the stuff needs to be in electronic form, which means choosing what
we're going to regard as the data -- NOT a trivial step, this -, then
digitising it, then so often adding metadata. Then we humanists view the
quite significantly altered result through the altering lens of software,
and we start thinking in new ways about the object of study -- which is
not really an object, or not cleanly so, but I've got to simplify to make
my point.

As computing humanists we get interested in the medium, and so get into
studying media, I would suppose, but our object of study (same
qualification) isn't the medium per se. It's what happens to the
traditional object (idem) when it is manifested in the new medium. Or, to
put the matter the other way around, it's what we do about and with the
new/old entity, our transformed scholarly methods.



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