Ancient Religion, Modern Technology Workshop: Reflections

We were fortunate to have Tom Scheinfeldt deliver the keynote talk and then offer some concluding reflections and lead a closing discussion.  Tom’s talk and reflections can be found on his blog, here and here.

In his first post, Tom provocatively discusses what “game changing” work in the digital humanities looks like.  An excerpt:

In his new book, Reading Machines, Steve Ramsay argues that the promise of digital technologies for humanities scholarship is not so much to help us establish a new interpretation of a given text but to make and remake that text to produce meaning after meaning. Here Steve looks to the Oulipoor “workshop of potential literature” movement, which sought to use artificial constraints of time or meter or mathematics—such as replacing all the nouns in an existing text with other nouns according to a predefined constraint—to create “story-making machines,” as a model. He draws on Jerry McGann and Lisa Samuels’ notion of cultural criticism as “deformance,” a word that for Steve “usefully combines a number of terms, including ‘form,’ ‘deform,’ and ‘performance.’” For Ramsay digital humanists “neither worry that criticism is being naively mechanized, nor that algorithms are being pressed beyond their inability” but rather imagine “the artifacts of human culture as being radically transformed, reordered, disassembled, and reassembled” to produce new artifacts.

This rings true to me. Increasingly, our digital work is crossing the boundary that separates secondary source from primary source, that separates second-hand criticism from original creation. In this our work looks increasingly like art.

For those of us trained in traditional humanities research, this is both exciting and frightening, and not only because tenure committees don’t yet know how to deal with it.  What does this mean for the study of ancient religions?  Can digital humanities change the game we play?

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2 comments on “Ancient Religion, Modern Technology Workshop: Reflections

  1. amitayory says:

    First of all, Michael, thanks for the blog initiative and for reopening the discussion!

    In relation to removing constraints, I would like to share my (very initial) experience with GoogleDocs.

    Inspired by Tom’s experiment in collaborative writing, I initiated a procedure in one of my classes which has the entire class (a small MA seminar) take notes *together*, on GoogleDocs.
    Even on a technical level, it’s a marvel. Instead of me reading paper after paper and commenting on style, punctuation and so forth, we had a quick run through the collaborative text in class, with each student picking up something and correcting it on the spot.
    On a more profound level, I’m wondering whether such collaborative work in class can be used to produce quality texts for publication (e.g., in a blog, wikisite, etc.).

    If anyone else here has been experimenting with something similar, I’d love to read about it.

  2. […] questions posed by Tom Scheinfeldt (in the keynote address at Brown) and Michael Satlow (in the previous post): how can we use modern technology in order to change the game we play in the study of ancient […]

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