July 2012

This was written for the 4Humanities.org “Humanities, Plain & Simple” initiative.

Citation: “The Humanities and Tomorrow’s Discoveries.” 4Humanities, 25 July 2012. http://4humanities.org/2012/07/alan-liu-the-humanities-and-tomorrows-discoveries/


I think that the distinctive identity issue to address in Today, we use words like invention, innovation, and breakthrough to describe the most hopeful visions for the future of humanity. We pin our hopes on technological and other breakthroughs that might switch on whole new levels of economic, social, and personal well-being—or, just as important, help ward off threats to well-being. We even have a name for the greatest human challenges whose breakthrough solutions—not yet in sight—will require sustained innovation by large numbers of researchers across many fields. We call these “grand challenges.” As identified by the U.S. President’s Office, the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and other public and private agencies, the grand challenges for the 21st century will be global in scale and require collaborative, interdisciplinary solutions on multiple fronts: scientific, engineering, biomedical, agricultural, social, economic, cultural, ethical, and educational. World energy, world climate, world hunger and thirst, world disease, world security. These are some of the grand challenges of the 21st century.

Yet not one of the words invention, innovation, and breakthrough are as powerful as the word that encompasses them all and gives them their full human meaning. That word is discovery, for which a society’s preparedness in the humanities is as vital as in any other field. Discovery is what happens when an invention, innovation, or breakthrough occurs in a fully human horizon of understanding that radically multiplies its value, discovering connections to whole worlds of human meaning and possibility.  . . .

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New Media & Literary Interpretation:
Close, Distant, and Other Reading


Graduate Course – Winter 2012

Instructor: Alan Liu

UC Santa Barbara

Thur 2:00 – 4:30 pm, South Hall 2509


Digital methods shared with other disciplines have recently introduced new methods of literary “reading” that destabilize older methods and extend the interdisciplinary experiments of previous decades. This course uses the theoretical and practical tools of the digital humanities and new media studies to study the relaton between “close reading” and such methods as “distant reading,” “cultural analytics,” and “social reading” (with their component methods of text analysis, social network analysis, visualization, mapping, etc.).

The course is designed to be a hybrid discussion seminar and project-building workshop. We begin with discussion of selected theoretical readings and digital methods. Then students break into teams, choose a literary work, and collaborate in workshop/lab mode to produce a final project that uses digital methods to complement established modes of literary interpretation with some other kind of “reading.”  (Alternatively, students may work individually on projects designed to support or complement their dissertation topics.)  Students, for example, can choose a story or poem to data-mine, text-analyze, model, simulate, map, visualize, sonify, encode, remix, blog, social-network, or redesign as a database, game, app, database, hypertext, mobile or locative installation, or virtual world.  Individual students also undertake the following tasks: discover new online tools, prepare an annotated bibliography, write a brief research report, and write a final essay reflecting on the project. (Auditors participate in team projects and the minor assignments.)

Schedule | Assignments | Class Projects | Class Members

Previous Literature+ courses: English 236 W 2010, English 236 W 2008, English 149 W 2009, English 149 W 2008, English 194 W 2007