Hacking the Humanities: 21st Century Literacies and the ’Becoming-Other’ of the Humanities

Book Section

Relative to the "doom and gloom" discourse of the humanities in crisis, the field of digital humanities has been flourishing. Indeed, it has become a crucial site of innovation in and debate about what it means to do humanities work in the 21st century. At its best, the project of digital humanities keeps two questions in dynamic tension: First, what important insights do the rich analytics that have historically defined the humanities bring to the current moment? And, at the same time, what new literacies, methods and practices are required of humanists in order to not only understand but to intervene in the emerging logics of 21st century technoculture? In this essay, I engage with the second question - on 21st century literacies for the humanities - and make a case for outfitting humanities education with a renewed attention to practices of making, digital and material. Historically, the humanities have been associated with a relatively specific set of critical, analytical and speculative practices, grounded in the practice of writing, and, to a lesser extent, oratory. The humanities are associated with critical thinking, or, to use more contemporary phrases - knowledge work or cognitive labor. While contemporary (particularly feminist) critical theory has distanced itself from the Cartesian mind/body split, much of the humanities (if not the modern university itself) remain skeptical if not disparaging of the importance of embodied, manual work. Indeed, as Crawford (2009) points out, to speak of the trades, of handwork, or of shopcraft strikes many as the antithesis of 21st-century thinking, a nostalgia for pre-industrial culture. However, several prominent thinkers on contemporary technoculture have begun to articulate the need for a renewed culture of making within the humanities (e.g. Balsamo 2011; Rushkoff 2011). I want to add my voice and assert that to adequately grapple with new mediascapes, it’s necessary not just to study techno-culture, but also to make it, to tinker, to prototype. If literature was for mid-twentieth century humanities scholar Kenneth Burke essential “equipment for living,” a case can be made for new literacies, emergent forms of “know-how” that are essential for “knowing-how-to-live-well” now, and in the future (Stiegler, 2010).

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Olson, MJV

Cited Editors

  • Belfiore, E; Upchurch, A

Published Date

  • July 2013

Book Title

  • Humanities in the 21st Century: Beyond Utility and Markets

Start / End Page

  • 237 - 250

Published By

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 978-0-230-36663-3

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1057/9781137361356.0021