Follow by Email

Friday, January 13, 2012

Nostalgia for Ancient Research

Even as I urge my undergraduate students to engage the "digital humanities," my conscience is troubled: for whom or for what might I be serving as a blind agent?  My generation did research by retrieving information from bibliographies, library card catalogs, and printed texts. There was a semblance of transparency in old-fashioned research.  Piles of index cards made it fairly easy to ascertain what sources were used in constructing an essay.  The labor involved in research seemed to encourage honesty. Although one might have been transmitting agendas that were cleverly embedded in one's sources, a careful researcher eventually developed a keen eye for discrepancies among sources.  The authors quoted or paraphrased seemed to be rather forthcoming about their values and prejudices.  Most often, ethics was not divorced from rhetoric, and the illusion of clarity was powerful.  Rhetors tended to expose the skeletons of persuasion.

 All that has changed in the 21st century.  One is left with nostalgia for a past that never really existed.  Memory has a peculiar habit of falsifying the past.  The past was not necessarily as happy and trouble-free as our reports to the present pretend.  Yes, we had our blind spots; yes, we honored autority more than our own agency. Now, authority is a cruel joke. Strange reasoning is used to justify intellectual theft, the same reasoning used in the virgin days of hip hop sampling to decriminalize stealing James Brown's music.  Nostalgia, you are an artificial sweetner.

No comments:

Post a Comment