This past Friday I took the first of my comprehensive exams. I think it went well, well enough anyway. If my committee agrees, I’ll have two more to go, which I’ll be taking within the next three months or so.
The first exam was over selections from my program’s core list of readings. The list features a number of authors that I’ve mentioned before including Walter Ong, Lev Manovich, Jerome McGann, N. Katherine Hayles, and Gregory Ulmer. There were also a number of “classic” theorists as well: Benjamin, Barthes, Foucault, Baudrillard.
Additionally, there were a few titles that were new to me or that I had never gotten around to reading. I thought it would be worthwhile to briefly note a few of these.
Daniel Headrick’s When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution tells the story of a number of information systems — for classifying, storing, transforming, and transmitting information — that preceded the advent of what we ordinarily think of as the digital information revolution.
I finally read one of Donald Norman’s books, Living with Complexity. Hands down the easiest read on the list. Engaging and enlightening on design of everyday objects and experiences.
From Papyrus to Hypertext: Toward the Universal Digital Library, a translated work by French scholar Christian Vandendorpe, is laid out as a series of short reflections on the history of texts and reading. It was originally published more than a decade ago, so it is a little dated. Nonetheless, I found it useful.
The most important title that I encountered was Bruno Latour’s Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. It’s a shame that it has taken me so long to finally read something from Latour. I heartily recommend it. I’ll be giving it another read soon and may have something to say about it in the future, but for now I’ll simply note that I found it quite enlightening.
Historian Thomas Misa gives a fine account of the entanglement of technology and Western culture in Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present.
Then there was this 2010 blogpost by Ian Bogost, which was anthologized in Debates in the Digital Humanities: “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt: Fetid and Fragrant Futures for the Humanities.” It is, how shall I put it, bracing.
Finally, this wasn’t part of my readings for the exam, but I did stumble upon a 1971 review of Foucault’s The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences by George Steiner: “The Mandarin of the Hour-Michel Foucault.” The review is not quite so dismissive as the title might suggest.
There you have it, that’s what I have to show for the past couple of month’s reading. As the semester winds down and grades get turned in, who knows but some new blog posts may appear.