T r a n s c r i p t i o n s Project
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Overview

The theme of Transcriptions is the relation of literature to the information age. Put in the form of a question: what is the relation between being "well-read" and "well-informed"? How, in other words, can contemporary culture sensibly create a bridge between its past norms of cultural literacy and its present sense of the immense power of information culture? In order to address this question, Transcriptions takes the approach of creating courses on two interlinked tracks. One track centers on the social and cultural contexts that presently make information so powerful. For example, the project includes courses that give humanities majors a look at why large corporations in the U.S. now call themselves "learning organizations," "knowledge industries," or "information industries." Or again, project courses address the status of the "author" in an age of changing intellectual-property laws and new economics of publishing.

The other theme centers on the equivalent contexts that allow contemporary culture to think about past literature as itself an evolving technology of information. Thus the project includes courses on the immense changes that occurred in the notion of literature when oral and manuscript cultures evolved into early-print culture, when modern ideas of authorship and copyright arose in tandem with modern publishing and archival practices, etc. One course, for example, follows the evolution of literature from the age of scrolls to that of the World Wide Web page in order to examine the deep philosophical, cultural, and aesthetic assumptions that underlie the notion of reading a "page."

By "transcribing" in this way between information culture and literary history, the project hopes to forge a middle ground between the present and the past where literature—and those who love it—can learn how to engage thoughtfully with information culture. The goal of the project, in other words, is to argue against the often-heard notion that the age of the book is now past and that the future belongs to information technology and digital media. Instead, the project is dedicated to the proposition that both the "well-read" and the "well- informed" can benefit from serious intellectual engagement with each other. Students of literature who participate in the project learn some of the skills and contexts needed to participate professionally in information culture; and what they will be able to bring to such culture in return is the reservoir of values that a knowledge of literary history has traditionally imparted.

The overall goal of the project, in other words, is to train humanists who will be able to enter society with a larger, more humane notion of information. Along the way, faculty and students will also be learning to collaborate in new ways to explain the values of literary history to general culture.

Project Development

Sponsored by a NEH Teaching with Technology grant, Transcriptions is a collaborative curriculum development project started in 1998-99 by six faculty in the UCSB English Department (including specialists in fields ranging from medieval to twentieth-century literature) working with a team of graduate-student research assistants.

Over the span of three years, from 1998-2001, the project is building the syllabi, materials, and online resources for a set of courses to be taught in a variety of undergraduate and graduate formats. Each course is designed to make organized use of online media—for example, in student-led online discussions, research assignments, and the creation of student World Wide Web projects. In addition, Transcriptions is developing a large-scale central Web site (in addition to sites for individual courses) that will provide a guide to the issues, an archive of online resources, and an overarching intellectual focus.

Like any project funded through various institutional, governmental, and private agencies, Transcriptions has been required to create detailed prospectuses, planning documents, reports on progress, and other materials relating to project development. These development materials are mounted publicly here because they serve a number of purposes beyond their original intent:

  • Dissemination. These documents may assist others in creating funding proposals for projects related to information technology and the humanities.
  • Explanation. The documents contain a more detailed narrative explanation of the project's rationale than can be accommodated in the several "overview" statements threaded through the project Web site. This rationale concentrates on both the general relation of information technology to the humanities and the adaptation of those principles to a particular set of institutional resources. It is an effort to imagine how scholars—as exampled in one English department—might integrate information technology not just in the future practices but intellectual concerns of humanities research and teaching.
  1. Full Text of Original NEH Proposal
    (Submitted 1996)
  2. 1998 Proposal for UCSB Instructional Improvement Grant
  3. 1999 Proposal for UCSB Instructional Improvement Grant
  4. NEH Interim Performance Report, Feb. 1999
  5. NEH Interim Performance Report, Aug. 1999
  6. Project Activity Log
  7. Sample of Research Assistant Activity Logs
  8. Results of Student Surveys in Transcriptions Courses

This page created by Alan Liu for the Transcriptions Team, 1/26/99 (revised 8/18/00)

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