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Reckoning by Cyphers, Laughing with Robots: New Technologies in Research and Teaching

Werner Sollors et al.

Pages 15 - 44



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The comments from twenty Americanists that are included here, with many practical hyperlinks, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of digitalization and new technologies in our research and teaching. Search engines and browsing tools give teachers and students previously undreamed-of ways of quickly finding historical, literary, and multimedia sources, ranging from early American imprints, digitized runs of Ebony, and William Carlos Williams’s voice to extensive archives of photographs and sound recordings. That so many things are available (at least to those who have access to the relevant sites) can only be a first step toward learning, however, and that “the machine is always on” can be distracting and can also tempt us to rely more on digital tools rather than on our own brains (and the large world of the analogue). Instruments once believed to lead to democratization can be turned into tools of state surveillance and commercial data-mining. Novelty is not in itself a good, and it is telling that much of the new vocabulary, from “device” to “twitter,” is deeply rooted in the English language. Paradoxically, the more digital our academic environments become, the more urgently human critical thinking, in the best Americanist tradition, would seem to be needed.

1 Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. Hannah ­Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. 217-51. Print.

2 Jagannathan, Ramesh. “Descartes and Thinking Machines.” 2019. TS.

3 Szondi, Peter. Theorie des modernen Dramas. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1964. Print.


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