My dad sent me a link to a blog post by Robert J. Lang today. In his post, Lang reflects on a book project that never came to fruition after The Two Cultures, a conference at Michigan State University that was intended to bring together individuals from the sciences and humanities back in 2009. After reading Lang’s post, I’m left wondering about the role of documentation or preservation of cross-border conversations, production as a result of discussion, as well as how it all ties together into change. Running short on time, I quickly threw this post together in hopes of generating conversation.
I’m a bit nostalgic, as The Two Cultures was the first conference I ever attended. If it wasn’t obvious enough that I had never attended a conference because I went with my dad as a sophomore, at which point I had just switched from Computer Science to Scientific & Technical Communication, I made it clear I was a noob by wearing shorts and a Firefox t-shirt to the pre-conference reception. Looking back, my theoretical understanding of C.P. Snow’s original lecture was wearing shorts too.
At the time, I had no idea how rare it is that physicists, psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, artists, and “science and humanities people” actually get together in the same room to have productive conversations. Of course, part of what I learned from the conference, and now understand from a theoretical and experiential perspective (Thanks Haraway and Baudrillard), is that the dichotomy of science and humanities is limiting (and ultimately disguises that the dichotomy is socially constructed). In other words, “philosopher” and “computer scientist” are not mutually exclusive. But, I would argue that like vampires (Haraway), individuals with “cross-blooded,” complex identities scare the hell out of a lot of people—even in academia—despite the impossibility of being a “pure” or “true” computer scientist or a “pure” philosopher. Clinging to what are generally singular labels, although practical in some ways, is often used as a safety net against interacting with the Other. But back to Lang’s post on the book that never was.
Lang leaves me wondering about documenting conversations, particularly in cross-disciplinary work. If we (collectively as humans) ever hope to challenge barriers to relationships, not only do we have to actively foster relationships across boundaries, but also without record of these relationships and the discussions they produce, it seems difficult to make a lasting impact. Furthermore, after being part of the HASTAC community, following projects such as Debates in the Digital Humanities, and generally noticing wikis, course blogs, and other archival efforts, I’m wondering how the outcome of The Two Cultures conference might’ve been different had participants blogged or simply archived their presentations and/or notes from the conference (granted, I do remember the girl next to me live-Tweeting the conference, and she apparently made one blog post). Would there be any difference? I’m also wondering, does creating a space for discourse (on ideal nights) via Beer Rhetorics matter if the only record of discussions consists of pages informing people when to show up? If nothing tangible or slightly less temporal than speech is produced from conversations (whether what’s produced is a recording or a new creation), do the conversations really matter? In other words, if there’s no action aside from the act of speaking, how much impact does discussion really have? How does this all relate to academic publishing in general?