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Strain, Ellen, and Gregory VanHoosier-Carey. “Eloquent Interfaces:  Humanities-Based Analysis in the Age of Hypermedia.” Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media. Eds. Hocks, Mary E. and Michelle R. Kendrick. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 257-82. Print.

  • The authors note that the first intersections of humanities work and computing took the form of computational analysis of lexical data; however, true “humanities-based computing” first emerged later when folks in the humanities began using the computer as an interface/environment to explore ideas of textuality.  This eventually led to the development of various forms of humanities-based hypertextual literature (257).
  • The authors argue that the shift from hypertext toward hypermedia in humanities-based computing creates complexity and paradox in the field. While hyperlinking stuck to text, hypermedia marches out new forms of discourse that have been historically underutilized in humanities scholarship; further, the expanded role of rhetoric in visual, spatial, and interactive hypermedia structures is also refiguring what it means to think about “argumentation.”  Finally, the shift from “writer” to “designer” for the humanities scholar is quite radical; however, the authors argue that this move is as much continuous with the branch of knowledge as it is different (258).
  • The authors note that they hyperlink does more than simply link different texts together; in fact, a core function of the hyperlink is to “construct conceptual associations” that provision for an interactivity with an “architected meaning” (259).  This notion of hypertext is far different from the “writerly” version anticipated by Barthes and extended by Landow.  In this (more popular) vision of hypertext the link functions as a way for the reader to become an architect of meaning-making in their own right by selecting what “paths” they use to navigate the space of discourse.
  • The authors argue that hypermedia resonates with the humanities because of its affinities with two areas of humanities expertise:  1) a scholar’s ability to link together a web of associations across a vast collection of primary texts, secondary texts, and lived practices; and 2) a scholar’s ability to discern patterns within and across these cultural objects to reveal associations in order to explain their significance within a particular cultural context (260).  In other words, the authors argue that hypermedia provides humanities scholars the ability to engage and model these connections in new and exciting ways . . ways that can extend the audience of the scholarship beyond the bounds of the university to the public at large.
  • The authors make a crucial distinction between the interface and the image:  while they are both visual, the interface is made for interactivity and production while the imagistic is representational (260).  The authors argue that the argumentative and communicative aspects of design are as old as Aristotle . . . the humanities designer conveys their argument through the applied art of demonstration . . . a manipulation of materials and processes of nature, not language (261-2).  This user-centered manipulation of the interface suggest particular attitudes of engagement that, when coupled with context and audience, created particular ways of knowing and understanding an argument.  The end result:  the creation of “environments that will not only present humanities content but also, through careful attention to interfaces and the rhetorical power of their affordances, encourage the user to interact in ways that will promote particular analytic stances toward the content” (262 – hence, interface as exordium).  This results in the user-reader as co-collaborator/co-producer of the argument that he or she is reading/experiencing.
  • While the authors are speaking to a new media audience in this piece they continue to adopt a rhetorical situation-based model of how rhetoric works (speaker, audience, message) rather than an ecological perspective as advocated by Edbauer et al.
  • After spending a good deal of time considering how their own product Griffith in Context makes real the theoretical framing they’ve provided at the beginning of the article, the authors reiterate their commitment to design as a central feature in the future composition of humanities scholarship (276).  They claim that humanists are often engaged in a contradictory process when considering/doing hypermedia:  they do it because of the potential that hypermedia creates for interactivity; however, they impose linearity, single/sole authorship, and text-based conventions on the hypermedia in a way that fails to take advantage of the possibilities afforded by the new medium (277).  As another way to frame the design process, the authors argue that humanists should consider the design of scholarship in much the same way as they consider their own pedagogy:  “humanities teaching is a design task in which the instructor creates a set of experiential learning opportunities associated with humanities work and then guides student participation in them” (277).
  • The authors argue that the distinctions between teaching and scholarship in the humanities don’t lie in essential differences between teacher/student and author/reader but in the way we communicate: paper/interactive (278).  Using hypermedia, the authors argue, can allow for a collapse of this binary toward more productive teaching and scholarship opportunities.
  • What of new media?  “technological products are rhetorical devices that present demonstrative arguments.  They articulate, in both senses of that term, practical meaning that shapes attitudes and encourages future action through interactive engagement with users” (279).

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