The Expansion of Knowledge
Anyone can create knowledge. Knowledge is multi-dimensional. The advent of technology not only fostered more transmission of knowledge, it also allowed more individuals to “create” it. This reflection will seek to answer Burdick, Drucker, Lunenfeld, Presnet, and Schnapp’s question found in Chapter 3 of Digital Humanities: “Who can create knowledge, who monitors it, who authorizes it, who disseminates it, whom does it influence and to what effect?
The digital humanities offer a unique access to knowledge and information that had not existed decades and centuries earlier. In popular academic disciplines in the humanities such as history, literature, and philosophy, well-known scholars had the power to control knowledge in their respective fields. With such a localized control of knowledge, the humanities as they existed before the explosion of computer technology focused on scholars and knowledge centers such as universities. The time, resources, and skill required to become a knowledge “creator” generally prevented everyday individuals from being able to create widely available knowledge. This extended to the arts as well, most readily seen in the renaissance period of Europe. As far back as Ancient Greece and Rome, philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato dominated their field for thousands of years. With time came the printing press, which made knowledge much more accessible to people who had to work the land for their living. The rise of technology has in turn made knowledge more available and its creation more tangible for a wide variety of individuals.
Computers have become the ultimate tool for the access and creation of knowledge. Anyone who owns a computer can use it to quickly research any wealth of topics, whereas compiling research in decades prior entailed going to a library. Additionally, individuals can use their computers to create knowledge on social media, blog posts, and through website building. I believe that time has proven that knowledge is still monitored, authorized, and disseminated by those individuals and institutions that most readily produce it and support it. The work of a noted historian of the 18th century on the material culture of that time will more likely be supported and disseminated over that of a blog post from a middle school student on that same topic.
The influence of knowledge can be measured through understanding its consumer. Human beings generally use knowledge to form their perception of the world around them, and how they want to navigate it. My experiences in both a traditional humanities setting, and my more recent dive into the digital humanities has reinforced that the internet provides the entire world with a vast expansion of accessibility to knowledge, and provides more people with the ability to create it. Nevertheless, how it is disseminated and how it influences individuals largely depends on how we collectively deem creations of knowledge as important. More knowledge brings more perspectives which adequately represent the diversity of people and cultures that makes up our world. This expansion should be appreciated because of its vital effect on challenging what we believe is true. The digital humanities prove how the expansion of knowledge is undoubtedly tied to technology and innovation.
This post was created by Ben Johnson, Gettysburg College Class of 2022, and member of the student cohort for DSSF 2021.