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Release: June 21, 2000

UI hosts seminar on history of technological innovations

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa's Obermann Center for Advanced Studies recently awarded 11 Obermann Summer Fellowships totaling nearly $30,000 to faculty members from the UI as well as other U.S. institutions to participate in a three-week seminar, "The Usable Past: Historical Perspectives on Digital Culture." Participants in the interdisciplinary Summer 2000 Faculty Research Seminar, which runs through June 30, are examining the history of introducing new technologies as a way of studying the current digital culture.

Seminar Director Lauren Rabinovitz, a UI professor of American studies and cinema, said that focusing on historical models allows scholars to determine what is different about the current digital revolution.

"Thinking about present relationships between technology and culture in a historical context is helpful for a range of applications," she said, "from public policy planning to how we teach our students about ethical decisions regarding the world in which we live to how we as academics and scholars may intervene and effect some power in dramatic, wide-sweeping technological changes in all our lives."

Discussions will focus on how intellectuals from various fields have examined the impact of new technologies as well as how to produce a history that is responsive to the present. The goal of the seminar, Rabinovitz said, is to publish a volume of essays on a number of related topics including: ways that medical and communication technologies have effected definitions and understanding of the human body; the integral historical role of the digital in American political beliefs; entertainment media as a model for preparing us for the digital age; and the importance of the Cold War Information Age for defining our current situation.

Participants in the seminar include: Judy Babbitts, a humanities and behavioral and social sciences professor at the University of Maryland, University College; Kenneth Cmiel, a UI history professor; Scott Curtis, a radio/TV/film professor at Northwestern University; Ronald E. Day, a library and information studies professor at Wayne State University; David Depew, a UI communication studies professor and director of the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry; Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, an independent scholar; Lisa Gitelman, an English professor at The Catholic University of America; Bernadette Longo, an English professor at Clemson University; Laura Rigal, a UI English and American studies professor; and Thomas Swiss, an English professor at Drake University.

More information about the seminar is available on the Web at

(EDITORS: This seminar is not open to the public, but reporters interested in the topics are welcome to attend any session or to interview participants.)