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Switching Codes

Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts

Switching Codes

Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts


Half a century into the digital era, the profound impact of information technology on intellectual and cultural life is universally acknowledged but still poorly understood. The sheer complexity of the technology coupled with the rapid pace of change makes it increasingly difficult to establish common ground and to promote thoughtful discussion. 

Responding to this challenge, Switching Codes brings together leading American and European scholars, scientists, and artists—including Charles Bernstein, Ian Foster, Bruno Latour, Alan Liu, and Richard Powers—to consider how the precipitous growth of digital information and its associated technologies are transforming the ways we think and act. Employing a wide range of forms, including essay, dialogue, short fiction, and game design, this book aims to model and foster discussion between IT specialists, who typically have scant training in the humanities or traditional arts, and scholars and artists, who often understand little about the technologies that are so radically transforming their fields. Switching Codes will be an indispensable volume for anyone seeking to understand the impact of digital technology on contemporary culture, including scientists, educators, policymakers, and artists, alike.

The game, Figment, is available in PDF.

448 pages | 40 halftones, 4 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Art: Art--General Studies

Computer Science

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Media Studies

Philosophy: General Philosophy


Switching Codes is a highly interesting and important collection of essays that addresses a current, burgeoning concern with the present condition and future of what we now call Digital Humanities. Most remarkably, this book makes a conscious effort to open questions about the future of scholarship in digitally mediated culture to art that is born digital. This is a book I will refer to frequently.”

John Cayley, Brown University

“[This book] covers enough ground via specific examples to demonstrate the complex challenges and changes that the digital humanities currently offers to traditional ways of perceiving, thinking, and doing.”


“At a moment when culture’s digital makeover seems to have induced epistemological vertigo in many, Switching Codes offers a timely and well-targeted intervention. This book practices what it preaches, provoking cross-disciplinary dialogue and challenging the staid form of the usual essay collection, offering instead an engaging set of critical texts, poetry, fiction, games, and responses. Bartscherer, Coover, and their authors take up the challenges posed by the digital arts and humanities, mapping their new contexts, defining their analytic repertoire, and compelling a fresh set of insights. More than a portrait of our times, Switching Codes exemplifies the very logics that it explicates.”

William Uricchio, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“What happens when academics invite artists, scholars and technology specialists to discuss the potential and limitations of digital technologies for research and practice in the humanities and the arts? This is the question addressed by Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover’s Switching Codes. . . . What is original in Switching Codes is the performance of this dialogue, which blends essays, interviews, fictional pieces and a game. The result is a multimodal discourse that evokes the experience of navigating online data.”

Visual Studies

 “Switching Codes . . . offers curious minds an intriguing set of entry points into probing the sensibilities behind this shift, permitting outsiders and insiders alike to assess what happens when knowledge creation occurs through interdisciplinary encounters among artists, humanists, and IT specialists. . . . The project essays and the critiques are each carefully wrought and thoughtfully considered, and they provide ample material for theoretical and methodological reflection, repaying close analysis and re-reading. . . . Each of these interleavings is worth opening up the book—perhaps indicating the benefits of experimenting even further with tried-and-true academic genres in an age of information innovation.”

Technology and Culture

 “Unique and valuable. . . . The editors of Switching Codes illustrate through dialogues that perpetuating a dichotomy between science and the arts is not just false but reductive and beside the point.”

American Literary History

Table of Contents

Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover
I. Research, Sense, Structure
How Computation Changes Research
Ian Foster
We Digital Sensemakers
Mark Stefik
Scholarsource: A Digital Infrastructure for the Humanities
Paolo D’Iorio and Michele Barbera
“We Will Really Know”
Alan Liu

On Scholarship
Graham White
II. Ontology, Semantic Web, Creativity
Switching Partners: Dancing with the Ontological Engineers
Werner Ceusters and Barry Smith

The Semantic Web from the Bottom Up
James Hendler
Logical Induction, Machine Learning, and Human Creativity
Jean-Gabriel Ganascia
Relating Modes of Thought
William J. Clancey
Intelligence and the Limits of Codes
Albert Borgmann
Figment: The Switching Codes Game
Eric Zimmerman
III. Panorama, Interactivity, Embodiment
The Digital Panorama and Cinemascapes
Roderick Coover
Re-place: The Embodiment of Virtual Space
Jeffrey Shaw, Sarah Kenderdine, and Roderick Coover
Rewiring Culture, the Brain, and Digital Media
Vibeke Sorensen
IV. Re/presentations: Language and Facsimile

Electronic Linguistics
George Quasha in dialogue with Gary Hill

The Migration of the Aura, or How to Explore the Original through Its Facsimiles
Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe
The Truth in Versions
Charles Bernstein
Pamphlets, Paintings, and Programs: Faithful Reproduction and Untidy Generativity in the Physical and Digital Domains
Judith Donath

Enquire Within upon Everything
Richard Powers
List of Contributors

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