In Medias Res, Spring 2004

Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins

Reading through this issue of In Medias Res, I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle returning home after several years of napping. I was only away for a year—and in the age of the Internet and cell phones, I can scarcely claim to have been out of touch with developments here at MIT. But, I have been amazed upon my return to see how many of the things we’ve dreamed about and worked towards for the past four years or so have started to become a reality.

First, let me signal my deep ppreciation for William Uricchio’s leadership over the program while I was away. He did an excellent job of holding us together through some financially and emotionally difficult times. I am certain that his calm dignity made a huge difference in how our community responded to some of those disappointments and setbacks. We have not simply endured; we have flourished even in the worst of times.

One of the core challenges we set when we launched the CMS program was to embody the concept of “applied humanism.” I know the phrase annoys some of my colleagues who feel strongly that the humanities has always been, in some fundamental ways, an applied field that speaks to those things which make us human. Yet, I see a value in holding up the idea that we can become even more engaged with the world around us, that we can be even more committed to translating our ideas into a common language that speaks beyond the Ivory Tower, and that we can be even more determined to translate out research into forms which make a difference in people’s lives.

As I look through the contents of this issue, it is clear that this idea of “applied humanism” is being embodied by the day-to-day activities of our students, visiting scholars and faculty.

Several weeks ago, I went to the Museum of Science to participate in the Hi-Tech Who Done It, which was being run as an extension of the work that Eric Klopfer has been doing on the educational use of handheld computers. I can scarcely describe the excitement of the kids and their parents as they raced around the museum, looking for clues, and teaching each other about science.

Not long after that, I sat down with American History teachers from around Boston as the Revolution team showed off what they have been working on this fall. The teachers were excited about the potentials of using this game in their classes this coming fall and offered rich insights about what aspects of Colonial American politics and culture we should be incorporating into the next phase of game development.

You see this spirit of applied humanism as you read the accounts offered here by Peter Donaldson, Wynn Kelly, Gilberte Furstenberg and others working on the MetaMedia project. As more and more miniarchives are completed, as they are being deployed in classrooms at MIT and elsewhere, as students discover what it is to express themselves through this new platform, as other groups seek out the MetaMedia team as collaboration partners, we are seeing the fulfillment of a vision which we all had at the launch of this important initiative — of transforming humanities education through the creative use of digital technologies.

You see that same spirit when we read Sarah Kamal’s moving account of her experiences in Afghanistan, helping to create a radio station which will allow women, long silenced under the Taliban, a voice in their community.

You see it when you read about a range of student products involving radio, digital filmmaking, or handheld computers or when you read about Parmesh Shahani’s plans for a film festival focused on the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transsexual perspectives from South Asia, or when you see the rich mixture of speakers planned for the Communications Forum and Colloquium this term or when you read about how the CMS community is working together to develop an exhibit for a local museum on computer games as art.

The other week, I felt it when I listened to some of our visiting scholars describe the work they are doing this term—the mixture of old and new media, the attempt to bring together global perspectives on media change, and especially the effort to do pragmatic research which can have a real impact on our changing culture.

And I felt it when I re-entered our ongoing conversations with the Royal Shakespeare Company to collaborate across a range of exciting projects in the coming year.

Individually and collectively, we are achieving our vision for CMS! And all of this, amazing as it is, is just the beginning of what we can do together.

Henry Jenkins

About Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending the previous decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Cultureand From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. His newest books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. He is currently co-authoring a book on“spreadable media” with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post. - See more at:


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