Harvard Divinity School’s Digital Control and Omission. The ‘Jesus Wife Gospel’ at the Digital stake

In the scholarly world of early Christian origins and in a wider Western public audience, the news of a Coptic Egyptian Gospel fragment presented by Karen King (Harvard Divinity School, HDS) has mooved very fast, because of these words: ‘Jesus said to them: my wife…’.

I would like here to decipher the phenomenon from the digital culture point of view. It is a very interesting case of digital control by HDS, but the famous institution did also a big omission or mistake regarding the use of the new digital culture, as I will develop in a few remarks.

The website page illustrates in an acute way the emergent digital culture. First of all, a draft of a Harvard Theological Review article is already available online, underlining what is announced since a long time by DH experts: the inadequacy of the «review» system regarding the digital support of publication. If Harvard itself offers online its articles before to publish them in the journals, it is an evidence that the academic system of the peer-reviewing articles is in transformation.

Secondly, the webpage illustrates the multisensoriality proper to the digital culture, and even the victory of the image and sound on the written information. Indeed, I take no risk by considering that almost all the people will have cliked on the 2’29 min youtube moovie of the HDS webpage, but only very few of them would have read the 52 pages article… A scientific news is announced by a media that uses emotional impact (image, sound of a voice, words transmitting emotion, etc). It is a total revolution in the academic style of expression. We are here very far away from Leopold von Ranke advising to put out all emotional style from the historical writing, and worried to annoy his readers…

Such a youtube impact is also to situate in the US context: in May 2012, Dan Wallace, from the CNTM in Dallas, announced also on a youtube moovie the discover of seven very early NT manuscripts… Does HDS try here to offer a kind of «counter-announcement»? Academic fight and discussions are now largely using youtube. What a news…

But, last and not least, HDS did also a very important digital cultural omission in its website page, in my opinion. HDS did not consider one of the main features of the emerging digital culture: the interactivity. There is no possibility to add a point of view, to react – may by with another youtube moovie!!! – on the HDS website page. A lot of blogs have begun to react, as we can see, as well as comments on youtube. HDS would have got a still more strong impact by adding the possibility to react on the website. By offering an interactive rubric, HDS would have been able to moderate the reaction of people, to choose the critics and comments, and so to offer a webpage with the scholarly debate as well, and with Karen King answers. That would have been a complete digital control of the communication. For the next time, probably….


Claire Clivaz

Claire Clivaz is Head of Digital Enhanced Learning at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (VITAL-IT, Lausanne, CH) and belongs to an interdisciplinary team that started the Digital Humanities in Switzerland since 2011. She is also a member of the LADHUL (www.unil.ch/ladhul). This blog assumes to developp opinions and discussions on all the events and problematics around the Digital Humanities, particularly in the French speaking aerea. Claire Clivaz est Head of Digital Enhanced Learning à l'Institut Suisse de Bioinformatique (Lausanne, CH) et appartient à une équipe interdisciplinaire qui a lancé les Humanités Digitales en Suisse depuis 2011. Elle est membre du Ladhul (www.unil.ch/ladhul). Ce blog se propose de présenter et développer des sujets de discussions sur les événements et problématiques touchant aux Humanités Digitales, notamment dans l’ère linguistique et culturelle francophone.

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