We are continuously consuming and generating narratives: we read books; share, retell, and comment on news stories; play video games and watch movies; pass on gossip and tell jokes; present ourselves with mini-autobiographies, portray our friends in anecdotes, and recount the founding myths of our religious or national communities. These ubiquitous stories help us achieve a diverse set of goals: they enable us to sequence information in memorable ways, construct links between actions and consequences, impose order on complex processes, experience and induce states of suspense and surprise. Stories are building blocks of cultural identities, tools of sense-making and forms of entertainment.
In our pilot course, two primary instructors will interrogate narrative’s innumerable modes – literary, religious, historical, musical, political, mechanical, and digital – and, in so doing, introduce students to the critical methods humanists employ to analyze stories. Throughout the semester, fellows from a wide range of disciplines will provide targeted presentations to highlight the significance of storytelling and reconstruct the diffusion of resonant narratives in a variety of contexts and media.
Some of the questions to be asked include: What does it mean when something “goes viral”? Why do some narratives rapidly reach a high level of distribution in society and culture, and not others? What are the typical properties of these viral narratives? Do our stories conform to a few underlying fundamental structures or represent an irreducible plurality? How do different means of transmission shape the way we tell stories, their content and meaning?
In order to make this an integrated exploration of narrative, we ask students to upload narratives that they find meaningful, amusing, perplexing, and/or interesting. Online submissions, if chosen, will be combined with already established course materials.
All manner of narrative and media are welcome for website submission.The goal is to introduce students to the significant role of the humanities and how they can help us to reflect upon our interests and practices. Significantly though, whether students plumb the depths of internet gossip, mine the pages of a religious epic, excavate the era of naughty French film, upload viral episodes of American Idol, or record their own personal narrative, they will have the opportunity to help shape the contours and content of this course. And with this move, Humanities on Demand will sync class construction with its prospective students’ new media reality.