Mindful Metropolis — November 2011
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High-Tech Humanities
David J. Fowlie

the 22nd annual chicago Humanities festival looks at technology from a humanities perspective

It may seem counter-intuitive for the planners of the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) to have embraced “techknowledge” as the theme of their 22nd annual fall festival this year, but after further thought, it makes perfect sense.

“One of the reasons why we were so interested in the theme is because we view technology as this pervasive element in everything social,” says CHF executive director Stuart Flack. “There’s no topic you can look at that doesn’t have a technology component, which is why we wanted to look at it from a humanities perspective.”

Running from November 2-13, this year’s festival is all over the map, both geographically and in overall diversity, offering over 80 different programs. Even if the festival wasn’t in your realm of thought, a look at the variety of events offered will pique your interest in topics you may have never considered.There are programs on technology in sports, advancements in prosthetics, how architecture is involved in climate change and urbanization and a look at how those who use bionic ears connect to music.

Opening night kicks off with performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, while guitarist Adrian Belew—who’s worked with Anderson as well as King Crimson and Talking Heads—closes out the festival. Both artists will share about their work and how they’ve adapted technology to the creative process.

Rapper and actor Common returns to his hometown to discuss his work and recent memoir as well as to share how technology has impacted rap music with Adam Bradley, co-editor of The Anthology of Rap. Other local names featured are violinist Rachel Barton Pine and music critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis of WBEZ’s Sound Opinions as they give their views on their respective areas of expertise.

Celebrated composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim will also be on hand to receive the annual Chicago Tribune Literary Prize in honor of his award-winning contributions to both stage and screen. The Tribune will also be rewarding authors Jonathan Franzen and Isabel Wilkerson with their Heartland Prize, which is given to fiction and nonfiction writers who evoke the struggles and perseverance of life in the heartland. These are just a couple of the many authors and poets who will be appearing throughout the course of the festival.

“One of my goals for this year was to have every Big Ten school represented in the festival,” says CHF artistic director Matti Bunzl. Bunzl’s idea allows universities the opportunity to bring their specific niche to the festival. “Purdue is bringing a hotshot archaeologist, and archaeology and technology?That’s a great topic,” he says. And such an approach is a great way to involve and expose students—and everyone else—to a variety of perspectives on technology in the humanities.

Humans have always used some type of platform or device to get their ideas, opinions and creations communicated to the masses.There is no doubt technological tools will continue to be implemented by doctors, educators and an assortment of creative types.If the impact technology has had in the past and will have in the present and future of the humanities isn’t quite clear to you, the passionate individuals behind the CHF are determined to broaden your outlook.

It’s exciting to have one festival provide so much opportunity for everyone. For more information on other festival events, visit the CHF website at chicagohumanities.org, and don’t be deterred if it says “sold out”— tickets may still be available.