© N. Katherine Hayles and Figure/Ground Communication
Dr. Hayles was interviewed by Laureano Ralon on January 2nd, 2010
Katherine Hayles is a professor in the Program in Literature at Duke University. She is a postmodern literary critic, particularly in the fields of literature and science, electronic literature, and American literature. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1966, and her M.S. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1969. She worked as a research chemist in 1966 at Xerox Corporation and as a chemical research consultant Beckman Instrument Company from 1968-1970. Hayles then switched fields and received her M.A. in English Literature from Michigan State University in 1970, and her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Rochester in 1977. She is a social and literary critic. Her scholarship focuses upon the “relations between science, literature, and technology.”Hayles has taught at UCLA, University of Iowa, University of Missouri–Rolla, the California Institute of Technology, and Dartmouth College. She was the faculty director of the Electronic Literature Organization from 2001-2006.
How did you decide to become a university professor? Was it a conscious choice?
I have always been interested in ideas, concepts, and literature, so this was a natural choice for me.
In your experience, how did the role of university professor evolve since you were an undergraduate student?
Media certainly do change the situation, especially digital media. Collaboration is now much easier than before; digital media make computational techniques an obvious part of research; and digital media also raise new theoretical questions about textuality, reading, learning and teaching.
What makes a good teacher today? How do you manage to command attention in an “age of interruption” characterized by fractured attention and information overload?
I think that good teachers start where the students are and guide them to more sophisticated approaches to the questions that contemporary practices raise. For example, if one was teaching rhetoric, one might start with text messaging as a semantic/semiotic practice and then go on to more complex forms of print literacy.
What advice would you give to young graduate students and aspiring university professors?
For graduate students, my advice is to follow your passion. Graduate school is a long, rigorous and arduous process, and one needs to be passionate about one’s research topic to get through it and succeed. For aspiring university professors, my advice is to find out what the real rules of the game are (as distinct from the stated or official rules) and to make sure that, in pursuing your own interests, you take care to place yourself on the winning side of the line.
Who were some of your mentors in graduate school and what were some of the most important lessons you learned from them?
My mentors included Cyrus Hoy and Joseph Summers. From them I learned the importance of historical context and fully researched projects.
You have taught at such prestigious post-secondary institutions as UCLA, University of Iowa, University of Missouri–Rolla, the California Institute of Technology, and Dartmouth College. How did you decide to settle at Duke University?
Duke is starting an aggressive New Media program that offers me opportunities to work with terrific graduate students on collaborative projects.
Between 2001 and 2006, you were the faculty director of the Electronic Literature Organization. How was your overall experience at ELO?
The ELO is the major professional organization in the US for people interested in Electronic Literature. The Board and directors are engaged in cutting-edge research on the possibilities for contemporary literature in digital media.
One of your upcoming books is entitled How We Think: Transforming Power and Digital Technologies. What can you tell us about the book?
“How We Think” explores the impact of the digital humanities, and more generally digital technologies, on the practices, processes and forms of the humanities. The chapters include one on the Digital Humanities, one on telegraph code books, one on theories of complex temporality, and a couple of databases as contemporary artistic and literary forms. The book aims to intervene in the traditional humanities with a wide-ranging analysis of how digital technologies are changing the ways in which we think, read, write, and imagine literature.
What are you currently working on in addition to How We Think?
Our team at Duke has just received major funding to establish a Humanities Lab to develop “GreaterThanGames,” a cross-platform computer game with both virtual and real life components. I will be leading the Digital Storytelling team, which will include faculty, graduate students, post-docs and undergrads.
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