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In Defense of Digital Humanities: Staffer Bruce Matsunaga Earns PhD

bruce new grad photo

This April (2013), Bruce Matsunaga, the Department of English's much-relied-upon webmaster, defended a ground-breaking dissertation in digital humanities and Romanticism, “Romantic Cyber-Engagement,” that merits attention. Matsunaga has served not only as the department’s webmaster, but also as Blackboard Course Administrator, Multi-Media Producer, Social Media Manager, Technical Support Specialist, CoursEval Manager, and Academic Jobs Online Manager since 2000 (beginning as a Teaching Assistant). Pete Turchi observes that “Bruce has not just served as the department's immensely capable and even-keeled ‘tech guy’ for years—though in that way alone he's played an absolutely crucial role. He's also been a great bonding presence, always seeming upbeat and positive, always ready to suggest solutions, always ready to volunteer his time and truly impressive wide-ranging skills.”

Those impressive skills include what is, Maureen Goggin asserts, “a dissertation on the leading edge of post-post-modern critical perspectives on intellectual contributions and textuality that views texts as ephemeral, open, remixes, and fluid. While Western theories of texts have posited similar views since the competing theories of ancient Greek rhetoricians, the internet has made it much easier to demonstrate these features. This theoretical perspective is also shared by contemporary artists, activists, theatre performers, rhetoricians, and others.”

Matsunaga notes that "Romantic Cyber-Engagement" combines “the core values of the Digital Humanities with the hypertext tradition of scholarly pursuits in the field of Romanticism.” Distinct sections offer three Digital Humanities products: 1) a conference web site template and guide (including instructions, tutorials, and advice for modifying the template for future use); 2) a pedagogical example of a way “to incorporate Digital Humanities praxis as an interactive part of a college course unit”; and 3) a critical approaches section that creates an interactive web site focused on a primary work of Romanticism.

The useful applications of Matsunaga’s dissertation offer a model for the discipline in the future, and moreover, characterize the contributive nature that is at the heart of Matsunaga’s work in the department. “The English department has benefited directly from Dr. Matsunaga’s cutting edge theoretical perspective in the workshops he teaches, the individual mentoring he gives, the computer systems he sets up for us, and in so many other ways,” says Goggin.

Turchi agrees: “It's hard to imagine exactly where we'd be without Bruce, but the short answer is obvious: a lot worse off !” Communication Coordinator Kristen LaRue remarks, “Having worked closely with Bruce over the past ten years, I have nothing but profound respect for him as a colleague and now as a scholar. He really embodies all the best things about our Department.” She pauses a moment, then adds, “What I really want to say is that Bruce brings out the best in all of us.”

As Matsunaga modestly—and wryly—puts it, “My hat collection is large; it contains multitudes.” And the multitudes congratulate you, Dr. Matsunaga!

—The Editors

Photo of Bruce Matsunaga by Priscilla Benbrook

Field of daffodils background image from A. M. Kirby, Daffodils, Narcissus, and How to Grow Them as Hardy Plants and for Cut Flowers, with a Guide to the Best Varieties (1907). After Wordsworth.