The last bottled breath of what?

Image:  Detail from “Musei Wormiani Historia”: Public Domain

The purpose of this piece is to explore some of the tensions existing in the field of digital education and digital identity anchored by a connection to the Renaissance Wunderkammer or Kundstammer, also known as Cabinets of Curiosities.

Wunderkammer were the precursors to museums and constituted deliberately ‘eclectic assemblages of curios’ (Anderson, 25, 2015) aimed to evoke a sense of awe and wonderment, but also to explain something of the unknown world to those with little opportunity to experience it. Some of these collections were full of rare, valuable and historically significant objects, others were inventions and tall-tales, the outlandish souvenirs from adventures in distant, exotic lands – mermaids claws and unicorn horns (Anderson, 26, 2015)

The Last Bottled Breath of Caesar was an improbable but unprovable item in one such Wunderkammer, closed and unknowable, one could only marvel at the presentation of this curiosity. Unbottled and open, however, the breath of Caesar can be put under more empirical scrutiny. Calculating the volume of likely molecules of Caesar’s last breath which might now be mixed with our own, given that Caesar’s has had 2000+ years to disperse itself evenly around the globe, is a common problem-solving exercise given to students of Physics  (“Estimations: Your Breath And Julius Caesar’s”).

I have taken the Wunderkammer as a starting point for examining some of the tensions existing in our own relationship with the digital and the online – personally, politically as well as in terms of digital education. Reflecting on some of the themes explored as part of the Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning course and where those have provided a springboard into other areas, this digital Wunderkammer that I am seeking to begin creating and curating with this assignment explores three interrelated areas.

Firstly, The Tusk of the Unicorn explores the tensions between our personal relationship with digital and online spaces, how we reconcile (or don’t) our need for kinship and comfort with the easy access to fact-based knowledge. Beginning with Gee’s acknowledgment of human’s incredible capacity for stupidity, this section will be framed largely as a response to the event of 2016 that pitted belief against evidence and found evidence the poor relation – looking at the same object, some will see the Unicorn horn, others the narwhal’s tusk and others will choose a mashup of the two.

Secondly, where Wunderkammer sat at the cusp of the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, with one foot in the mythical and one in the logical, so The Lost Art of Ars Memoria will explore the tensions existing at the cusp of emerging technologies and pedagogies, such as ‘open education’, the landscape of ‘resistance and embrace’ (Bayne, 457, 2015). Equally, the uncomfortable knowledge for those of us working in educational technology, as the custodians of the ‘ed-tech’ Wunderkammer, that Selwyn is largely referring to people like us as the ones ‘drinking the Ed-Tech Kool-Aid’ (Selwyn, 439, 2016)

Finally, I will continue the theme, started in The Lost Art of Ars Memoria, of lack of neutrality in both language and technology, to look further at the tensions between what is opened and what is closed, in the public sphere when we begin to ‘curate’ and filter information data. This section I have named Curating the Kunstkammer, with a nod to Rudolph II who began systematising his own Kunstkammer, into what would be considered more a ‘museum’ than a cabinet of curiosities.

This ‘digital wunderkammer’ I am creating i.e. this wordpress site, is designed to be organic, with the potential to grow, in the same way a Wunderkammer might grow. However, for the purposes of submitting this assignment, please read the three parts in sequential order.

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