Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

William Kuskin

Second Advisor

Adam Bradley

Third Advisor

John Stevenson

Fourth Advisor

Diane Sieber

Fifth Advisor

David Thomas


Convergence and Contest breaks down the rhetoric of crisis facing contemporary higher education into two paths, narratives of nostalgia and progress, exposing a shared anxiety about technology, legacy, and value in time. I argue that continuity, as opposed to disruption, describes the relationship between institutions of higher learning and innovations in technology by making visible the layers of mediation that link people and the objects they study and teach in the lineage of humanist inquiry. Higher education might look to its own institutional history and the practices of knowledge-making that have defined it for guidance in crisis. Convergence and Contest does this, adopting as case studies three technological objects: the fifteenth-century printed book, the contemporary comic book, and the online digital learning platform. Each of these is a site of convergence in time and contestation of cultural value that defines humanist knowledge. Humanism is a mode of encounter between people, ideas, and technologies, a claim Convergence and Contest proves through exploration of cultural objects as diverse as William Caxton’s 1485 edition of Thomas Malory, an obscure one page comic strip, and the discussion forums of the 2014 MOOC “Comic Books and Graphic Novels.” In outlining this humanism for the digital age, this dissertation traces mediation through registers of transcendent literary continuity and the material networks of people and texts in lived social space. I read through the logic of the book – as well as the contested boundary of the screen – to discover the shared lineage of technology as a shaping agent for the production and dissemination of higher learning. Recognizing the continuity of mediation in the history of higher education and the technologies upon which it relies can meaningfully direct colleges and universities through the challenges of the digital age.