Newman would almost certainly consider the use of educational technology with greatest suspicion. He would also fear the true democratization implicit in such apparent educational anarchy, and he would also take the changing intellectual skills implicit in this new media technology as matters for major concern — even, possibly, for its ultimate rejection. Nonetheless, there are several points in the new university of which Newman might fully approve.

First of all, educational hypertext's defining emphasis upon making connections — between text and other texts, text and context, and among various approaches — certainly supports Newman's conviction that education consists fundamentally in making connections, something apparent when he describes an intellect "properly trained and formed to have a connected view or grasp of things" (xliii).

He would also approve of the characteristic multivocality and interdisciplinarity implicit and inevitable in hypertext technology, which blurs the borders between individual texts and separate disciplines. Discussing theology, Newman argues that "all knowledge forms one whole, because its subject matter is one; for the universe in its length and breadth is so intimately knit together, that we cannot separate off portion from portion, operation from operation, except by a mental abstraction" (38). Newman claims that true knowledge, wisdom, and learning are more-than-disciplinary; therefore, anything like hypertext that promises to cross boundaries has the potential to create the kind of education that Newman proposes as an ideal. "These various partial views or abstractions, by which the mind looks out upon its object, are called sciences, and embrace larger or smaller parts of the world of knowledge" (34). Newman here virtually defines one of the chief characteristics of any document once it appears electronically linked to others within a hypertext web. In fact, readers tend to experience documents in a fully linked hypertext corpus, just as they experience the entire web itself, as open-ended, perpetually unfinished, and partial to the degree that their current interests guide the axes of their investigations.

Electronically linking various disciplines and approaches to issues within a single field of discourse, or virtual place, creates hypertext's characteristic multivocality, a quality Newman desires in institutions of higher learning. As he explains, "The advantage of a seat of universal learning, considered as a place of education" lies in the way an "assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other." Anyone who has experienced a modern university, read much about Newman's Oxford, or studied in scholarly literature may well be excused for taking a skeptical glance at his claim, "Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes," but one has to agree that, as Newman asserts, the student "profits by an intellectual tradition, which is independent of particular teachers, which guides him in his choice of subjects, and duly interprets for him those which he chooses. He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little, as he otherwise cannot apprehend them" (76). By allowing beginning and advanced students (among whom I include members of the faculty) to immerse themselves in the cultures of various disciplines, hypertext corpora and other forms of electronic textuality permit them more efficiently than ever before to encounter both the conflict and the contributions of separate disciplines, each of which forms part of some greater whole.

The reason we do not recognize the wholeness of knowledge, says Newman, derives from our fallen state. As he explains, the "cultivation" of the human mind "lies in fitting it to apprehend and contemplate truth," but

the intellect in its present state. . . does not discern truth intuitively, or as a whole. We know, not by a direct and simple vision, not at a glance, but as it were, by piecemeal and accumulation, by a mental process by going round an object, by the comparison, the combination, the mutual correction, the continual adaptation, of many partial notions, by the employment, concentration, and joint action of many faculties and exercises of mind. Such a union and concert of the intellectual powers, such an enlargement and development, such a comprehensiveness, is necessarily a matter of training. [114]

As recent as has been the experience of teaching and learning with such digital media, one thing seems clear: they do provide an efficient means of enabling students to develop their intellects "by going round an object, by the comparison, the combination, the mutual correction, the continual adaptation, of many partial notions."

One implication of Newman's emphasis on the inevitable interdisciplinarity of true knowledge appears in his description of the result of education as the recognition that every subject, every science, every discipline, exists as part of a network of interrelations. "That only is true enlargement of mind," he explains in "Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Learning," "which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence." This general approach to thought, Newman urges, constitutes the "perfection" of intellect, and he explains :

Possessed of this real illumination, the mind never views any part of the extended subject-matter of Knowledge without recollecting that it is but a part, or without the associations which spring from this recollection. It makes every thing in some sort lead to every thing else; it would communicate the image of the whole to every separate portion, till that whole becomes in imagination like a spirit, every where pervading and penetrating its component parts, and giving them one definite meaning. [103]

Hypertext, which continually presents all information and all beliefs as part of a greater whole, also inevitably "makes every thing in some sort lead to every thing else," thereby encouraging the particular fundamental approach Newman emphasizes as necessary to the truly educated person. [here put last part of "an acquired illumination, it is a habit, a personal possession, and an inward endowment (85).


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Last modified 18 October 2005