Robert Glenn Howard

I am Director of Digital Studies
& DesignLab and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

My research seeks to uncover the possibilities and limits of empowerment through everyday expression on the Internet by focusing on the intersection of individual human agency and participatory performance.

Down Load CV
(in .pdf format)

Contact Information
Phone: (608) 262-2605
Fax: (608) 262-9953
6040 Vilas Hall
(Communication Arts)
2406 Sterling Hall
(Folklore & Comparative Literature)

Robert Glenn Howard
University of Wisconsin -- Madison
Department of Communication Arts
821 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1497


Featured ResearchFeatured Research
(in .pdf format)

T21 Cover“Vernacular Authority: Critically Engaging 'Tradition' ”
(in Tradition in the 21st Century: Locating the Role of the Past in the Present (ed. with Trevor Blank). Logan, Utah:Utah State University Press, 2013.)
This book chapter argues that "tradition" has at least two aspects: empirical verifiability and vernacular assertion. Because these two aspects are not yoked together, researchers can use the concept of "vernacular authority" to imagine what is deemed traditional in any specific communication event. From this "discursive" perspective, he suggests, an expression that appeals to tradition indicates an individual choice (consciously or not) to invoke (successfully or not) a shared conception of an authority that contrasts with those of institutions.

Digital Jesus Cover "Chapter One: Vernacular Christian Fundamentalism on the Internet"
(in Digital Jesus: New York: NYU Press, 2011.)

This book documents how such like-minded individuals created a large web of religious communication on the Internet, in essence developing a new type of new religious movement--one without a central leader or institution. Based on over a decade of interaction with figures both large and small within this community, Robert Glenn Howard offers the first sustained ethnographic account of the movement as well as a realistic and pragmatic view of how new communication technologies can both empower and disempower the individuals who use them. By tracing the group's origins back to the email lists and "Usenet" groups of the 1980s up to the online forums of today, Digital Jesus also serves as a succinct history of the development of online group communications.

FIN.cover"How Counter-Culture Helped Put the ‘Vernacular’ in Vernacular Webs” in Folk Culture in a Digital Age, ed. Trevor J. Blank, (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2012.)
This chapter traces how a valuation of the vernacular came to be embedded in network communication. I first locate a rhetoric of vernacular authority that emerges in an amateur publication highly influential among hobbyist computer users of the 1970s: the underground introduction to programming and manifesto Computer Lib. This publication first popularized the idea of hypertext as a technology that could wrest the power of computers from institutions and bring it to the people. Ultimate1y, hypertext would become the basic technology that made vernacular webs possible. I next examine the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter. Here, another group of computer enthusiasts expressed the same valuation of the vernacular as they sought to create a personal computer that anyone could own and use. Prominent newsletter readers included Microsoft founder Bill Gates as well as the founders of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. From the Home brew newsletter, the-second key technology of vernacular webs took shape: the personal computer itself.

CSMC Cover“The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media ”
(in Critical Studies in Media Communication , Volume 25, Number 5, December 2008: 490-513.)

From wikis to blogs, new participatory forms of web-based communication are increasingly common ways for institutions and individuals to communicate. The content these forms produce incorporates elements of both institutional and non-institutional discourse. More than a syncretic pastiche, this content is the product of hybrid agencies made possible by these new forms. Terming this content ‘‘vernacular’’ acknowledges that this hybridity frustrates any reified conception of pure or authentic non-institutional discourse. At the same time, the theory of a ‘‘vernacular web’’ attends to the complex new transformational possibilities of participatory media seem to offer individuals.

JAF Cover“Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web”
(in Journal of American Folklore. Volume 121, Number 480, Spring 2008: 192-218.)

Through the example of a specific blog, this article locates a category of online discourse termed the “vernacular web.” Because the definitive trait of the vernacular is its distinction from the institutional, the vernacular web emerges in specific network locations as a communal invocation of alternate authority. Imagining those invocations as located communication processes, the concept of a vernacular web provides the theoretical language necessary for speaking about the complex hybridity that new communication technologies make possible.

(More Research . . . )