[Humanist] 23.526 the next big thing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Dec 30 07:00:48 GMT 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 526.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 30 Dec 2009 06:56:07 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the next big thing

Most here will be somewhat stirred, though perhaps in more than one way, 
by the news in William Pannapacker's "The MLA and the Digital 
Humanities", Chronicle of Higher Education, 29 December, 
chronicle.com/blogPost/The-MLAthe-Digital/19468/. This is news of great 
attention to the digital humanities at the MLA this year. Some of us 
have been around long enough to remember the thinly attended, and very 
few, sessions at this monster of a conference, and the status of pariah, 
more or less, which dogged one's steps then. So for the digital 
humanities to be rumoured to be "the next big thing" may cause those who 
remember the Bad Old Days to pinch ourselves in disbelief.

Years of experience in observing academic fandom at the MLA suggests to 
me that a deeply ambiguous reaction may serve scholarship better in the 
long term than unqualified joy or satisfaction. Yesterday, alongside the 
news of the digital humanities' arrival, I came across the website of 
The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, www.singinst.org, 
and suffered an immediate recoil from what appears to me to be the real 
Hollywood of the academy, beside which any welcoming of the digital 
humanities as the next big thing is very small beer indeed. So I ask, is 
this what we'd count as success?

Sure, it's good no longer to have to skulk around in gatherings of the 
glitterati, to find oneself sitting uncomfortably on the edge of a bed 
in a suite of a so-called luxury hotel and be interviewed for a rather 
poor job by an arrogant academic whom one wouldn't consider inviting for 
an interview if the tables were turned. It's better, though only in some 
ways, to be popular than to be quite unpopular. But let me offer a 
different criterion for success: simply to be accepted as one of the 
community, to sit at the table among equals and talk, then to go back 
home to a department of the digital humanities, with its students, 
programmes, seminars and so on, and get on with educating and being 
educated. A slow cooking of substantial ideas and projects rather than a 
flash in the pan.


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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