[Humanist] 24.100 G.E.R. Lloyd on disciplines

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jun 11 08:45:18 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 100.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2010 07:42:02 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: disciplines

Those interested in the historical dimension of disciplinarity will be 
glad to know about G. E. R. Lloyd's latest book, Disciplines in the 
Making (Oxford, 2009), in which he examines the development of 
philosophy, mathematics, history, medicine, art, law, religion and 
science from their beginnings, using comparative materials, chiefly from 
ancient Greece and China. In the last footnote of the book 
(unfortunately omitted by the publisher, here recovered from Lloyd 
himself), he notes that,

> Lip-service is sometimes paid to the advantages of a mastery of a
> variety of disciplines, and polymaths such as Leonardo and Newton are
> held up as models of human genius. But when it comes to implementing
> programmes of collaborative research, the complaint is still often
> made that each of the participants approaches the problems too much
> influenced by the particular ways they were taught to handle them in
> their original specialisations.  (not on p. 181)

The great examples we have of major collaborative undertakings from the 
sciences -- greatest of all, perhaps, the Manhattan Project -- involved 
experts cooperating, sometimes made to cooperate by a commanding leader 
such as Oppenheimer. At our local level, we see (but so far have not 
studied) the beginnings of the sort of mastery Lloyd here speaks of, in 
the settings and situations the digital humanities are capable of 
bringing about. Lloyd's book (unsurprisingly when you think about it) is 
a sobering, and thrilling, (re)minder of how large and complex the world 
of disciplinarity is.

The story of incommesurability among ways of knowing and communicating 
is told e.g. in the story of the Tower of Babel, with its prior vision 
of one universal language, or we might say, one universal discipline. 
But before that story was told, and ever since, poets and scholars have 
not stopped triangulating on that which can never be reached except in 
such visions. The scholar's way is exemplified magnificiently by Lloyd's 
book. Read it tonight!


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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