[Humanist] 24.431 digital humanities and the cuts

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Oct 26 05:16:05 GMT 2010

                      Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 431.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

[1]   From:    Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>                  (459)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.428 digital humanities and the cuts

[2]   From:    Alan Liu <ayliu at english.ucsb.edu>                         (95)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.428 digital humanities and the cuts

[3]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (24)
Subject: the terms of engagement

Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2010 09:12:21 +0100
From: Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.428 digital humanities and the cuts
In-Reply-To: <20101025050529.739775FF7B at woodward.joyent.us>

I fear the worst case scenario will be the most likely one: Most people will
go to university to do a vocational degree in the vain hope this is how they
get a job, whilst the Humanities and Social Sciences wither on the vine
until they become something only rich, privileged people do.

Universities are now apparently engine rooms of the economy. Such a bonehead
utilitarian argument does, of course, ignore one salient fact: Adam Smith
was a philosopher.

- Alexander

Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2010 01:30:13 -0700
From: Alan Liu <ayliu at english.ucsb.edu>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.428 digital humanities and the cuts
In-Reply-To: <20101025050529.739775FF7B at woodward.joyent.us>

On Sun, Oct 24, 2010 at 10:05 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

But I question whether anything we can do now will make a modicum of
> difference, . . .

We need not be too quietist about this, lest we give up our undergirding
faith that ideas, words, and information--and the new technologies and media
that propagate them--have value, whether in the near or long term, whether
for a smaller or larger social circle.

I think here of such venerable organizations as the Computer Professionals
for Social Responsibility (CPSR) http://cpsr.org/, Association for
Progressive Communications (APC) http://www.apc.org/, the Institute for
Global Communications (IGC) http://www.igc.org/, and so on.  Their model
leads to the following line of thought:

1. If the humanities are in trouble,

2. If the digital humanities now have a special potential and responsibility
to represent the humanities

a. because the digital humanities are affecting an ever larger arc of the

b. because the (modest) ability of the digital humanities to gain funding
shows that they have the potential to seem relevant to administrators,
government agencies, and possibly even legislators who otherwise have
already dismissed the humanities as yesterday's news,

c. because the digital humanities contribute to the advancement and
deployment of technologies that link the humanities with other disciplines
(including some STEM fields that need the participation of humanists to
pursue interdisciplinary grants) [i.e., the digital humanities have true
interdisciplinary potential],

d. and because the digital humanities have the means to communicate quickly
and directly to the public in ways that short-circuit the traditional,
ponderous levers of university and governmental action,

3. Then the natural course of action for interested members of the Humanist
list at this extraordinary time is to start a site that, without necessarily
engaging in direct political advocacy, imitates the CPSR, APC, IGC, and so
on to do the following:

a. Advocates for the public value of humanities discoveries and projects
(including a subset of digital humanities discoveries and projects).  [We
could very quickly generate a world-wide version of the kind of examples I
circulated in my last message:
http://liu.english.ucsb.edu/wp-includes/docs/UC-research-examples.pdf  We
could also likely recruit advocacy statements for the humanities, if not
from Churchill, then from some leading scientists, businessmen, religious
leaders, movie stars, etc.]

b. Provides tools, templates, media expertise, social-network methods,
examples, etc., for local or national networks of humanities educators to
make their case before the public.  (Just as MoveOn.org makes or sponsors
commercials, we could actually make the "mustard gas" advertisement that
Patrick Durusau suggests in his post to this thread.)

Such a site is unlikely to have results in the immediate crisis, but we have
to think long term about educating the public and its government legislators
or ministers.  Otherwise, we will have given up the ghost, and the business
of education we are engaged in will be only the shadow of the business of
"industrialization" (or post-industrialization) that is the topic of other,
parallel thread on Humanist at this time.  This is why I said earlier that
higher education (and, more specifically, the humanities) must insist on the
necessary, if evolving, *differences*--and not just similarities--between
its institution and the institutions that dominate today's
governmental-business master plan.  We have to make the case for a rich
*diversity *of socially, culturally, and economically important paradigms of
"innovation" and "productivity."  As I exhorted my University of California
colleagues, numbering in the thousands, when I asked them for examples of
publicly valuable humanities research: show me a citizen who finds the UC
discovery of the "cyclotron" valuable, and I will show you another 100 who
feel that their lives were changed by an author, artist, auteur,
philosopher, theologian, etc. that the humanities have brought back to life,
preserved, understood, taught, etc.

Some questions that arise pursuant to the above line of thought:

--Is there enough interest in my call to action?

--If so, is there a way to stage this action (e.g., first a quick-and-dirtysite, then a grant that allows us to do a good job on the tech and necessary
research)?  [If there are any grant officers listening in on Humanist,
please contact us, or me back-channel, if you are interested.]

--Do we need an organization?

--What is the most effective scope of the effort: the humanities, the
humanities and arts, the humanities/arts/social sciences?  (For instance,
widening to the "humanities and arts" implies widening the digital side to
"digital humanities and new media studies," which in turn means attempting
to reach out from the Humanist list to the Nettime list.  There are both
advantages and disadvantages to such a widening.)

I put in about 300 hours of work last year for similar advocacy purposes for
the University of California Commission on the Future working group on
"research strategies," which I mentioned in my last post, only to learn that
UC administrators and the California Regents consistently put research at
the bottom of their priorities, except for the bottom-line issue of
"indirect cost recovery" (getting more tax for the university out of
research grants).  The powers that be are hypnotized by the immediate budget
crisis and the potential anger of middle-class voters at rising tuition (up
32% in UC in a single year).  That largely futile effort, to be frank,
burned me out.  But I could put in a few more hours if others were
interested and there was the possibility of building something for the long
term and for a global fight for the humanities (customizable, through the
wonders of modern database technology, into local fights in particular
nations and states).


Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2010 21:55:37 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: the terms of engagement
In-Reply-To: <20101025050529.739775FF7B at woodward.joyent.us>

Consider the following aired on BC Radio 4, in the interview
programme "The Material World" for 21 October 2010, concerning the
results of the U.K. government's spending review for the sciences.
(Colleagues here will know that funds for the sciences have been
ring-fenced, whereas funds for the humanities have been eliminated.)

Quentin Cooper, host of the programme: "Was the Government listening?"

David Willitts, Science Minister: "Yes, I think we were listening, and
the evidence has come out in the announcement we've made. What's been
very striking in the last few years is that the scientific community has
assembled very powerful evidence such as in that Royal Society report,
The Scientific Century, about what the benefits are for scientific
research. Now you can argue that it's all worthwhile in its own rights,
but the fact that it clearly contributes to the performance of the
economy and the well-being of citizens -- that's really strong evidence,
and we deployed it."

For the Royal Society report see


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

More information about the Humanist mailing list