[Humanist] 26.179 fundamental research questions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jul 22 00:45:14 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 179.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 178.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Sat, 21 Jul 2012 08:59:23 +0200
        From: Julia Flanders <julia_flanders at brown.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.175 fundamental research questions
        In-Reply-To: <20120720232026.91BFD28467E at woodward.joyent.us>

In thinking about how to identify, or articulate, a fundamental research question in DH I would find it very helpful to see examples of what we consider to be fundamental research questions in "traditional humanities" disciplines. I ask this question partly to get at the idea of "fundamental" which seems to distinguish a set of questions that are more widely shared than, or that lie at the root of, the individual questions that motivate the work of individual researchers. What makes a question "fundamental" rather than simply "exceptionally consequential or urgent"? I also ask this in all earnestness because (at the risk of appearing to have been raised by wolves) my own graduate training did not (at any point that I can remember) identify any such questions or suggest that we (English Literature PhD students) should do so. But I think this was at least partly because of recent bitterness of disagreement within my department at the time about what those questions might be--I think there was a sort of reluctance to tread on that terrain.

I really would be grateful to see any examples people feel are especially long-standing questions that have motivated research in specific humanities disciplines for a long time, or of questions that have emerged more recently and been widely understood to be new and compelling. I don't think we would arrive at a sense of the fundamental questions in DH by simply adding "…in the digital era" to such questions, but it would help me calibrate my sense of what is being asked for. 

All best wishes as I prepare to enter the public transportation river on my way home from what has been a very enjoyable and rewarding conference in Hamburg--

Julia Flanders
Brown University

On Jul 21, 2012, at 1:20 AM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 175.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
>  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (45)
>        Subject: fundamental research questions?
> 
>  [2]   From:    Mícheál Mac an Airchinnigh <mmacanai at cs.tcd.ie>         (27)
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.172 fundamental research question?
> 
>  [3]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (86)
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.172 fundamental research question?
> 
>  [4]   From:    Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>                                 (6)
>        Subject: What does it mean, a fundamental research question? Humanist
>                26:172
> 
> 
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2012 06:59:03 +1000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: fundamental research questions?
> 
> 
> I can think of two responses to Claire Clivaz's posting yesterday, in 
> Humanist 26.172, on fundamental research questions, specifically on the 
> lack of them, in digital humanities research.
> 
> One is that in some if not many cases the research question, and so the 
> research, is primarily if not entirely what a traditional researcher 
> brings to his or her collaboration with someone from the digital 
> humanities. In other words, the lack of such questions in the digital 
> humanities points to the passivity of the field when it exists only in 
> response to a request for help. In other words, this lack is a symptom 
> of a service-orientated activity. Servants, we know, have no significant 
> life of their own. Hence Manfred Thaller's recently asked question, at 
> the event in Cologne, what about *our* agenda?
> 
> My second response is that the privileging of a research question (which 
> as director of a PhD programme I enforce all the time) is a symptom of a 
> disease of our time, namely to accept without much thought a formula for 
> what research is that in fact does not represent fairly the kind of 
> research most important to the humanities and the sciences. I think 
> that if one looks carefully and closely at the history of research in 
> any field, one finds that *research* often begins and for a long time 
> proceeds without anything as explicit as a question in mind -- or at 
> least not a question that would be acceptable to the director of a PhD 
> programme such as mine. I would guess that the question with which 
> one begins, if there is anything as explicitly articulated, is not the 
> question retrospectively constructed after the fact. The behaviours 
> of complex systems cannot, after all, be predicted!
> 
> My second response is not, please note, intended to counter the 
> first. I think both of them are symptoms of something we had better work 
> on curing while we can. One way to begin would be by reading accounts 
> of research lives, e.g. published by the (American) National Academies
> Press (http://www.nap.edu/topics.php?topic=292) and by the American 
> Council of Learned Societies, in the Charles Homer Haskins Prize
> lecture series (http://www.acls.org/pubs/haskins/). This is one reason,
> I think, why Julianne Nyhan's Hidden Histories project for the digital 
> humanities (first fruits of which are soon to be published) is so
> important.
> 
> Comments?
> 
> Yours,
> WM







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