[Humanist] 25.941 Humanist's silver jubilee!

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun May 6 23:52:40 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 941.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 07 May 2012 07:43:06 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Humanist's silver jubilee

In the UK anniversaries of accession to the throne are 
celebrated as jubilees. In Jewish history a jubilee (a word whose 
origins run through Hebrew, Greek and Latin) is "A year of emancipation 
and restoration, which according to the institution in Lev. xxv was to 
be kept every fifty years, and to be proclaimed by the blast of trumpets 
throughout the land" (OED). In 1300, that same source tells me, Boniface 
VIII instituted a jubilee as "a year of remission from the penal 
consequences of sin" to be celebrated every 100 years by the performance 
of pious works. Later regulations were relaxed, so that an extraordinary 
jubilee can be celebrated "at any time either to the whole Church or to 
particular countries or cities".

Being digital, Humanist's silver (i.e. 25th year) jubilee requires no 
washing in blood, indeed no washing at all! Being our first time, 
however, I'd think that a few extraordinary whoops of joy are in order.

When I began writing this note a fair bit in advance of today, I was not 
at all sure whether this whoop of mine would be sent out to the far 
corners of the round earth actually on the day itself, 7 May. I wasn't 
at all certain that after some 23 hours of travel from London to Sydney, 
with all the uncertainties of establishing a connection in a rather 
dazed state of mind, I and my arrangements would be up to the challenge. 
But it seems they are. So, greetings from Luxe, a very fine coffee shop 
in Newtown, Sydney, early on a Monday morning. 

These days I am frequently if unpredictably caught up in amazement that 
we in the digital humanities are not only still here, that we're not 
only prospering in every external way that marks the health of a field 
of enquiry, but that in particular jobs in the field are popping up, PhD 
students are vigorously engaged in seeing to the next generation and 
very interesting technical problems abound. Yes, there's still the 
wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth; I still lose a certain amount 
of sleep over the fragility of it all. But, I put it to you, a decade 
ago most of what is now happening would have been inconceivable. 
Whenever I hear nervous nellies fretting over whether it is or not a 
whatever, who's in and who's out etc ad nauseam, I gesture at the PhD 
students who are, even as I write, answering the anxieties by their 
actions and devotion to their work. Not all of them, perhaps not even a 
large minority, will become full-time academics, alas. But they are 
bring ever better into being what the nellies say doesn't exist, or not 
for very long, or not really at all. I say, behold, rejoice -- and above 
all learn.

The urge to reproduction is, of course, just that, an urge. But there is 
a real need for us to make this undertaking of ours less fragile, to 
spread it to younger and smarter practitioners, who will find out more 
of and about what we're doing than we've been able to discover. 
Computing's mutability-by-design won't be realised efficiently or 
perhaps not at all by those who have found their version of it and 
(mis)taken it for some kind of permanent it. More likely is that the 
young ones will see the new in potentia and bring it out into the light. 
But I am not speaking of chronological age primarily, rather of that 
youthful daring and restlessness to which, I have discovered, so-called 
retirement can bestow perhaps an even greater license.

In this grossly utilitarian and very nervous time it is understandable 
and perhaps necessary to fret over our usefulness to others, but in my 
opinion we have done altogether too much of this in the digital 
humanities. I sometimes wonder what happened to the youthful and 
youth-making joy of being curious and finding things out. To paraphrase 
an aboriginal American we are apt to forget the whole point of this (and 
every other) form of life: to be enabled to run out into the field, look 
up into the bright air and rejoice.

Happy 25th, Humanist!

All the best.

Professor Willard McCarty, Department of Digital Humanities, King's
College London; Professor (fractional), University of Western Sydney;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org); Editor,
Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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