[Humanist] 27.648 disciplinary labels and boundaries

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Dec 24 11:09:05 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 648.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>             (44)
        Subject: Re:  27.647 disciplinary labels

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (48)
        Subject: more on disciplines

        Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2013 12:34:05 +0100
        From: "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>
        Subject: Re:  27.647 disciplinary labels
        In-Reply-To: <20131223092136.4A74F5FE5 at digitalhumanities.org>

Isn't creating new areas or subjects of research very much 
like falling in love? It happens quite easily and happens 
quite often, but only the experienced stick to it. The 
inflation of Genglish terms and tokens in German academia 
has already been subject to criticism, e.g. in a conference 
of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences this year. It 
may in fact lead to overgrazing common fields, if resources 
remain as limited. It looks like an inverse of the beggar- 
thy-neighbour strategy to me.- Thank you for having 
tolerated my mere human presence intermingling with 
sometimes perhaps useful bits of information.

Best regards,

Am 23.12.2013 10:21, schrieb Humanist Discussion Group:
> In "Technology is not the problem", in Speaking Minds: Interviews with
> twenty eminent cognitive scientists, ed. Baumgartner and Pyer (Princeton
> 1995), Herbert Simon's interviewer remarks that, "The word cognitive
> science exists in German, but there has been, until now, no established
> interdisciplinary research program behind [cognitive science]". Simon
> replies,
>> >There does not have to be a real thing for every noun -- take
>> >philosophy. The reason why the term cognitive science exists over
>> >here and why we have a society is that people found it convenient to
>> >have conversations across disciplinary boundaries: psychology,
>> >philosophy, linguistics, and Artificial Intelligence. A few
>> >anthropologists are wandering in now. Cognitive science is the place
>> >where they meet. It does not matter whether it is a discipline. It is
>> >not really a discipline yet. Whether cognitive science departments
>> >survive or whether people want to get their degrees in psychology and
>> >computer science remains to be seen. Here (at Carnegie-Mellon
>> >University) we decided that we will still give degrees in computer
>> >science and cognitive psychology, not in cognitive science. These are
>> >just labels for the fact that there is a lot of conversation across
>> >disciplines.
> The interviewer again: "In Europe, labels are treated like boundaries."
> Simon:
>> >We have this danger here, too. Nouns are tyrants. People think that if
>> >there is a noun, there must be an idea behind it. The world is much more
>> >fluid than that.
> (p. 234)

        Date: Tue, 24 Dec 2013 09:57:41 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: more on disciplines
        In-Reply-To: <20131223092136.4A74F5FE5 at digitalhumanities.org>

Disciplinary training at the doctoral level (like training-wheels on a 
bicycle?) are a necessary beginning, but there's more. This morning 
I've come across the following in Tony Grafton's Introduction to the 
English translation of Horst Bredekamp's The Lure of Antiquity and 
the Cult of the Machine (Markus Wiener / Princeton 1995). "In the 
present book-length essay", Grafton writes,

> Bredekamp performs what the German art historian Aby Warburg defined
> long ago as the central task of cultural history: he forces his way
> past the "border police" who normally keep each scholarly discipline
> distinct from the rest, and shows that modern ways of organizing
> knowledge do not and cannot do justice to vital aspects of social and
> cultural history.  (p. xi)

There is a necessary tentativeness, productive of the questioning which 
keeps scholarship from becoming dogma, which needs rescuing from that 
which disciplines make of what they consider. In his book Bredekamp thus 
demonstrated, Grafton writes, that the "cabinet of curiosities", which 
is its focus,

> was in fact something more than a collection of splendid works of art
> and nature. It was the alembic in which a new view of nature took
> shape -- one which showed , visually and vividly, that nature and art
> had histories, and emphasized the radical changes  that nature
> underwent over time as its powers and resources were exploited in
> novel ways.  (xii)

Grafton concludes,

> And it shows that even the most sensitive and erudite cultural
> historians have gone wrong because they have treated visual documents
> as illustrations of doctrines stated more clearly in verbal ones,
> rather than as independent evidence for the history of ideas about
> nature.  (xiii)

The word I want to focus on here is "independent", to argue for the 
independence of mind that can discern the independence, or tentative, or 
qualified interdependence of intellectual objects on each other.

We go into other disciplines with respect that fosters understanding of 
how their practitioners do what they do, and why, in their own terms. We 
don't bring computing with us -- perhaps we once did, but by now it's 
already there. One of our jobs, I would think, is to see not just change 
in manner of work within this or that discipline (because scholars 
within it choose to do new things) but also to see the altering forces 
at work, to see (as Grafton said) the alembic at work and to stoke its 
fires, assist in the transformation and perhaps run away with its products.

Nice, agreeable collaborative arrangements have their place and 
function. But what about the creative force of digital humanities?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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