[Humanist] 26.688 forensics of terminology?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jan 17 10:22:41 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 688.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2013 07:05:22 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: forensics of terminology

I would have a critical essay at least as long and as solid as Matt
Kirschenbaum's "Coda: The Forensic Imagination" on each term we find
ourselves using, or like Geoffrey Nunberg's historically informed "Farewell
to the Information Age". Do we have anything up to this mark on
"collaboration"? "archive"? "memory"? -- indeed, as Jerry McGann has said,
"text"? What are our other Firthian magic words? I now imagine a series of
doctoral dissertations in digital philology, which would fit nicely into our
PhD in Digital Humanities programme. Applications would be most welcome.

My note on "forensics" was intended as an initial nudge, prompted by a 
long-standing unrest at the poor, ill-nourished state of the vocabulary 
of the digital humanities. That we should not yet have a robust language 
for what we do is hardly surprising, but that doesn't make it any the 
less of a problem.

A second prompt came from my discovery of Kurt Danziger's Naming the
Mind: How Psychology Found its Language (London: Sage, 1997). In the
initial chapter of that book he recounts an experience attempting to
design a seminar in psychology at an Indonesian university with an
Indonesian colleague. Neither scholar could recognise the terms used by
the other nor understand why he would ask the questions he was asking.
All the basic equipment of thought about what we call psychological
phenomena, what these phenomena are and so forth, both discovered to be
utterly different across the two cultures:

> ...his topics were not only unfamiliar to me, I found his description
> of them hard to follow. They did not seem to me to constitute natural
> domains, and the questions to which they led seemed to be based on
> assumptions I could not share. Then he pointed out that I too was
> making a few assumptions which he found equally difficult to accept.
> In drawing up our list of topics and in formulating our questions
> about them we were both taking a lot for granted, but agreement on
> what was to be taken for granted proved quite elusive. It became
> obvious that if we were to have a joint seminar it would quickly turn
> into a discussion of philosophical, not psychological, issues. That
> was not what I had had in mind. (p. 2)

Quite quickly we find ourselves on the comparative terrain explored so
brilliantly by Geoffrey Lloyd, e.g. in Cognitive Variations: Reflections
on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
2007). But, as Danziger says, the immediate questions for a discipline
that finds itself on such uncertain terrain, lies with its own discourse.

So, again: what are our key terms? What do we mean by them? How are our
meanings ours?



Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Humanities and Communication Arts,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist (dhhumanist.org);

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