[Humanist] 26.692 forensics

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jan 18 07:58:47 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 692.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Prescott, Andrew" <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>            (95)
        Subject: Re:  26.688 forensics of terminology?

  [2]   From:    Alan Galey <galey.lists at gmail.com>                        (52)
        Subject: Re:  26.688 forensics of terminology?

  [3]   From:    David R <davrich at gmail.com>                               (17)
        Subject: Forensics

        Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2013 10:24:02 +0000
        From: "Prescott, Andrew" <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  26.688 forensics of terminology?
        In-Reply-To: <20130117092241.59F66F8E at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

The thought that immediately crossed my mind in reading your comment was Raymond Williams's 'Keywords'. This of course was originally intended as a lengthy appendix to 'Culture and Society'. Williams's forensic dissection of these keywords was one of the foundations of the British intellectual tradition of cultural studies, and has helped transform the wider study of literature. I think it is fascinating and totally appropriate that a recent Stanford exercise in quantitative reading (recently discussed by Alan Liu) should revisit Williams's 'Keywords'. But Williams was of course concerned with historical terminology, and your suggestion is more about a critical examination of the terminology we use in our rhetoric in support of the digital humanities. You are right that we unthinkingly take over certain words as central to our approach without any very deep analysis or reflection on how we use them. Looking at those words critically might make us rethink many aspects of the ways we approach our developing subject. In recent talks (on my blog, digitalriffs.blogspot.com) I've tried to suggest that we use words like 'project', 'collaboration' and 'interdisciplinary' rather unthinkingly, and these words could do with the kind of rigorous analysis you suggest (which my initial forays certainly do not represent). Other words we should analyse perhaps are: 'team', 'access', 'curation', 'discovery', 'academic', 'scholarly', 'rigorous'. Another interesting one here, with many Wiliams overtones, is 'crowd'. Maybe we should establish a wiki to share such digital humanities keywords. In my view, such reflective analysis of terms and concepts which are increasingly becoming all pervasive should be one of the major things that the humanities brings to a digital world.


Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS 
Head of Department 
Department of Digital Humanities 
King's College London 
26-29 Drury Lane 
London WC2B 5RL 
+44 (0)20 7848 2651 

On 17 Jan 2013, at 09:22, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 688.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                              www.dhhumanist.org/
>                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?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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);
> www.mccarty.org.uk/

        Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2013 10:05:51 -0500
        From: Alan Galey <galey.lists at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  26.688 forensics of terminology?
        In-Reply-To: <20130117092241.59F66F8E at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

I've found the Routledge New Critical Idiom series of books to be
helpful in chasing down the histories of terms. Recently I read Anne
Whitehead's fine entry on Memory (2009), which serves as a gateway
drug for yet more addictive stuff like Nora, Ricoeur, and Carruthers.
What I like about these books is that they're written not to be the
last word on their topic, but the first word (as it were) for students
or more advanced researchers looking laterally to other fields.

"Archive(s)" is a trickier term, and even going back to a sober,
professional archives glossary for a stable origin will likely yield a
three-part definition along the lines of records/building/institution.
However, I'd suggest that looking for the origins of terms needs to be
balanced by considering their destinations, too, in the spirit of
philology and forensics alike -- and Raymond Williams, who's hovering
at the edge of this discussion. In that spirit, I'd recommend three
readings as an aggregate starting-point for understanding the term

-- Marlene Manoff, “Theories of the Archive from Across the
Disciplines,” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.1 (2004): 9–25.

-- Andrew Prescott, “The Textuality of the Archive,” in What Are
Archives? Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives: A Reader, ed. Louise
Craven (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2008)

-- Michael J. O'Driscoll, “Derrida, Foucault, and the Archiviolithics
of History,” in After Poststructuralism: Writing the Intellectual
History of Theory, ed. Tilottama Rajan and Michael O'Driscoll
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002)

That gives the reader a potent concoction of critical theory, history,
and the literature of archivists themselves -- the latter, especially,
too often goes unread by non-archivists. (Fun fact about archival
studies: like DH, it's a field that has an open-access journal as one
of its top 2 or 3 journals: http://journals.sfu.ca/archivar/) This is
all very much on my mind recently as I'm working on a book chapter
that attempts to bridge the worlds of archival theory (by archivists),
archival theory (by poststructuralists, some of whom are archivists),
and textual scholars. As a non-archivist myself, who came to the term
through Derrida, I've had my eyes opened by teaching archives students
and being down the hall from archives scholars in an iSchool. There's
much to learn from that field.

One last meta-comment about something you said in your original post,
Willard: "That we should not yet have a robust language for what we do
is hardly surprising." There's a lot of invisible weight resting on
the word "we" in this statement. It's what I call a "load-bearing
pronoun" when I discuss critical reading with my students. Perhaps one
could say that a plural sense of identity helps one to find the robust
language you're seeking?


Alan Galey
Assistant Professor
University of Toronto

        Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2013 12:42:51 -0500
        From: David R <davrich at gmail.com>
        Subject: Forensics
        In-Reply-To: <20130117092241.59F66F8E at digitalhumanities.org>

A brief note:  we might use the term forensic historian (for instance) to
describe work in historical methods or documentation that is of such
calibre as to be admissible in a court of law.  The point is that it meets
the legal-judicial field's standards -- whether "clear, convincing, and
unequivocal" or "beyond reasonable doubt", depending on the matter (and
obviously, only in common law systems). At the same time, such forensic
work is also accountable to the standards of its own profession -- the
historical methodology in this example.  With no room for error, such a
forensics is obliged to recognize what is establish as fact, and what is
probable, possible or deduced. It does not advocate; it assesses to the
highest standard possible.  (It is therefore challengable by an opponent on
all of these terms and bases, as well.)

Perhaps the common (non-legal) use of this term implies a specialization in
micro-study -- in history, the history of the everyday (Alltasgeschichte),
which sifts and describes the granularity of actions and events from the
lowest possible level, a realm with which few professional historians
occupy themselves for very long.

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