[Humanist] 27.150 is no one curious?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 24 23:04:43 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 150.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 25 Jun 2013 06:51:15 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: unintentional, serendipitous research

In the Chronicle of Higher Education for 23 June, Julio Alves writes in 
praise of "Unintentional Knowledge: What we find when we're not looking" 
He documents the changes in library usage at his institution, from 
dependence on printed materials to online, but with that shift he notes 
increasing conformity of students' research to that which can be found 
by subject- (and presumably discipline-) specific searching. Happy 
accidents in the stacks -- going for one book and finding another, and 
another unexpectedly -- don't tend to happen any longer, he says.

My experience with online searching, which I do every day of the week, 
every week of every year, is so much the opposite that I wonder at the 
cause of this conformity. When I was doing my doctoral research I knew 
to nose around in the English literature stacks, and those for classics 
and biblical studies, and so often did. I ventured out, e.g. into the 
social sciences, history et al when a title came up, but otherwise my 
prowlings were rather limited. (No wonder it took me 8 years to complete 
my degree....) Now the situation is much worse (better). I am often 
adrift in a vast ocean of digital stuff, blown this way and that by every 
promising trade wind that happens to blow. Frequently I am frantically 
trying not to be blown onto shores of fascinating new riches. I may sink 
with all the treasure I have loaded on board before I get a chance even 
to finger it. 

This is to say nothing about my profligacy of book-buying that is a direct
consequence of digital serendipity. Amazon Prime, one-click option 
turned on, of course.

In other words, I think an inculcated narrowness of mind is the problem, 
not our marvellous online resources. I think the disciplinary blinkers 
that Greg Dening thundered about are the problem. I think our professors 
are failing to understand that the times are not just changing now but 
have already done quite a lot of changing. And, perhaps most seriously 
of all, I think all the pernicious nonsense about universities training 
for jobs by giving students transferable skills has done deep damage. 
For shame, Paymasters!

What do I need to read, boss? May I punch out now and go home to my 
telly, beer and chips?


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

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