[Humanist] 27.502 grants for curiosity?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Nov 2 08:52:09 CET 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 502.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Sat, 02 Nov 2013 07:11:44 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: substitution of grants for curiosity

American President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address of January 1961 
is best known for his warning of the threat posed to the country by the 
"military-industrial complex" -- a phrase which has since then found no 
lack of uses. But this address is historically valuable, indeed 
prescient as well, in other ways. One of these is, I think, relevant to 
digital humanities directly.

In the address Eisenhower considers the changes to his country in the 
time he has been alive to see them, including (as well as the 
establishment of a permanent industry for military purposes) a great 
shift in research. As you may be aware World War II brought together 
many scientists to work on urgent problems. After the war many of the 
great collaborative groups broke up, but funding for the Cold War 
fuelled the developments toward Big Science, for example in the "factory 
physics" (as Louis Alvarez's style came to be known) responsible for so 
many discoveries of subatomic particles. This is what Eisenhower has to 
say on the subject:

> Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our
> industrial- military posture, has been the technological revolution
> during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become
> central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A
> steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction
> of, the Federal government.
>
> Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been
> overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing
> fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the
> fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced
> a revolution in the conduct of research.
>
> Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract
> becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every
> old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
> The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal
> employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever
> present and is gravely to be regarded.

Our relative uselessness has, I suppose, protected us from government 
contracts becoming "virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity" 
until recently. But for us also, more so because of our popularity, "The 
prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by... project 
allocations [and] the power of money is ever present and is gravely to 
be regarded".

Comments? (For the whole speech see 
http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/research/online_documents/farewell_address.html.)

Yours,
WM
-- 
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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