[Humanist] 27.503 grants for curiosity

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Nov 3 07:34:54 CET 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 503.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Alexander O'Connor <Alex.OConnor at scss.tcd.ie>             (76)
        Subject: Re:  27.502 grants for curiosity?

  [2]   From:    Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel at ualberta.ca>                  (10)
        Subject: Heidegger and scholarship


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 2 Nov 2013 08:20:55 +0000
        From: Alexander O'Connor <Alex.OConnor at scss.tcd.ie>
        Subject: Re:  27.502 grants for curiosity?
        In-Reply-To: <20131102075210.0FB7E7689 at digitalhumanities.org>


Hi All

Call this idle thought, but:

I wonder to some extent is there an overly romantic perception of these sole tinkerers? 

Many of them were quite wealthy, and would employ amanuenses and factotums from either their or their patron's grants. These assistants were even more anonymous and ignored than modern junior academics. 

Also, much of what used to be activity reserved for those wealthy enough for idle indulgence has professionalised. Look at sport—there are few amateurs at world level. 

Finally, the scientific narrative has never been as simple as the Eureka! anecdotes reflect. While people want to find one great discoverer, ideas, their development and their exploitation each is part of a many-handed, messier process than story-tellers of science would like. You can see this with the great tension about who is awarded Nobel prizes. 

--
Dr. Alexander O'Connor
Alex.OConnor at scss.tcd.ie

> On 2 Nov 2013, at 07:52, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
>                 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


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sat, 2 Nov 2013 11:56:28 -0600
        From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel at ualberta.ca>
        Subject: Heidegger and scholarship
        In-Reply-To: <20131102075210.0FB7E7689 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

Thank you for the quote from President Eisenhower regarding the substitution of grants for curiosity. I am reminded of a point Heidegger makes in "The Age of the World Picture”:

> The decisive unfolding of the character of modern science as constant activity produces, therefore, a human being of another stamp. The scholar disappears and is replaced by the researcher engaged in research programs. These, and not the cultivation of scholarship, are what places his work at the cutting edge. The researcher no longer needs a library at home. He is, moreover, constantly on the move. He negotiates at conferences and collects information at congresses.
> 
> From an inner compulsion, the researcher presses forward into the sphere occupied by the figure of, in the essential sense, the technologist. Only in this way can he remain capable of being effective, and only then, in the eyes of his age, is he real. Alongside him, an increasingly thinner and emptier romanticism of scholarship and the university will still be able to survive for some time at certain places. (Heidegger 2002, 64)

What is less clear is whether Heidegger thinks the scholar is a more authentic figure. My read is that Heidegger recognizes that the scholar is prone to pedantry just as the researcher is prone to self-important busyness. It isn’t the case that one academic mode of activity is inherently better than the other. It is how you do scholarship or research projects that matters.

He also reminds us to be careful of romanticizing scholarship, especially at those times (right before the DH submission deadline) when one wishes for a life of scholarly leisure.

Yours, after a busy week,

Geoffrey Rockwell

Heidegger, M. (2002). The Age of the World Picture (J. Young & K. Haynes, Trans.) Off the Beaten Track (pp. 57-85). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




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