[Humanist] 27.511 being romantic

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Nov 6 07:23:40 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 511.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Colin Greenstreet <colin.greenstreet at googlemail.com>     (110)
        Subject: Re:  27.508 being romantic

  [2]   From:    "Lele, Amod" <lele at bu.edu>                                (85)
        Subject: Re:  27.508 being romantic

        Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2013 13:06:02 +0000
        From: Colin Greenstreet <colin.greenstreet at googlemail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.508 being romantic
        In-Reply-To: <20131105064424.52ED676D0 at digitalhumanities.org>

*Scale and the professionalisation of research*

This has been an interesting debate on the professionalisation of
humanities (and other) research and the growth of scale.  However, the
debate, as I see it, has moved to historical terms, rather than looking to
current and future developments in the humanities.

Let me place my cards on the table.  My background is in the pharmaceutical
industry, and, specifically in pharmaceutical research.  I am used to
research and development on a massive scale (GlaxoWellcome had over 10,000
in R&D when I was head of GlaxoWellcome R&D strategy).

When I turned my attention to my earlier passion of history and historical
research five years ago I was struck by the disconnect between the
structure and processes I had seen in pharmaceutical research and
management consulting, and those within the humanities.

Let me be clear, I am no fan of scale and scope for their own sake. Indeed
the great challenge for GlaxoWellcome and then GlaxoSmithKline was (and is)
to structure units and incentives within the overall R&D group of an
appropriate size and culture for the different tasks required in the
decade-plus process of moving from discovering a new molecular entity to
its regulatory approval in the form of a drug.

Fifteen months ago I started the MarineLives project to bring explore how
scale and scope might have an impact on historical understanding of
mid-seventeenth century English High Court of Admiralty records.  A group
of thirty volunteers - school and university students, PhD candidates,
enthusiasts, and retirees - transcribed over 1300 pages of a single volume
of HCA depositions from the years 1656-1657 over a five month period.  The
volunteers were in six different countries, and were organised in teams,
supported by team facilitators and by collaborative opensource software.
Their motivations were varied, ranging from a desire to learn palaeography,
to a wish to create something of intellectual value, and a desire to
socialise online with others who shared their own interests.

Fifteen months since the start of the project we have now transcribed one
and a half million words, most of which are freely available to the public
in the form of wikis. The total cash cost of the project to date has been
under £1000.  Participation in our project is on a voluntary basis and
without cost to the participant.

In a world in which taught and research masters degrees now cost £9000 a
year in tuition fees, it will be interesting to see whether alternatives
develop which offer skills development and research experience without the
financial burden of a formal degree.  Moreover, without some of the
constraints of a formal research degree, it will be interesting to see
whether approaches to  skills development and team management emerge which
can combine some of the attractions of humanities content with skills
needed outside the academic world.

For further information on MarineLives see our ShippingNews blog (
http://marinelives-theshippingnews.org/blog/) and our website (
http://marinelives.org/). You can also follow us on facebook (
https://www.facebook.com/MarineLives) and Twitter (


Colin Greenstreet

On Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 6:44 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 508.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Mon, 04 Nov 2013 07:03:38 +0000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: romantic notions
> In both Geoffrey Rockwell's and Andrew Prescott's helpful and cautionary
> responses to my note on Dwight Eisenhower's view of research the word
> "romantic" carries the weight of criticism. I think the parting of
> company with these two friends and colleagues that I'd own to can be
> described as the difference between two senses of that word: first,
> mine, "that is told of in romances; fabled"; second, theirs, "fantastic,
> extravagant, quixotic; going beyond what is customary or practical. Of a
> person, personality, etc.: given to or characterized by such ideas;
> responsive to the promptings of imagination or fancy regardless of
> practicality" (OED, freely assembled). In other words, I think the
> difference is between a deep-rooted idealism and a feet-on-the-ground
> realism. I'm *very* glad my friends are realists, but I cannot help myself
> when it comes to research -- I'm a romantic.
> Let me fight my corner a bit longer. I was not arguing or implying
> an argument that a once-upon-a-time of idyllic unfettered research
> conditions could be shown historically to have existed and so been lost.
> Perhaps it has, but I was not arguing that.I was not overlooking the fact
> that e.g. the enviably privileged environment of Bertrand Russell's
> Cambridge in the 1890s, which he describes so well in Portraits from
> Memory, was solely for already privileged males, which would have
> excluded me on one count and my partner on both. I was speaking about
> where we set our sights, how high we set them. In a very different, far
> more cynical tone Machiavelli advises his reader,
> > Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which
> > yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the
> > strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not
> > to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able
> > with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach.
> The Prince 2.6
> I do wonder if a case could be made for a parallel between the histories
> of the terms "Victorian" and "romantic", that both began as badges of
> honour describing whole ways of life and thought, then became utterly
> pejorative. We have seen "Victorian" largely restored to honour, I would
> suppose. I have great hopes for "romantic".
> 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

        Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2013 16:31:46 +0000
        From: "Lele, Amod" <lele at bu.edu>
        Subject: Re:  27.508 being romantic
        In-Reply-To: <20131105064424.52ED676D0 at digitalhumanities.org>

Related note: in Francis Fiorenza's class on hermeneutics at Harvard, he
devoted some time to telling us "how to cuss in hermeneutics". He
explained that you could "cuss at someone in hermeneutics" by calling them
a Romantic (with a capital R); scholars in hermeneutics now are apparently
always eager to deny that they are Romantics. The Romantic view in
question is that associated with Friedrich Schleiermacher, the
19th-century German Romantic theologian who thought that the aim of
interpreting a text was to understand its author better than he understood
himself*. Scholars working on hermeneutics today, so it was claimed, all
accept the criticisms of Heidegger and Gadamer that the interpreter's own
worldview is an inevitable part of interpretation, so that
Schleiermacher's project was overly ambitious.

Point being that there are additional senses of "romantic" beyond those
mentioned by Willard (especially with a capital R, related to the European
Romantic movement) - but they too seem to take on a pejorative cast.

* or than she understood herself, though that was less of an issue at the


Amod Lele, PhD
Educational Technologist, Information Services & Technology
Visiting Researcher, Center for the Study of Asia
Boston University
Office: 617-358-6909
Mobile: 617-645-9857

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