[Humanist] 27.515 being romantic

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Nov 7 07:46:52 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 515.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 06 Nov 2013 07:22:54 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.511 being romantic
        In-Reply-To: <330fdfc0bed3475bb823fc360de821ce at AMSPR03MB242.eurprd03.prod.outlook.com>

Colin Greenstreet's brief note about his move from research on the massive
scale of the pharmaceutical industry to the small one of academic history is
a fascinating story. I hope we hear much more about it. Somewhere, possibly
in Historical Ontology, Ian Hacking comments that the shift of primary
research in some fields, such as pharmacology, from the academy into the
for-profit world of business is a very interesting development. As I recall
he doesn't say much more than that. This leaves me wondering whether anyone
has studied this phenomenon.

Once again I am drawn to think about the relation between the kind of
research we're talking about and how it is done. Many have observed that
disciplinary training tends to result in a quite blinkered view of research
-- how it is done, what its results look like, what in fact "research"
denotes and how we recognize that something or other *is* research. In
striking my romantic pose I am as guilty of the blinkered view as anyone, I
suppose. If what I do were compilation, editing and publication of
historical records I might have fun working on the very small scale that I
work, I might even have brilliant insights worth writing about, but I
certainly wouldn't be remotely as helpful, my work remotely as beneficial as
work on Greenstreet's scale. But given what I do, I'd be mad to scale up --
except perhaps on the relatively small scale of the group responsible for
Peter Galison and David J. Stump, eds., The Disunity of Science: Boundaries,
Contexts, and Power (Stanford, 1996), or far more unusually, for the
multi-authored volume by Gerd Gigerenzer, .Zano Swijink, Theodore Porter,
Lorraine Daston, John Beatty and Lorenz Krüger, The Empire of Chance: How
probability changed science and everyday life (Cambridge, 1989). (Gigerenzer
et al note that they randomized the order of their names; no part of this
book carries the name of any one of them alone -- all are responsible for

I think the point I am groping toward is the freedom to do research in the
manner best suited to the particular research in question. Not to do Big
Humanities or collaborative projects because they are Big or collaborative
but because the research itself requires the large scale and/or many hands
and minds. We who are mortal surely wouldn't want pharmaceutical research to
be done by individual inventors tinkering away in their private labs. But
who wants philosophy, theoretical physics, literary criticism, number theory
or the writing of histories to be done by groups structured along the lines
of the Manhattan Project?

Again I turn to Bertrand Russell. He concludes "Some Cambridge Dons of the
Nineties", in Portraits from Memory, thus:

>  Very good men flourished, and so did some who were not so good.
> Incompetence, oddity and even insanity were tolerated, but so was real
> merit. In spite of some lunacy and some laziness, Cambridge was a good
> place, where independence of mind could exist undeterred.

> I would think that for us digital humanists as for all our colleagues,
the question to be asking is, given each particular variety of research,
where do we find or how create that "good place", i.e. the good places?
Perhaps we should take several pages from Peter Galison's "Introduction: The
Context of Disunity", in The Disunity of Science, and pluralize. "Digital
humanities" is not a bad disciplinary label to have in that respect -- a
singular collective noun.


Yours, WM

On 06/11/2013 06:23, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 511.           
>   Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London                 
>        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist                  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

> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>          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 (
> https://twitter.com/marinelivesorg).
> Yours
> 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

>> --
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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