[Humanist] 27.954 humanities
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Apr 10 11:22:39 CEST 2014
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 954.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2014 12:33:24 +0000
From: Martin Mueller <martinmueller at northwestern.edu>
Subject: Re: 27.951 humanities
In-Reply-To: <20140407110052.8FC2F61DE at digitalhumanities.org>
What Manfred Thaller says is is true in some ways but not in others.
Support for 'pure' research in most areas of science has markedly declines
in the U.S. in recent years, and as a percentage of GDP it is only a
fraction of what it was during the fifties and sixties. Budget pressures
are only partly to blame; there are deeper cultural and political forces
that feed on forms of 'know-nothingism' and look at 'value propositions'
from an aggressively short-term perspective. It is easier to see what is
going on, harder to figure out how to change it.
Professor emeritus of English and Classics
On 4/7/14, 6:00, "Humanist Discussion Group"
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 951.
> Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
> Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>  From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> (52)
> Subject: no humanities or the wrong questions?
>  From: Manfred Thaller <manfred.thaller at uni-koeln.de> (84)
> Subject: Re: 27.947 humanities to what end? & Re: [Humanist] 27.948
> social dynamics of the new
> Date: Sun, 06 Apr 2014 10:51:37 -0400
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
> Subject: no humanities or the wrong questions?
>I agree with Chris Meister's suggestion wholeheartedly, in Humanist
>27.947, about turning away from the complaints voiced on behalf of the
>humanities toward positives. The via negativa can be a powerful road to
>travel, but in this case I wonder about travelling it as much and as
>determinedly as we seem to do. Declining enrolments are a very real
>problem in the U.S. at least, and I don't mean to suggest otherwise.
>Imagining no humanities surely leads to a dystopic vision, and that can
>be useful. But what argument comes out of it that will persuade the
>watchers of CNN and its kind?
>Allow me to quote from the Columbia University historian Jacques
>Barzun's "The Misbehavioral Sciences: A Truce to the Nonsense on Both
>Sides", published in Richard Threulsen and John Kobler, eds., Adventures
>of the Mind (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1959) -- which is downloadable from
>the Internet Archive. Barzun wrote to his American audience -- NB in
>1959 -- that "This debate is not new, nor is it limited to the United
>States. It is going strong throughout the western world and particularly
>in England." Barzun notes the raging debate and the arguments heard then
>(and now); "And yet", he writes,
>> all those good reasons why science is not enough, why the humanities
>> are indispensable, do not seem to stick. Everybody applauds the
>> speeches--the liberal arts are liberally praised--but the moment a
>> satellite appears in the sky or a rocket fails to go off, the fair
>> words are forgotten. Nothing but science and engineering seems to
>> matter. Could it be that in our so-called better moments we are only
>> hypocrites? Who is supposed to be fooled by the rhetoric which the
>> businessman echoes from the commencement speechÂ‹is it the speaker or
>> the audience? Or are they both being fooled by a set of ideas and
>> phrases that do not breed conviction because they have never been
>> seriously meant? (pp. 18-19)
>> the humanities have existed in an unbroken tradition for 3000 years;
>> there should be nothing left about them to define, advocate or
>> challenge. But if there is nothing, why do we keep asking what the
>> humanities are for and what their place is--as if it lay in our power
>> to choose whether to save or kill them? (p. 19)
>> The conflict between the "practical" sciences and the "superfluous"
>> humanities is not a real conflict to those who know the realities
>> they are talking about. Rather, it is a conflict with the thoughtless
>> about the meaning of utility. (p. 26)
>To me the last 10 words of that quotation are what we need -- and what
>the scientists doing curiosity-motivated research need as well, since
>they are also afflicted. We need to be asking, what needs doing for
>which the humanities -- or better, the liberal arts, properly understood
>-- would be useful *in the proper sense of that word*?
>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: Mon, 07 Apr 2014 08:29:38 +0200
> From: Manfred Thaller <manfred.thaller at uni-koeln.de>
> Subject: Re: 27.947 humanities to what end? & Re: [Humanist]
>27.948 social dynamics of the new
> In-Reply-To: <20140406095341.B3DD0627D at digitalhumanities.org>
>Dear Christoph, Dear Willard,
>I think you look at two sides of the same coin. (Being a virtual one, it
>may have more than two.)
>> In my practical experience (that is, as
>> past HoD of Humanities departments competing with other disciplines for
>> attention and funds within and beyond two universities) the single
>> biggest "PR handicap" is that most of our disciplines invest next to no
>> effort into defining their future purpose.
>I think that is connected to what I usually refer to as the "lack of an
>implicit communicable vision of the Humanities".
>There are many areas of the hard sciences who have absolutely no
>practical value within any realistic planning period. Nevertheless,
>there is an absolute consensus in the public and in the political arena,
>that they have to be supported and funded at a rather high level.
>Example 1: Fusion research. Uncounted billions have been spent since the
>forties to find a viable way of producing energy out of controlled
>nuclear fusion. That has resulted in fusion being under control not only
>for microseconds, but up to the milisecond range. If a specific approach
>in the hard sciences has been supported for half a century with that as
>a result, we can be rather sure, that it will lead to nothing - until
>somebody has a totally new approach, which will scarcely come out of
>trying to repeat the old aproaches with more ressources.
>Nevertheless, there is the vision of "the final solution of mankind's
>problems with energy". Who would be so niggardly to prevent pursuing so
>noble a goal?
>Example 2: Radioastronomy. How can a research policy, that allegedly
>insists on a short term profitability of research fund that? Will we
>have startups who serve the expanding market of create-your-own-universe
>tool-sets within the next five years?
>No, but there IS the noble goal of "uncovering the last secrets of the
>universe". Who would be so niggardly to prevent pursuing so noble a goal?
>Example 3: Research in particle physics has been eminently practical and
>changing our world. As CERN employed Tim Berners-Lee for sometime.
>However, there is the vision of "solving the mystery of matter". Who
>would be so niggardly to prevent pursuing so noble a goal?
>These visions are not usually pronounced all that frequently, but they
>ARE shared by society today. And, before I am misunderstood: I am as
>intrigued by them, as anybody and would NOT propose to stop supporting
>them. I would like to point out however, that the prosaic,
>business-admin lead policies, which are allegedly based on prosaic
>notions of profitability have actually a strong undercurrent of very
>The Humanities HAD such a vision until ca. 1950, though it has very
>rarely been made explicit. Nation building and defining national
>identities since ca. 1780 could not have worked without Humanists
>uncovering the big treasures of national literatures, the noble
>character of national histories, the wonderful heritage of ancient
>times. Of course, this had to be taken very serious. So, even if it
>took totally incomprehensible studies of the "long tailed g" in the
>charters of a local count - that was as necessary a contribution to the
>creation of identity as the equally incomprehensible output of physics
>were for the understandign of the universe.
>So the study of literature, history and the heritage was absolutely
>necessary to understand your own place in a world of competing nations.
>Who would be so niggardly to prevent pursuing so noble a goal?
>I am afraid, as long as the Humanities do not agree - implicitly or
>explicitly - upon a vision of such magnitude again, it will remain
>extremely simple to treat them niggardly.
>To avoid two misunderstandings:
>If the price to be paid for the eventual disappearance of nationalism is
>the disappearance of the Humanities, I am tempted.
>And: I am NOT speaking about Martha Nussbaum's "Not For Profit: Why
>Democracy Needs the Humanities".
>This is a wonderful statement, why the Humanities should be taught at
>the gymnasium / college level. I cannot derive any reason from it,
>however, why we should undertake Humanities' research.
>> In fact anxieties that the
>> historical literature tells us were commonplace in the 1960s-1980s,
>> expressed as the fear of being replaced, scholarship being mechanized
>> on, I have heard uttered by highly intelligent people this year.
>Could it possibly be, that such Humanists themselves are unconsciously
>aware, that they are missing a vision, which should be followed by
>whatsoever means it takes? "The way is the goal" is a wonderful notion,
>if the long term goal has at least an outline. The saying is supposedly
>derived from Gandhi, who could NOT describe what he had in mind for
>article 123, clause (c) of the constitution of India, but who most
>certainly had a long term vision, what she should become. Given that,
>what is there beyond the next bend of the way, is, indeed, irrelevant.
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