[Humanist] 29.36 changed?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon May 18 10:48:26 CEST 2015


                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 36.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (24)
        Subject: panic and preparation

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (36)
        Subject: unanticipated change


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 17 May 2015 10:40:28 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: panic and preparation


C. Vann Woodward, commenting in the Journal of Contemporary History 3.2 
(1968) on the zealotry of some quantifying historians:

> It is mainly our young who need to be protected. I find among them a
> mood of incipient panic, a mounting fear of technological
> displacement, and a disposition among a few to rush into the camp of
> the zealots.... But a small cadre should definitely be armed with all
> the weapons, trained in all the techniques, and schooled in the
> ideology of the invaders. Only in that way will they be able
> effectively to cope with the philistines among us, to be on guard
> against their sophistries, see through their pretensions, and turn to
> the uses of our craft such tricks and notions of these people as meet
> our standards and serve our needs.

My question is this: how much of Woodward's description would need to be 
changed to apply today once the "incipient panic" of the Cold War era is 
subtracted? We have our zealots (now of agent-based modelling); we have 
technological displacement; we have plenty of techno-ideology and its 
attendant sophistries. Does the fact of continual and apparently 
unending technological change mean that the above will always be with us?

Yours,
WM
-- 
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 17 May 2015 12:33:03 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: unanticipated change


Now here's something that has changed. Also in 1967 the redoubtable J. 
H. Hexter, in "Some American Observations" (Journal of Contemporary 
History 2.1), chronicled the explosive growth in higher education in his 
country and the equally explosive growth in research outputs, then asked,

> how in the world do we deal discriminately and in a timesaving way
> with this appalling mass of stuff? The problem will soon be
> compounded by the development and application to historical
> bibliography of the resources of elaborate information retrieval
> systems. As near as one can make out, such systems will be at once
> highly sophisticated at the level of taxonomic selectivity, and quite
> stupid at the level of qualitative discrimination. They will be able
> to pick out all the articles on any subject whatever, and wholly
> unable to say which, if any, of them are worth five minutes'
> attention. Their very competence at directing a researcher to all the
> recent literature in any field will compound his already staggering
> problem of picking his way through the field without sinking up to
> his neck in the dreary morass of wasted words. An attack on the
> problem of quality discrimination more persistent, systematic, and
> concentrated than any made so far should have a high place on the
> agenda of the profession. The old informal devices for finding one's
> way to what is good in current historiography are inadequate to the
> present situation, and a search for a way to provide historians with
> a reliable quality indicator, a sort of historiographic Guide
> Michelin, is overdue.

What Hexter did not see, and perhaps could not have seen, is that the 
very lack of these retrieval systems' ability to discriminate has, I'd 
argue, changed or is changing our ideas of "what is good". It also led 
to Google, which I suspect is changing our ideas of what is relevant. 
And not necessarily for the good, I'd say.

Comments? Who has written cogently on such changes?

Yours,
WM
-- 
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney




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