[Humanist] 29.347 losing the humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Oct 3 08:06:36 CEST 2015


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 347.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Fri, 2 Oct 2015 13:07:46 +0200
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.333 losing the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20150929053727.564DD69D8 at digitalhumanities.org>


Hello!

An impression I have of the way this "losing the humanities"
conversation is set, and of how the same issue is treated
elsewhere, is as a You, Us, and Them triangle.

The "Them" here is everybody not in the humanities, nor in the
sciences, engineerings, and maths, but most notably the
politicians, policy makers, business leaders, (many) teachers,
and those who comments on what these people do and say.

The "You" here are people in the sciences, engineerings, and
maths, and the "Us" are people in the arts and humanities.
Or, visa versa: "You" are people in the arts and humanities,
and "Us" are people in the sciences, engineerings, and maths.
It depends on whose doing the talking.

When the "Us" are arts and humanities people, the talk about
loss is directed to the "Them," and is about the Them's
failure to appreciate the consequences of this loss.  There is
little or no mention of "You" in this talk.

When the "Us" are people in the sciences, engineerings, and
maths, the talk is excitement about the way the "Them" are
finally appreciating the need for more STEM teaching.  There
is little or no mention of "You" in this talk.

In other words, You and Us hardly acknowledge the issues of the
other, let alone talk to each other about what we can and
should be doing for and with each other.

My sense is that the "Them" would better understand and accept
the need for the Arts and Humanities, if They (the Them) saw
You and Us not only talking more together, but working more
together.  And, certainly from the sciences, engineerings, and
maths side, more working with people in the arts and
humanities is needed, I think.

To illustrate what I'm thinking of, with just one example, I
would point to a (somewhat) polemical interaction involving
Donald Knuth--one of the Farther's of Computer Science--and
historians of computing, in particular, Thomas Haigh, a
historian of information science and technology, at the School
of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin.  (I think the
polemic is, in part, what makes this a useful example.)

Knuth gave an invited lecture in 2014 in which he decried the
lack of deep histories of Computer Science today.  At the
beginning of his talk he explained what he would like to have
and why, and then went on to say why he is not getting it, in
his view.  You can see Knuth’s talk here.

 The 2014 Kailath Lecture, May 7, 2014
 Prof Donald Knuth: Let's Not Dumb Down the History of
 Computer Science
  http://kailathlecture.stanford.edu/2014KailathLecture.html

In response, Thomas Haigh published a reply to Knuth in
January of this year, in the Communications of the ACM.
 
 Thomas Haigh, 2015.  The Tears of Donald Knuth: Has the
 history of computing taken a tragic turn?, Communications of
 the ACM, vol 58, no 1, pp 40--44, January 2015.  (See note
 below about access.)

Haigh's paper summarises Knuth's main points, and presents, I
think, a reasonable, balanced, and well argued response,
highlighting several important difficulties and challenges for
the humanities that hinder and prevent the kind of work Knuth
wishes for.  Together these two statements illustrate why a
closer working of people in STEM disciplines and those working
in the humanities is needed, but remains difficult and
sometimes impossible in today's world.

I don't want to suggest that this is all the humanities should
be doing.  Of course not!  There's plenty more that needs to
be worked on than histories in the STEM subjects.  But, I do
think that if this was a stronger and more visible corner of
what the humanities does with Us, it would help others,
"Them," to understand and appreciate the importance of what
the humanities does.

And, it would help both the people doing the STEM stuff, and
those (the "Them") who think STEM subjects, and only STEM, are
needed, to understand and appreciate that we can't do good
science, engineering, maths, and designing, without a good
understanding of the histories in these subjects, and how they
fit in with everything else we do ...  for the six reasons
Knuth sets out at the beginning of his talk, and the tragedy
in Haigher's title, that Alain de Botton (in his TED talk:
thank you Arianna!)  talks of the need for.

Best regards,

Tim

Note: The Haigh article requires an ACM subscription to 
access, I think. For those of you who don't have one, you may 
borrow my copy from here

 <https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10543756/p40-haigh.pdf>

But please "put it back afterwards," ie, just view this, don't
save a copy, and don't tell lots of people about this.  Ta!

> On 29 Sep 2015, at 07:37, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
> 
> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 333.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
>  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (27)
>        Subject: Re:  29.332 losing the humanities
> 
>  [2]   From:    Arianna Ciula <ariannaciula at gmail.com>                   (270)
>        Subject: Re:  29.332 losing the humanities
> 
>  [3]   From:    "Bod, Rens" <L.W.M.Bod at uva.nl>                            (39)
>        Subject: RE:  29.332 losing the humanities
> 
> 
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 02:50:20 -0400
>        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re:  29.332 losing the humanities
>        In-Reply-To: <20150928063415.6ED1268FB at digitalhumanities.org>
> 
> 
> I'd like to add that purely vocational education isn't necessarily a smart
> investment. When the technology changes, you need to go back and get
> educated again, and if the industry disappears, you need to go back and get
> educated again. At what point does four or five two-year degrees seem like
> a waste of time? What the liberal arts provide are the mathematical,
> linguistic, and scientific background to retrain yourself to any work
> environment without having to go back for further education.
> 
> Historically, liberal arts degrees are management degrees, the things a
> "free man" needs to know to conduct business in the world.
> 
> And when you ask employers what they want, it's essentially a liberal arts
> degree by another name. Employers can provide job training. They can't --
> and don't believe they should have to -- provide basic skills.
> 
> When about 30% of all grads are Business majors who write and speak like
> moronic 12 year olds, the real problem should be wondering how one more
> grad with a Business degree and a bad cover letter is going to make
> him/herself stand out in this job market. We shouldn't be questioning
> liberal arts degrees. We should be questioning Business degrees.
> 
> So the problem isn't with liberal arts education in itself. The problem is
> that employers don't understand how to connect that education to specific
> positions.
> 
> I advise my students to get a degree in whatever area they love -- English,
> Art History, Philosophy, whatever, just be dedicated to it -- but minor in
> web technologies, PR, management, or something else recognizable to
> employers. All that matters is getting in somewhere. Once there, if you've
> studied, you'll be able to do whatever they ask you to do. You really have
> been prepared for it.
> 
> Jim R
> 
> 
> 
> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 13:12:43 +0100
>        From: Arianna Ciula <ariannaciula at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re:  29.332 losing the humanities
>        In-Reply-To: <20150928063415.6ED1268FB at digitalhumanities.org>
> 
> 
> Dear Willard and all,
> 
> I fear indeed the context is wider: what is success and what does it mean
> being successful?
> 
> A 2009 TED talk by Alain de Botton takes an interesting stand on these
> points:
> https://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success
> 
> And more specificaly in my list of to do readings:
> The Value of the Humanities - Helen Small
> http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199683864.do
> 
> Best wishes,
> Arianna
> 
> Dr Arianna Ciula
> Department of Humanities
> University of Roehampton | London | SW15 5PH
> arianna.ciula at roehampton.ac.uk  | www.roehampton.ac.uk
> Tel: +44 (0) 20 8392 5763
> Follow us on Twitter @UORHumanities @ariciula
> 
> 
> --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 14:05:32 +0000
>        From: "Bod, Rens" <L.W.M.Bod at uva.nl>
>        Subject: RE:  29.332 losing the humanities
>        In-Reply-To: <20150928063415.6ED1268FB at digitalhumanities.org>
> 
> 
> Dear Willard,
> 
> Even if the benefits from studying the humanities at university could be demonstrated economically to the majority of people, the problem would still not be solved. It assumes that (the majority of) people are 'reasonable', while they may not be. They may be convinced on one day, and act differently the next day. This is especially because the humanities have an image problem. The idea that the humanities are useless to economy and that their value lies elsewhere is so much part of current western culture, that more is needed. It would only work if the benefit of the humanities is demonstrated (1) unanimously, (2) repeatedly, (3) by a large group of preferably very influential people. All three are important, but give people's short term memory the benefit must at least be repeatedly shown for some time. 
> 
> Best, Rens






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