[Humanist] 31.379 a not unexpected nor unjustified rant?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Oct 24 07:09:36 CEST 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 379.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2017 05:58:15 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: a not unexpected nor unjustified rant

By now, I expect, readers of the U.S. Chronicle of Higher Education will 
have seen Timothy Brennan's rant, "The Digital-Humanities Bust" 
(Chronicle Review for 15 October). Professor Brennan seems rather 
confused, having lumped together many activities in many areas under the 
label of digital humanities. But in the highly charged, politically 
polarized environment in which he writes, a blast of his sort is, I'd 
guess, to be expected. It would take me too much time that I do not have 
to counter every exaggeration and error, but I do hope someone with time 
undertakes that.

What strikes me are two things. First is how shopworn his questioning of 
value is. Digital humanities, when it was called 'humanities computing', 
was questioned, though more quietly and reasonably, even rather 
mournfully by practitioners and fellow travellers, numerous times from 
the late 1960s onward; its major activity, text-analysis, was declared a 
waste of time by one of the leading figures in the field in the early 
1990s. The sociologist W. C. Runciman counselled patience in the Times 
Literary Supplement series "Thinking by Numbers" in 1971, saying that we 
might have to wait 300 years before the value of the activity for his 
discipline would become securely known.

How long did it take for English literary studies to become accepted as 
a university discipline after it began at the turn of the 20th Century? 
I suspect a few decades. But then it did not challenge the academic 
establishment as much as computing does, I'd suppose.

The second thing that strikes me is how utterly unsurprising the rant 
is, given the amount of noise from the bandwagons, the littering of 
promissory notes that are strewn about with nothing of substance behind 
them. Promises of salvation and revolution have to be backed with quite 
serious authority. Where is the understanding that our goal is 
questioning, not answering? Where are the questions?

Comments welcome, as always.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of
Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western
Sydney University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

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