[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
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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
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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