[Humanist] 24.568 rhetoric of digital humanities?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Dec 9 07:10:37 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 568.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2010 09:57:25 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: new (or not so new) rhetoric of digital humanities

For years in teaching digital humanities to undergraduates and MA 
students I argued that the most effective rhetorical structure to use in 
written work was not the one traditional in the humanities but something 
that combined lab-report and essay -- hence the "essay-report". My 
reasoning was that since work in digital humanities is experimental in a 
quasi-scientific sense, written work should describe what happened, what 
was ventured, what resulted. I advised students to keep a lab notebook 
to record results as they happened so that a reasonable account could 
easily be reconstructed.

It seems that these were not new thoughts. In his extraordinary book, 
Laws of Form (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969), G. Spencer Brown writes:

> Medawar observes* that the standard form of presentation required of
> an ordinary scientific paper represents the very reverse of what the
> investigator was in fact doing. In reality, says Medawar, the
> hypothesis is first posited, and becomes the medium through which
> certain otherwise obscure facts, later to be collected in support of
> it, are first clearly seen. But the account in the paper is expected
> to give the impression that such facts first suggested the
> hypothesis, irrespective of whether this impression is truly
> representative.
> In mathematics we see this process in reverse. The mathematician,
> more frequently than he is generally allowed to admit, proceeds by
> experiment, inventing and trying out hypotheses to see if they fit
> the facts of reasoning and computation with which he is presented.
> When he has found a hypothesis which fits, he is expected to publish
> an account of the work in the reverse order, so as to deduce the
> facts from the hypothesis. I would not recommend that we should do
> otherwise, in either field. By all accounts, to tell the story
> backwards is convenient and saves time. But to pretend that the story
> was actually lived backwards can be extremely mystifying.
> In view of this apparent reversal, Laing suggests** that what in
> empirical science are called data, being in a real sense arbitrarily
> chosen by the nature of the hypothesis already formed, could more
> honestly be called capta. By reverse analogy, the facts of
> mathematical science, appearing at first to be arbitrarily chosen,
> and thus capta, are not really arbitrary at all, but absolutely
> determined by the nature and coherence of our being. In this view we
> might consider the facts of mathematics to be the real data of
> experience, for only these appear to be, in the final analysis,
> inescapable.
> --- *P B Medawar, Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud, The Listener,
> 12th September 1963, pp 377-8. **R D Laing, The politics of
> experience and the bird of paradise, London, 1967, pp 52 sq.



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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