[Humanist] 23.649 Yale, the past and the future

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Feb 23 09:57:10 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 649.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 22 Feb 2010 13:37:04 -0600
        From: Amanda Gailey <amanda.gailey at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.647 events: at Yale (past), at the MLA (future)
        In-Reply-To: <20100221131423.CD7094CD01 at woodward.joyent.us>


I appreciated your post about the Yale graduate conference.  I am writing,
though, to offer a different perspective on Ed Ayers's comment (for which I
lack context) that the conference--where talented graduate students at an
Ivy League institution publicly presented on digital humanities-- was a
"watershed" moment.

As someone for whom graduate school isn't too distant a memory (I've been
done for about four years), I find that the "watershed" comment overlooks
the work that many grad students have been doing at non-Ivy schools for
several years now.  A wave of us--well, maybe a ripple more than a
wave--have been presenting our work on DH as students for quite a while.
Importantly, many of us who did not attend Ivy League schools and who
professionally defined ourselves as digital humanists before it became an
MLA buzzword were arguably taking many more risks.

I know I'm preaching to the converted as I address this email to you, but I
think it's important to note on the public record. To my mind it is much
more interesting to observe that universities such as Nebraska and Georgia
have been offering DH opportunities to grad students for years now while
more prominent programs typically have been reluctant to jump in.  Frankly,
I view the late arrival of the Ivies as a worrisome indicator that DH will
soon be locked down by the same tired socio-economic gatekeeping mechanisms
that prevent many people with talent from succeeding at so many other
academic disciplines.  I say this not at all to denigrate what is surely
fine work coming from those schools, and even perhaps from students and
staff who can relate rags-to-riches stories of their academic career paths.
I simply want to suggest that to my mind, the conference may be a watershed,
but not because DH has finally earned the benediction of the Ivies. Instead,
it is quite possible that a hitherto unproven field, within which smart
people not housed at the most selective and expensive universities could
actually earn influence and rewards, is becoming less egalitarian.


On Sun, Feb 21, 2010 at 7:14 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> Yesterday, by generous invitation of the organizers, I attended "The Past's
> Digital Presence" here at Yale (digitalhumanities.yale.edu/pdp/). This
> conference was mostly by and for graduate students, though there were a few
> of us about for whom graduate school is but a memory. To someone who has
> spent his professional career working in various ways toward the
> realisation
> of humanities computing as an institutionally recognised scholarly
> discipline, this was quite an encouraging, indeed exhilirating experience.
> Ed Ayres, historian and now President of the University of Richmond,
> Virginia, summed up the moment by saying that he thought it might well
> prove
> a watershed event in the history of our field in the U.S.
> What impressed me most was the quality of the work by graduate students
> from
> Yale and elsewhere. I treasure most the chance to witness their energies of
> mind and critical intelligence applied to activities in the digital
> humanities. Quite independently of the work us older ones have done for so
> long, these students see the possibilities now visible and question them as
> befits the humanities. We often bemoan the unthinking acceptance and
> uncritical uses of computing in evidence all around us. Here was evidence
> of
> an altogether different sort. Bravo!
> I think what sticks in my mind most encouragingly of all is not just the
> acts of critical questioning but the idealism which survives it: the
> realisation that what really matters is enabling the "beginner's mind" of
> scholarship, as a teacher of mine used to say (though he was speaking of
> much more than scholarship). What matters even more than the assist to
> professional scholarship, one presenter said, is the beginner's experience,
> say of medieval manuscripts. If, as another said, the most important
> engagements with computing are the simplest ones, then our job is to make
> more of them simple.
> We can, I was told, look forward to a detailed record of the event once all
> the dust has settled and those most involved have had a chance to recover.
> Yours,WM
> --
> Professor Willard McCarty
> staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/  http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/%7Ewmccarty/ 

Amanda Gailey
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Center for Digital Research in the Humanities
University of Nebraska
202 Andrews Hall
Lincoln, NE 68588

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