[Humanist] 23.659 Yale, the past and the future

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Feb 25 08:34:07 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 659.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Kathy Harris <drkatherineharris at yahoo.com>                (61)
        Subject: Re: [Bulk] [Humanist] 23.653 Yale, the past and the future

  [2]   From:    Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>                    (54)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.653 Yale, the past and the future

        Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 07:38:09 -0800
        From: Kathy Harris <drkatherineharris at yahoo.com>
        Subject: Re: [Bulk] [Humanist] 23.653 Yale, the past and the future
        In-Reply-To: <20100224085018.15A954D7B0 at woodward.joyent.us>

I'm intrigued by Willard and Amanda's comments on the Yale Symposium for
Graduate Students and the evolution of Digital Humanities.  Though both are
absolutely right in their suppositions (that Digital Humanities has been
around long enough to become a mainstay and that private Ivies are getting
involved signals to the rest of the community some validity), I think
there's some short-sighted celebration about the extension of Digital
Humanities from or into 2nd and 3rd tier U.S. universities.  This may be
true for 2nd and 3rd tier Research I institutions, but we are still
grappling with issues of funding, authority and networking for Digital
Humanities at teaching institutes.

 This is a question I repeatedly ask at the MLA panels: do the centers and
bastions of Digital Humanities have an obligation to bring along their
"lesser" public institutions? Indeed, I've been attending and struggling to
pull my university to Project Bamboo meetings for the past 2 years.  Most of
the university and the Cal State system has a profound distrust of Digital
Humanities or Digital Studies. What is its purpose? Who is funding it? Are
faculty really interested if they have to teach a 4-course load? (The
question should be "how do they have time to do this "extra" work if they
teach so much?") How does it align with the mission of a teaching
university. (And, yes, I realize that some teaching institutions are
involved in DH; but, really, those tiny few aren't enough to convince deans
of the movement's veracity.)

Willard writes: "research programme for which it is directly, primarily
responsible. That vigour is now widely distributed. Now we very much need
the socially strongest castles to pull up the portcullis and throw open the
gate. As Amanda more or less said, many of us have been working for years
toward the point at which scholarship in digital humanities becomes as an
unremarkable a possibility as any other of the older kinds. And I for one
have been waiting a long time to witness the more slowly moving institutions
get there."

There are pockets of faculty acting independently at some teaching
institutions, but there has not been a move at the organizational level to
push into teaching institutes.

And, I'm still waiting for my teaching institute to fully accept DH: in T&P
issues, in funding my research, in giving me time to play with the tools in
the classroom.  After 5 years, I still struggle with convincing my
Department that this facet of my research and teaching is innovative and
authoritative -- everyday, people, everyday.  So, before we declare that the
gate has been thrown open, let's think about the broader version of higher
education, please.


Dr. Katherine D. Harris
Editor, Forget Me Not Hypertextual Archive

Assistant Professor
Department of English & Comparative Literature
San Jose State University
One Washington Square
San Jose, CA 95192-0090

Email: katherine.harris at sjsu.edu
Phone: 408.924.4475

        Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 11:24:41 -0500
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.653 Yale, the past and the future
        In-Reply-To: <20100224085018.15A954D7B0 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

In my understanding -- and this is lore, not knowledge -- the 
metaphor of the "watershed moment" refers to when one crosses the 
line at the hilltop (and it may not be a very steep hill, but it 
might be long, and high; it could be a continental divide) where the 
streams downhill change direction, no longer running back toward the 
known, but away. That is, it is a subtle but profound shift, which 
shows that despite the terrain not having changed in other respects, 
nevertheless one is making progress -- indeed, one is advancing into 
a new realm altogether.

In that context, I imagine that the Yale event you attended might 
have been a watershed for those who attended it, and even (at least 
this is what I imagine President Ayers meant to say) for the culture 
at large, insofar as an expedition commissioned under a blue banner 
(Lux et Veritas) may finally give official credence to the idea that 
there is actually a new world here, that no, one won't fall off the 
map or find oneself becalmed on an endless sea. Yet I share Amanda 
Gailey's ambivalence completely: this development may not be quite so 
promising for us who have been exploring these territories for a long 
time already, or who have in fact long since gone native, and see the 
encroachment of civilization (with its own peculiar preoccupations, 
different from ours) as not entirely benign.

We must keep in mind that although there are many imaginative, 
forward-looking and progressive individuals within our elite 
institutions, nevertheless the institutions themselves are 
essentially conservative, and must be as long as they remain 
themselves. The reason a school like Yale offers a great education 
(at least in my experience) is not that Yale itself is devoted to 
this (although it may be) so much as that such a concentration of 
intellects, wherever it be, inevitably causes reactions among them. 
Part of the conservatism of the place is in fact to help contain this 
alchemy and sustain it.

So is it any wonder at all if top-tier schools, or departments within 
them, have been reluctant to engage closely with anything as 
catalytic and perhaps corrosive as digital media?

Yet change is happening. And with change may be loss, and regret for 
what might have been. But when has creation not involved destruction, 
at least of possibility?

In the meantime, I hope Amanda can take comfort. Sure, these new 
strangers are proud, maybe prone to suppose that if they are looking 
at something for the first time, it must never have been beheld 
before. But after all, they are us, and we don't have anything to 
fear from them that we shouldn't fear from ourselves.


Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
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