[Humanist] 23.663 Yale, the past and the future

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Feb 28 09:32:12 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 663.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (24)
        Subject: parallels to Yale?

  [2]   From:    Amanda Gailey <amanda.gailey at gmail.com>                   (46)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.659 Yale, the past and the future

  [3]   From:    "Joe Raben" <joeraben at cox.net>                            (1)
        Subject: Yale, the past and future

        Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2010 08:07:20 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: parallels to Yale?

The thought has circulated for years that as a field the digital 
humanities bears some structural resemblance to comparative literature, 
i.e. that comp-lit and digital humanities have similar institutional 
qualities. This leads me to wonder about the establishment of comp-lit 
as an institutional entity, in particular because of the discussion of 
the Yale conference, whether similar things happened when it became an 
academic entity. Did it show up late at places like Yale after there had 
been departments, centres or quasi-departments at less prestigious 
institutions, and if so, did its institutionalization there make a big 
difference? Are there other, perhaps closer parallels for us to consider?

I recall that at Toronto the three senior professors who began comp-lit 
(this includes Northrop Frye) had first to teach it informally, on their 
own time, and then to resign or threaten to do so for the administration 
finally to recognize it. At King's College London it remains a programme 
rather than a department. In particular instances it would be 
interesting to know how comp-lit has established its particular identity 
as a discipline.

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

        Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2010 13:11:55 -0600
        From: Amanda Gailey <amanda.gailey at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.659 Yale, the past and the future
        In-Reply-To: <20100225073407.5E8144C8CD at woodward.joyent.us>

Thanks to Willard, Kathy, and Wendell for your thoughtful remarks on this
topic.  I am really enjoying this refreshingly candid and respectful

I wanted to delve a little further into the excellent points that Kathy
raises.  I work at a university that offers, I believe, support for DH that
is unprecedented among American research institutions. One telling measure
of this: starting in the fall of '10, the chairs of English, History, Modern
Languages, and Special Collections will *all* be actively interested in
digital humanities.  This fact is not lost on me or on anyone working on DH
here.  My day-to-day work does not require me to make a case to my
colleagues for the legitimacy of what I do. I attribute that fact to the
hard work and vision of senior faculty here.

Kathy, you are one of the ones who are doing the hard daily work of proving
the legitimacy of DH.  I suspect from comments I've received from colleagues
at other institutions from the last few days that you will in fact find it
easier to argue for DH now that Yale is visibly engaged.  But should we be
proud of the fact that so many humanists--who tend to claim progressive
political values, incidentally--require the imprimatur of the Ivies rather
than demonstrably good work in order to recognize that a field is worth

DH has had a mixed record in every sphere of American higher ed, and it is
indeed overly simplistic to draw quick patterns.  I would argue, though,
that as spotty and problematic as its record has been, it nevertheless has
strived to be a meritocracy, not an oligarchy, as the backgrounds of so many
prominent DHers indicate.  This is a value I would like to retain.  I think
the only way we can do so is to put pressure on our non-DH colleagues, the
ones who will soon be chairing search committees in this area, to *not*
assume that a traditionally valued pedigree necessarily makes the best

More to Kathy's point, we also need to think hard in the DH community about
beefing up our attention to pedagogy.  The classroom is where, on a daily
basis, we subtly model the profession not only to our students but to
ourselves and our colleagues.  If we had better methods (probably developed
within DH subgroups such as Digital Americanists or Digital Medievalists)
for using DH resources and methods in the classroom, I suspect it would help
people like Kathy make their case...in a way I for one would find much more
palatable than pointing to authority.


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

        Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2010 15:00:16 -0500
        From: "Joe Raben" <joeraben at cox.net>
        Subject: Yale, the past and future
        In-Reply-To: <20100225073407.5E8144C8CD at woodward.joyent.us>

With regard to Yale's involvement with DH, it may be worth noting that in late 1964 or early 1965, a one-day conference was held there to discuss humanities computing. My only memory of the event is that Stephen M. Parrish, with slight emabrassment, delivered the same talk he had given at the IBM-sponsored Literary Data Processing Conference at Yorktown Heights the previous September. It might be illuminating to retrieve any record of the Yale conference to identify other participants.

More information about the Humanist mailing list