[Humanist] 24.184 community

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jul 11 17:15:33 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 184.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 11 Jul 2010 16:09:10 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: community

Dear colleagues,

I don't know how much of the following will make sense to anyone other 
than the 420+ attendees of Digital Humanities 2010, but I think it is 
important to record the fleeting sense of community that one can only 
get while being physically present in the midst of one -- in this case 
for all too brief a time. And now it is only remembered.

Communities, Benedict Anderson and others have taught us, are imagined. 
They don't just happen. But once imagined they can in turn support, 
nurture and extend our imaginings in all sorts of ways, even for those 
who work mostly alone. There is, of course, the strong Gemütlichkeit of 
a pleasant gathering over a fine meal, with friends, music, wine and so 
on, in an architecturally and otherwise also culturally fascinating 
Great Hall, as was for the conference banquet last night. But, I think, 
that's not all there is to it. After all the years the conferences of 
this community of researcher-practitioners have been going on, we still 
come close to the essentials of what I imagined long ago the academic 
life would be -- the vision that fuelled my own long-wandering path and, 
I'd assume, that of many others. Is this the experience of academics in 
other fields and of those in other professions?

It's remarkable further because all around us economic gloom is 
thickening and lesser sorts of people are reacting badly, as they always 
do. In the universally acclaimed keynote address which ended the formal 
academic programme of DH2010, Melissa Terras mentioned then rhetorically 
turned aside from the threat several times, making its seriousness plain 
to everyone. But at the same time she delivered the message with an 
energy and infectious enthusiasm that really said it all: we are 
intelligently in love with a wonderful field of research and practice -- 
despite everything, including our own imperfections.

What I'm saying is that we have here an opportunity to reflect on how an 
important state of affairs, our own, has come about and that it is 
urgent we do so because it is not something independent of us that will 
automatically propagate into the future. It could vanish when the old 
guard finally shuffles off (or dances off), as they are doing, 
particularly if we forget, as we have, what they did. It could vanish by 
our losing sight of what you see only when you stand at the intersection 
of the humanities and computing and not from within any of the 
disciplines themselves. It could be destroyed by self-importance. It 
could, Melissa pointed out, be destroyed because we don't have the wit 
to articulate what exactly the digital humanities is when someone with 
their hands on the budget asks what for, or mistakes something else for it.

(That last point deserves an aside. Opinions vary, but I think the best 
way for us to communicate what we're for is to ask questions when 
questioned, to draw out what the questioner is interested in and then 
develop a realisation of our field from within his or her own concerns. 
I think it's simply asking too much to expect someone who has never gone 
walkabout in a disciplinary sense to take in a research activity that is 
not bounded by any discipline but has intimate relations with all of them.)

But back to last night, and the time preceeding it at DH2010. Wonderful, 
memorable, exemplary. Some photos are collected on the conference site 
(dh2010.cch.kcl.ac.uk/), others soon, with a video record of the entire 
event, by means of which you'll be able to see, or vividly recall, much 
that I would like to describe but cannot.

Next year at Stanford, the year after at Hamburg. Much to ponder and 
discuss meanwhile.


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.

More information about the Humanist mailing list