[Humanist] 24.226 in the news: Amazon; Geertz; research methods
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jul 30 00:23:10 CEST 2010
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 226.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 2010 08:19:52 +1000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: in the news
You will, I think, welcome news of three articles which have recently
come to my attention. All are freely downloadable.
The first is Ruth Franklin's "In defense of Amazon", The New Republic
for 28 July 2010, www.tnr.com/ (down the page a bit). Perhaps I am more
than usually out of it, but I confess the title surprised me. I didn't
realise that Amazon needed defending. Like Franklin I am very grateful
for Amazon, even though for most of the year I live in a place where
books of all kinds are not difficult to get. But I am in no doubt
whatever that because of Amazon.co.uk I have bought 2 to 3 times as many
books, if not more, than I would have without it. Consider: I live 40
minutes' travel from Charing Cross Road, where there are some good book
shops; imagine in detail what I would have to do successfully to obtain
a book I knew I wanted if I had to rely solely on the several fine
bookshops there. I love browsing in bookshops, but the efficiencies
introduced by Amazon are overpowering. I don't feel as if I have gone
over to The Dark Side. Has anyone here actively resisted the Siren's call?
The second is Richard A. Shweder's biographical memoir of Clifford
Geertz, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in their
Biographical Memoirs series,
www.nasonline.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Memoirs_A. Much has been
written about Geertz, both before and after his death (in 2006), but
many views are better than few.
The third is Keith Thomas' Diary column, in the London Review of Books
32.11 (24 July 2010), www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n11/contents, "Working Methods",
on how research actually gets done, i.e. mechanically, procedurally,
step-by-step. Some of us here, perhaps most prominently in our community
John Bradley (see his Pliny, pliny.cch.kcl.ac.uk/), have been concerned
with tools to assist the physical, mechanical operations of research.
Although we all do something or other, with the tools we have and think
to use, I suspect many fewer of us reflect on our actual practices and
those of others. How many of us, I wonder, realise that procedures vary
widely and wildly, not only across disciplines and the researchers in
them, but within a single research project. After more than a quarter
century thinking about how to adapt the tools at hand to the
circumstances in which I've found myself, I seem no closer to a settled
method of work than at the beginning. New tools, of course, come along
and must be tried out. But it seems wisdom to me that adaptation to
changing circumstances is the important matter. Who here teaches a
research methods course? What do you tell your students?
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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