[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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