[Humanist] 24.483 humanities: what for? where?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Nov 12 11:01:52 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 483.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 11 Nov 2010 12:21:10 -0800
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.479 humanities: what for? where?
        In-Reply-To: <20101111063357.7AE0FA5BBB at woodward.joyent.us>

Professors Allington, Crane, and Lemos are of course telling us what most of
know and agree with already. Fine and dandy.  I should like to add an
observation that I think is useful, unless I missed it in my quick reading
on the monitor.  Communication and Knowledge, two terms used, do not of
themselves suggest what is so troubling to professors of the Humanities.
[Speaking of whom, reminds me of a cartoon I saw in 1954, English, showing
the usual nondescripts at a cocktail party. One man asks another, *Read any
good books lately?*  The other replies, *Wrote one.* Further to that, when
in the summer of 1947 my 10 year-old kid brother paid me a visit at a resort
hotel where I was a waiter that summer, I asked him what he had been
reading.  *The Iliad, *he replied.  And recited some passages.  *Good for
you!* I explained.  The honest child, abashed, giggled and responded, *Well,
no. CLASSIC COMICS. *Which brings me to my observation withal.]
Almost universally, people are excited and entranced and delirious with
instant communication and what they think is knowledge enhanced.  I
constantly have to remind students that what the WWW provides mainly is
INFORMATION.  Well and good.  I am myself wonderfully grateful for the vast
resources.  However, I read books in the many years of my formation and
education.  When I am at work, I need only a keyword to summon up
information I cannot remember fully, exactly, clearly and usefully.
Marvelous.  But, the college students I meet at UCLA in my classes have not
the foggiest, bright as they are, willing and eager as they are.  I believe
they mostly, like my grandchildren, have not read and digested books slowly,
or even stories or poems or history.  Not in the least.  They seem to have
been formed on the fly, informed, I should say.  The current world they live
in affords downloads of a million "songs."  At 81,  I am still finding that
the music, say Schubert songs, I have heard since my teens, has ever new
things I had never noticed.  Let alone a Shakespeare sonnet!  I find in my
seminar, WHAT A POEM SAYS, that these 18-20 year olds cannot HEAR or grasp a
simple word, let alone phrase.  They think the sound and spelling is the
word. They do not know what speech itself is.  They know what they hear, tv
talk, even the pronouncements of clerics and statesman, but they cannot
comprehend, or do not, what they apprehend. Personally, I am daily
astonished at the simplest phrases, say of poem gone over the other day word
by word, what they import, what they contain of the writer's experience and
the world in which it was uttered, and the history of that language's aura,
so to say.  It is no wonder priests and ministers weekly expound a sentence
or phrase that is ancient and familiar, and remains perfectly mysterious and
a well of feelings and thoughts and facts of life.
That is what the "Humanities" mean.  A college major in Humanities is
scarcely the first step into fullness of the recognition of one's own being,
or having been, in life itself.  I have taken to reminding the kids that we
do in fact see darkly, as in a mirror, and that mirror is what Arnold once
said was the best thought and said...and written by larger lives and souls
than youth can recognize.  History may be full of tales and narratives
[written by victors and their historians] but the records of thoughts in the
areas of the Humanities, and their absorption into the very marrow of daily
existence, for those in law, in government, in the military, whatever, if
not necessarily in behavioral psychology, or the incredible worlds of
neuroscience and electronics...engineerings, in short, not SCIENCE, are also
labile and friable, and passing, as scientific research demands daily, as
soon as discovered, and either applied and integrated into the physical
realms we live in or not.  It is so difficult to convey what it is really
about au fond.  The kids seem to think, for instance, or thought last week,
they understood what was being said in the first line of Dickinson that
says, *Hope is a thing with feathers.*...  Just getting at what hope itself
is or says, not means, in living, took an hour or so,  As for the poem
itself, it is simply a huge thing, not easily comprehended, at least not as
a few lines of speech.  Let alone understood internally and intrinsically,
let alone absorbed, almost a whole, as it were, anti-Gospel.  And that is
just a start for them or anyone.  Another example: a friend is a top-rated
neurobiologist at UCLA, with big labs and great funding.  A straightforward
simple and even shy man in his 60s, from the Midwest.  He goes very often to
important conferences internationally.  Lately he has taken to asking us
what to do and see in all the great cultural capitals he has a fortnight's
paneleering in, and lots of time.  He is honest and modest, and is
enthralled by making a first acquaintance with arts and architecture
everywhere.  In short, he has not the Humanities, and finds himself suddenly
old enough to try to see and hear and "experience" what the old Yeats termed
"monuments of unaging intellect."  Which is what we wish to preserve and
maintain and profess.  Digitizations are not experiential events in our very
being.  Though experienced virtually, so to say.
Another cartoon, which in 1954, illustrated what some think is our
profession, if not calling.   A figure, young, picks up, at the left, a
suitcase labled, say, HUMANITIES.  He carries it ten years; looks older;
another 10,, etc. At last on the right side, he is bent, bearded, geezer,
and he sets the suitcase down...unopened all his life.  Caption says:
are intellectual porters: they pick up the whole case and carry it lifelong
and set it down*, unopened.  Sardonic and cynical, to be sure. Most of the
other disciplines today, larded with pelf and power, not to speak of
carrying on their backs entire suites of administrative officers like The
Old Man of the Sea, tend to regard our HUMANITIES as something in that
suitcase, not worth the carrying even! Let alone unpacking daily and sorting
and demonstrating its samples of life lived for millenia to wide-eyed
youth.  They would prefer the kids to try to think of one or two out of the
million downloaded tunes —How many are music? and be deafened by their ear
buds, than be able to THIMK! as that ancient IBM office poster had it.  To
be drowned out by noise seems to be preferable to those who havent the
foggiest notion of anything, let alone the bottom line in their own
I suppose it comes down to this: There is a basic confusion growing, which
confuses the HUMANITIES, whatever they may be, were, or could be, with
vocational training for making a living, essential though that is for us
all.  Yet neither are they a mere luxury to be discarded or trimmed down to
nothing because they cost bucks.  What 98% of engineering students are not
told is that after 10 years in their speciality, they are obsoleted; the
cure for some is being kicked upstairs to managerial tasks.  Necessary, but
not what they put their best years into.  And even managers are soon enough
discarded, obsoleted.  And become like the broken ones that Mr. O'Brien in
1984 sent down to a cafe to play chess and drink Victory gin, waiting for
the hour when a bullet is put into their heads just behind one ear.
Jascha Kessler

On Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 10:33 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 479.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>  [1]   From:    D.Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
>  (28)
>        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 24.476 job at Ryerson: jobs and disciplines
>  [2]   From:    Gregory Crane <gregory.crane at tufts.edu>
>  (123)
>        Subject: Responding to "the cuts,' Rethinking the Humanities and
>                advancing civilization in a violent world
>  [3]   From:    renata lemos <renata.lemoz at gmail.com>
> (28)
>        Subject: Saving the humanities?
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2010 13:55:04 +0000
>        From: D.Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
>        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 24.476 job at Ryerson: jobs and disciplines
>        In-Reply-To: <20101109063033.26F109EE3A at woodward.joyent.us>
>        Date: Mon, 8 Nov 2010 11:15:15 -0400
>        From: Ryan Deschamps <ryan.deschamps at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.474 job at Ryerson: jobs and disciplines
>        In-Reply-To: <20101108074722.BC8C696A82 at woodward.joyent.us>
>   Since I do not work with faculty (of any sort), I've been kind of quiet
>   on the issue, but now that I've read this I feel bold enough to add my 2
>   cents.
>   ...
>   I am sure there is a lecture awaiting me about the 'harsh reality' of
>   faculty interests, labor markets and the job hunt.   I would suggest
>   this is rather a 'harsh facade' - especially in an age where much of the
>   knowledge of our society has become more accessible than it ever has.
>   Society's knowledge is not only more accessible, but the context of that
>   knowledge is dynamic.   With the rise of databases and
>   personal/collaborative taxonomies, we can in fact create our own
>   'disciplines' in the blink of an eye
> I don't want to give lectures, but what may have been lost in the above are
> the distinctions between disciplines and departments and between knowledge
> and academia. One may be able to create a discipline in the blink of an eye
> (though that depends on what is meant by a 'discipline'), but where I work,
> even creating a new module takes several years (much of which will be spent
> wrangling with committees). And even if knowledge is more accessible than
> ever, academic appointments for newly qualified PhDs are certainly harder to
> come by now than they used to be, even just a few years ago. So without
> wishing to appear too cynical, my experience of joining faculty has taught
> me that behind the harsh facade, there's a far harsher reality.
> None of this, though, is to deny the incredible dynamism of knowledge in
> our connected world, which Ryan is right to enthuse about. Perhaps it is
> simply that the pursuit of knowledge has become increasingly alien to the
> business of higher education - even though many of the individuals employed
> in (and most of those trying to enter) the latter business are still
> committed to the former pursuit.
> All best wishes
> Daniel
> Dr Daniel Allington
> Lecturer in English Language Studies and Applied Linguistics
> Centre for Language and Communication
> The Open University
> 01908 332 914
> http://open.academia.edu/DanielAllington
> --
> The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt
> charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).
> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2010 09:25:23 -0500
>        From: Gregory Crane <gregory.crane at tufts.edu>
>        Subject: Responding to "the cuts,' Rethinking the Humanities and
> advancing civilization in a violent world
>        In-Reply-To: <20101109063033.26F109EE3A at woodward.joyent.us>
> The original has been published at http://www.stoa.org/archives/1299 but
> might not hurt to post this to Humanist as it addresses the discussion
> about the proposed UK cuts.
> As we consider whether or not the Humanities serve a public good and
> warrant public support, we cannot emphasize enough that ideas are a
> matter of life and death. At the dawn of the twentieth century, Kabul
> and Kandahar were almost as remote from New York as the Moon is today.
> But in the first year of the twenty-first century, we saw that the most
> remote and geo-politically weak space on earth could strike the centers
> of global power. Pressing issues such as the anxiety over oil and Israel
> may be in the foreground, but these are largely accelerants to a deeper
> intellectual encounter, a war of ideas that have evolved over thousands
> of years, across thousands of miles, and within thousands of languages.
> We need better ways to understand the cultures that drive economic and
> political systems upon which our biological lives depend. First, we need
> to understand the connections, often surprising, that bind superficially
> distinct cultures. Kandahar was in fact founded by Alexander the Great –
> one Alexandria among several in his empire. The great translation
> movement centered in Baghdad from c. 800 to 1000 CE made more Greek
> Science, Medicine, and Philosophy available in Arabic than has been
> translated into any modern language since. A second translation
> movement, with strong centers in Spain and Sicily, amade Arabic
> scholarship available in Latin – Aristotle re-emerged in the West
> because Muslim scholars had not only translated his work but had gone
> far beyond the Greek starting points and provided foundations on which
> Christian thinkers could build. Western Europe built upon a foundation
> forged in Greek and Arabic. As Dimitri Gutas, an expert on Greek and
> Arabic points out, the dense cultural network of which the Europe is a
> part extends – and has extended for thousands of years — at least until
> India.
> Ideas as well as material objects traveled back and forth from the
> Pacific to Atlantic, and as we contemplate complementary systems, such
> as the spread of Greek culture and the development of Ancient China, we
> can compare Plato and Confucius or Thucydides and Sun Tzu and open up
> questions of parallel development and shared human values.. When we
> examine American individualism, with its connections to pre-Christian,
> brutally competitive ideas in Greco-Roman culture, we can also ask how
> this might compare to cultural patterns that emphasize social cohesion
> and harmony in Asian societies with roots in Confucian thought. This is
> merely an example of a kind of analysis that raises questions of
> practical importance, especially as the United States and Europe become
> ever more closely linked to an ever more powerful China.
> The act of posing these questions – about fundamental ideas that have
> shaped civilizations around the world – is arguably more important than
> the answers that we fashion. We need the intellectual tools to think
> about the problems and achievements of our own cultures and a respectful
> curiosity about other cultures that does not shy away from questions.
> When American journalist Robin Wright first met Iranian President
> Khatami in 1998, he quoted Plato and asked “what is justice?” to a
> bemused group of reporters, who had “all come to talk about issues a bit
> more pressing than ancient Greek philosophy.” But Khatami’s ideas struck
> a chord when he suggested that we need a Dialogue, rather than a Clash,
> of Civilizations. The year 2001 was designated by the United Nations as
> the year for the dialogue of civilizations. Tragically, as we all know,
> that year instead was marked by a new exchange of violence rather than
> ideas.
> What then can we do to grapple with the ideas that threaten our
> stability and security? From my standpoint, as a college professor who
> thinks about equipping the next generation with the kind of education
> that will sustain them in this new century, it is the Humanities that
> provide – or can provide – the space in which a real dialogue can take
> place. The disciplines of the humanities – philosophy, literature,
> history, classics, to mention several – are essential to the pursuit of
> genuine understanding across diverse cultures and intellectual
> frameworks. That said, those of us with the privilege to dedicate our
> lives to advancing our understanding of human record have a great deal
> of work to do In most areas of the humanities, academic culture, rooted
> in traditions of print publication, has produced a highly erudite and
> very narrow channel of communication, with publications that few could
> see, much less understand, and a hierarchical culture to which only
> those with advanced degrees and who wrote in a handful of European
> languages could contribute. Our students have been subjects in a kingdom
> of learning, measured by how far short they fell of the yardsticks that
> others had established for them. Today, those yardsticks seem out of
> date and frequently irrelevant to the dialogues taking place around the
> world with the help of new communication technologies.
> These same technologies – that have accelerated the circulation of both
> hateful speech and new ideas across the globe — allow us to transform
> our intellectual lives as well. Each of us can explore a wider
> intellectual space than we could a generation ago. Professional
> researchers can explore broader questions in greater depth than was
> feasible before the digital age. Our students can become our
> collaborators – indeed, we need them for the shift to a digital space
> has made publicly available far more content than a handful of
> professional scholars can ever interpret. We are poised to create a new
> humanities education that integrates the most advanced analytical
> methods with our most ancient goals and that produces a generation
> better able to think about where they have come from and where they are
> going. And we have now the tools to expand our collaborations across
> languages and cultures, to develop intellectual and personal
> relationships with our colleagues from whom we had been cut off. Few
> Classicists, for example, realize that the University of Cairo supports
> one of the most active programs in Greek and Latin in the world because
> they publish largely in Arabic and because print culture, with its
> massive libraries, favored a handful of universities in the first world.
> Vast digital collections and increasingly sophisticated technologies
> transform what is possible and challenges us to rethink how we can, in
> this emerging space, more fully realize those goals towards which our
> predecessors have labored, whether they were in India or the Near East,
> Europe or China. We now have an opportunity to build a republic of
> letters that spans languages and cultures, that advances the
> intellectual life of humanity and that contributes ever more, tangibly
> and intangibly to growing communities around the globe.
> There are no quick solutions to the problems that we face. We can pull
> our sons and daughters from the mountains of Afghanistan or we can
> continue the work at hand, but the larger issues at play, in Afghanistan
> and elsewhere, often do not revolve around science and medicine but
> around history and ideas. The popular American cable channel of the same
> name aptly states “History – made every day,” but that history reaches
> back thousands of years and across thousands of languages. These are not
> small topics. We need both an educated populace and experts who are
> dedicated not only to their personal research, but also to serving the
> good of their societies and of humanity as a whole. If we in the
> Humanities can articulate, and then grow more fully into, those goals,
> then we not only serve ourselves and our students but contribute
> tangibly to a better world.
> Gregory Crane
> Professor and Chair, Department of Classics
> Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship
> Adjunct Professor, Computer Science
> Editor-in-Chief, Perseus Project
> Tufts University
> November 9, 2010
> --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2010 15:39:45 +0100
>        From: renata lemos <renata.lemoz at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Saving the humanities?
>        In-Reply-To: <20101109063033.26F109EE3A at woodward.joyent.us>
> Saving the humanities? <
> http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/saving-the-humanities/>
> For a whole variety of reasons, subjects in the humanities are coming under
> severe pressure in higher education around the world. In the United States,
> students are increasingly choosing <
> http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/11/08/college_leaders_work_to_increase_interest_in_humanities/
> >
> to study other subjects that they think are more visibly career-oriented,
> while
> in England the proposed new funding model may remove state support for
> humanities subjects altogether, so that students will have to pay fees
> amounting to the full cost. Furthermore university research in science,
> engineering and technology is getting the lion’s share of funding.
> But what can be done? We cannot force students to choose courses they don’t
> want to study, and research funding models are unlikely to change
> dramatically. But there are things we can do. We can point to the
> significant social (and even economic) need for
> expertise http://www.hea.ie/files/files/file/HEA%20FAHSS%20Report.pdf
> in humanities subjects. We can point to the convergence of new media
> content
> with new technology, and the significance of the humanities in this
> process.
> We can aim to re-invent some of the humanities to make them more attractive
> to students who no longer instinctively understand or have a feeling for
> traditional disciplines. When money becomes available, we can ensure that
> higher education infrastructure is not consistently at its worst in the
> humanities.
> A university system without the humanities, or one in which the humanities
> are studied by wealthy students only, is not a proper university system. We
> must be careful to ensure that this is not where we are going.
> http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/saving-the-humanities/
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Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

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