[Humanist] 24.448 digital humanities and the cuts

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Oct 31 10:10:49 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 448.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (58)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.445 digital humanities and the cuts

  [2]   From:    Louisa Connors <Louisa.Connors at newcastle.edu.au>          (10)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.445 digital humanities and the cuts

        Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2010 00:28:44 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.445 digital humanities and the cuts
        In-Reply-To: <20101029035428.7D342A63FE at woodward.joyent.us>

I currently teach in a university in which 90% of its students are
either Business or Criminal Justice majors.  I don't need to say that
the majority of the students coming in believe that their literature
courses are useless and that faculty in the dominant schools only
reinforce this opinion.  Every day teaching is a hard sell of
humanities study to a largely hostile audience -- not personally
hostile to me, but generally hostile to having to be in a literature
class, and God help us all if I'm teaching a poetry class, which is
the most useless of all useless subjects.

My response has been to ask students to explore their expectations for
their education.  As I'm sure you all know, most students tend to
think of education in terms of vocational training: you are taught to
do a job in school, and when you graduate, you go out and do that job.
 One response on my end is a "Consider the Cow" lecture.  I ask my
students to meditate on a cow: it gets up, surveys the field, decides
the fence is a bit too far and the grass right where it is standing is
just fine, then it eats, defecates, sleeps, and never goes beyond the
boundaries set for it until it is slaughtered by its owners for
profit.  I ask my students to consider the possibility -- a very
remote possibility, mind you -- that they are better than cows.  That
there is more to their lives than the jobs that they're going to do
every morning, and that their education can also help them with the
rest of their lives.  Vocational training will not teach anyone how
their spouse feels or what their children think and why.  But
humanities study just might.  That is my defense of content.  It
worked well enough that students brought me photographs of cows the
next semester to use in my repeat of the lecture.

My next advocacy for the humanities is to lead my students to
understand humanities study not just in terms of content, but also in
terms of skills development.  I tell my students that their most
sophisticated reading will probably be in their literature classes (we
don't offer much by way of philosophy).  It will not be sophisticated
because of its complexity of vocabulary, but because it communicates
thought, action, and feeling at once.  Because it is sometimes
deliberately ambiguous, and sometimes the ambiguity is the point.  And
in being this way, it is the most like life: cryptic, ambiguous, and
sometimes nonsensical.  To learn how to read literature is to learn
how to read life the people that you encounter along the way.
Furthermore, it is simply to learn how to -read-, and by learning how
to read, to learn how to -write-.

I ask my students if they can recall hearing someone speak and
thinking that they were stupid (yes, a very dangerous question to
ask).  Then I ask them if they themselves want to sound stupid in
their speaking or in their writing.  And then, yes, I intimate to them
that sometimes, yes indeed, they too can sound rather stupid (I
usually have a good relationship with my students and take as well as
I give).  I suggest to them that reading literature and writing about
it develops reading and writing skills that they can carry into every
job, as well as content knowledge that they can take with them into
every human interaction.

These are clearly not useless skills -- in fact, they are absolutely
necessary -- but neither are they easily quantifiable in terms of
product sales or visible output.  At this point I ask my students to
perform one more task: to consider the difference between an external
product and a developed skill.  The first is an investment in another
person's resources.  The latter is an investment in themselves.

Why wouldn't they want to make it?

Jim R

        Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 10:39:49 +1100
        From: Louisa Connors <Louisa.Connors at newcastle.edu.au>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.445 digital humanities and the cuts
        In-Reply-To: <20101029035428.7D342A63FE at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard

Humanists might be interested in Bill Mitchell's analysis of funding
cuts to the humanities. He discusses the flaws of the mainstream
economic approach. He also proposes a different way of viewing economic
choices governments face, which include adequate funding for our
universities. When you understand his argument you are left with no
doubt that the funding cuts are more ideological than a financial
necessity or consequence of the financial system.


Best wishes


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