[Humanist] 25.527 progress?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Dec 4 09:47:53 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 527.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 04 Dec 2011 08:45:06 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: progress

In his review in CHum 2 (1967) of the very interesting book, Computers 
in Humanistic Research, ed. Edmund A. Bowles (1967), Thomas E. Cooney, 
Jr., asks the reader to make the following supposition,

> that the major disciplines of the humanities were arranged in a 
> hierarchy in which the precedence of each depended on the concreteness 
> of its data and the rigor of its thought. At the top of such a list 
> would be archaeology, which reasons mostly from objects: the refuse, 
> wreckage and funerary testaments of human life. At the bottom--and 
> this is not meant invidiously--would be philosophy, which reasons 
> perhaps more vigorously than archaeology, but mostly from the abstract 
> summaries of human experience thrown up by the other humanities and 
> the natural sciences. High on the list would be anthropology, which, 
> though it is concerned with objects, reasons much more from its own 
> taxonomies of human behavior. Somewhere in the middle would come 
> political science and history, both of which mix intuitive theorizing 
> with consideration of masses of essentially documentary data. And near 
> the bottom would be literary scholarship, which, though grounded on 
> texts, must grapple intuitively with the calculated ambiguities of 
> their content.

Cooney then goes on to say that the explanation for this hierarchy is 
"the one that IBM itself gave when it sponsored and funded the six 
regional conferences in 1964 and 1965 that generated" the book 
under review.

My first question for you is, what has changed in the last 44 years? If 
we were to lay out the disciplines now in Cooney's (and IBM's) terms, 
would any resorting be required?

But my second question is, if not (as I think to be the case), then 
what's wrong with the picture? My eye fastens immediately on the phrase, 
"a hierarchy in which the precedence of each depended on the 
concreteness of its data and the rigor of its thought". Hmmmm: 
concreteness and rigour. Metaphorically these sound like attributes one 
would like a building to have (except in a zone where earthquakes are 
common), not ones suitable, say, for those who live in buildings. But 
what sort of metaphors would do better for the disciplines at the 
bottom of Cooney's list?


Professor Willard McCarty, Department of Digital Humanities, King's 
College London; Professor (fractional), University of Western Sydney; 
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, 
Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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