[Humanist] 25.565 Happy/Merry Christmas 2011!

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Dec 16 10:58:27 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 565.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2011 09:24:18 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Happy/Merry Christmas 2011

Because Humanist has grown so much in the last year it is an even better
idea than otherwise to explain my habit of sending out a Christmas message
to everyone within reach. My practice goes back to a particular Christmas
season in Toronto whose circumstances are described better in Humanist 3.879
(22 December 1989) than I could possibly manage in 2011. I commend it to
your attention, at

It is good to be reminded by those words that at least with respect to the
academic field we now call the digital humanities, conditions were far less
bright and hopeful than they are today. The remarkable change since then I
suspect may also be marked by the greater difficulty in feeling a cozy sense
of communal belonging that was then far easier to achieve. Members of this
electronic seminar (an antiquated term, but one I still like) and the
somewhat larger group of practitioners were a relatively small and certainly
beleaguered assembly, therefore more cohesive. Nothing like the scorn of
one's colleagues, "with darkness and dangers compassed round", to compel
that sense. But uncompelled we can imagine community without further
degrading that powerful word. I think we help to restore it.

This, then, is to celebrate how very different our professional circumstances
are now, and to conjure for those not around back then the enormity of what
has been achieved by the many, some labouring steadily since then. Jobs,
students, publications proliferating. A strong international organization of
organizations, with more in the queue. Scholars actually trained to be in
the field now beginning to take their places in it. Academic departments
starting to emerge. So much to celebrate.

Those of us who have been in the Long March (a parallel I conjure and abjure
simultaneously) are bound to wonder how to keep alive the memory of it so as
continually to create for the present a sense of trajectory, hence guidance
into the many futures. Memories are what individuals have. They're a
valuable source for making the history we need. But they're only the
beginning of it. If one could one might be tempted to go back to the
world before the Web, when writing that history was simultaneously not so
urgent and apparently within reach. We then did not have the dizzying
abundance of materials we can now see are not simply relevant but a sine qua
non, collectively if not individually, e.g. Fortune Magazine's special issue
of March 1964, "The Boundless Age", or Shell Oil's advert for IBM, "The
Oracle on 57th Street", in The Saturday Evening Post of 16 December 1960, or
Herman H. Goldstine's The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann (1972), or
Bernard J. Baars' The Cognitive Revolution in Psychology (1986). The list
(alas, hooray) seems endless. We can now, thanks to the Web and its
digitized contents, see that the horizon of relevance and our abilities to
discern it are coterminous -- or, to put the matter the other way around, if
we're an island we're in a large and complexly interrelated archipelago of
disciplines, practices and lives.

Here Christmas is a very dark time of year, though not so dark as
points further north, of course. Gloom is its genius. This year Chanukah
(20-28 December) overlaps; St Lucy's Day (13 December) has come and gone, as
has Al-Hijra (7 December); the end of the year in the Sikh calendar (26
December) is soon. Humanist will continue to be sent out most of the days of
this season, depending on what's sent in and what's cooking downstairs.

All the very best to all of you!


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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