[Humanist] 25.1 Humanist at 24: Chuck Bush 1948-2011

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat May 7 09:16:28 CEST 2011

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 1.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 07 May 2011 08:12:27 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Humanist at 24: Chuck Bush 1948-2011

Today Humanist begins its 25th, quarter-century year. In usual and 
generously imprecise human terms, we could say that a generation has 
passed and that we're on to the next one. I certainly get that sense 
from encountering whole collections of writings on the digital 
humanities, not just published but some time ago, that I knew nothing 
about until accidentially encountering them. This at first is shocking 
because I am always on the prowl. But as my friend Harold Short remarked 
a few days ago, our divergences of ideas, views, opinions, organizations 
and everything else are signs of vigour. It's what happens to fields 
that succeed. Perhaps they go to seed, but then those seeds, some of 
them, germinate and sprout and grow. Those of us who think we have *said 
it* just have to accept that it is (because we are) a living thing which 
mutates, has babies and that argues with itself. In the latest thing I 
am writing I've been dealing with a book review that sharply levels the 
charge of disunity of opinion at a branch of our field, arguings that 
the lack of consensus is a sure sign of failure. What's got me going is 
the author's evident need to think that computing is all about coming up 
with the correct answer (which unsurprisingly he thinks should turn out 
to agree rather closely with received knowledge about the subject). 
After all, we've given the field he has put in the dock 30 or more years 
to come up with the goods, and all we get are more questions!

What's much, much more difficult to accept than our comfortably small 
subculture spinning out of our control is that with the passing of a 
generation people pass. We can say, as Gregory Bateson once did, that 
room needs to be made for the next generation, not just or even 
primarily in the physical sense. (Bateson was such a man that he may 
well have said this or thought it on his deathbed.) Ideas and their 
expressions turn into prisons needing to be torn down and remade. And so 
on and so forth. There are many other comforting thoughts which we can 
have that, I suppose, all come down to the cycle of nature in one form 
or another. "But old age should burn and rage at close of day". "And I 
am dumb to tell the lover's tomb" anything at all.

So I remember Chuck Bush, who died on 13 April, for who he was. As far 
as I can recall he was there, at the International Conference on 
Computing in the Humanities (ICCH) in 1987, in Columbia, South Carolina, 
when I started in the then small community and after which, from 
inspiration at the event, Humanist began. He was then as friendly, 
stalwart and faithful as he remained throughout the following years. 
Solid as a rock, until suddenly he wasn't.

With news of his death various things have been done and others are 
planned. The official online memorial is at 
aurora-22360.tributes.com/show/Charles--Chuck--Bush-91259514. I have 
made desultory effort to collect remembrances of Chuck in addition to 
the brief expressions which flooded the internal ACH Executive list. 
Here are two.

"He was a good man", Steve Ramsay wrote on 14 April, and like Steve "I 
will miss his kindly bearing and his good sense.  He will be dearly 

Harold sent me "one general and one specific observation about Chuck":

> The general one is to do with the way he combined thoughtfulness and
> good humour.  He had a way of blinking that always seemed to me a
> sure sign he was thinking - i.e. he had listened to what you had to
> say and he was reflecting on it, a trait one might wish for in all
> one's colleagues.  So many times in Committee meetings, where I often
> encountered him of course in the last few years, his would be the
> calm voice that suggested it might be a good idea to move our
> discussion in a different direction, or added some significant point
> in support of an argument.
> But perhaps his greatest gift was in putting forward his point of
> view or telling you things in indirect or subtle ways.  I remember an
> occasion when I was well on the way to making a very public gaffe
> over confusing Fred Bloggs and Fred Smith; realising this, Chuck did
> not say 'don't be an idiot, you surely mean Fred Bloggs'. What he
> said was: 'we should find a way to involve Fred Smith in our new
> initiative X, don't you think?'  It was very subtly done, but saved
> me both immediate and later public embarrassment.  Not many people
> have that gift!

Simple gifts. Farewell, Chuck. Happy birthday, Humanist.


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

More information about the Humanist mailing list