[Humanist] 25.440 Fish on GeoHumanities et al.

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Nov 1 08:04:10 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 440.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2011 06:46:05 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Fish on "GeoHumanities" et al

Stanley Fish, in "The Triumph of the Humanities" (New York Times for 13 
June 2011), notices the recently published collection, GeoHumanities: 
Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place, ed. Michael Dear et al (London: 
Routledge, 2011), then goes on to scoop up BioHumanities and other 
hybrid fields of recent vintage to observe that,
> What this all suggests is that while we have been anguishing over the 
> fate of the humanities, the humanities have been busily moving into, 
> and even colonizing, the fields that were supposedly displacing them. 
> In the ‘70s and the ‘80s the humanities exported theory to the social 
> sciences and (with less influence) to the sciences; many disciplines 
> saw a pitched battle between the new watchwords — perspective, 
> contingency, dispersion, multi-vocality, intertextuality — and the 
> traditional techniques of dispassionate observation, the collection of 
> evidence, the drawing of warranted conclusions and the establishing of 
> solid fact. Now the dust has settled and the invaded disciplines have 
> incorporated much of what they resisted. Propositions that once seemed 
> outlandish — all knowledge is mediated, even our certainties are 
> socially constructed — are now routinely asserted in precincts where 
> they were once feared as the harbingers of chaos and corrosive relativism.
> One could say then that the humanities are the victors in the theory 
> wars; nearly everyone now dances to their tune. But this conceptual 
> triumph has not brought with it a proportionate share of resources or 
> institutional support. Perhaps administrators still think of the 
> humanities as the province of precious insights that offer little to 
> those who are charged with the task of making sense of the world. 
> Volumes like “GeoHumanities” tell a different story, and it is one 
> that cannot be rehearsed too often.
for the whole thing.

I think we might tell a somewhat different story. I think we would shun 
sad notions of triumphal conquest or colonization. (Do we really have to 
play out within universities tragic errors of the past, configuring 
ourselves as agents of empire? How embarrassing! How misleading.) I 
think we would rather point to a drive or tendency to interdisciplinary 
research. And we might then go on to probe the role of the digital 
humanities as participant and urgent force in this quite remarkable change.



PS: My thanks to my colleague Dr Paul Caton for drawing my attention to 
Fish's article.
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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