[Humanist] 26.181 fundamental research questions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jul 22 22:15:23 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 181.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (36)
        Subject: fundamental research questions

  [2]   From:    Claire Clivaz <claire.clivaz at unil.ch>                    (193)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.179 fundamental research questions

  [3]   From:    Ashley Reed <reeda at email.unc.edu>                        (264)
        Subject: Re: fundamental research questions

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 09:07:59 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: fundamental research questions

In response to Julia's question on fundamental research questions in the 
humanities as a whole, I would guess that these are mostly ex post 
facto, i.e. that they arise from an historical view of research. If 
research is research, i.e. into the unknown, then how can the 
fundamental nature of it be known otherwise?

In the case of my own PhD dissertation, on the relationships between 
biblical and Greco-Roman classical traditions and Milton's Paradise 
Lost, I could only have formulated the research question during the last 
stages of writing. I had no idea what they could be when I started. In
everything I've written subsequently I've discovered the research
question while writing the response to it. 

In the case of the PhD in Digital Humanities programme, the demand for a 
single, well articulated research question that has a chance one day of 
touching on the fundamental is a practical one. In the 4 years allotted 
to the research-only doctoral degree in the U.K. the student does not 
have time to wander. The best way we know to give him or her a good 
chance of completing is to require specific focus from the beginning. 
But there is no requirement that the question to which the dissertation 
is in the end actually a response be the same as the question with which 
he or she began. Questions change, deepen, develop.

So, I think, the way to answer Claire's question and Julia's is to look 
at completed works. When we assemble such works for our field and look 
at them, which of them have gone after fundamental questions in the 
digital humanities? And that leads to yet another question: do 
constructed scholarly resources, infrastructures and standards 
*themselves* address questions at all? Is the problem here that we 
are asking for the wrong thing, or asking for the right thing too soon?

Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 15:46:29 +0200
        From: Claire Clivaz <claire.clivaz at unil.ch>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.179 fundamental research questions
        In-Reply-To: <20120721224514.E7068285AB6 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear all,

Thank you for your ideas!

Somebody of the journal "Stunlaw, a critical review of politics, arts 
and technology" added this answer on my blog 

Stunlaw says: "I am not convinced that the etymology of digital as 
'fingers' helps understand what digital humanities *is* or could 
be.Certainly it is the use of computational concepts, ideas, methods and 
tools that are crucially important. They also change the humanities from 
'fingers' to informating or processing. This clearly also transforms 
the humanities and what it is to be a humanities scholar".

I wrote in response: "'Computer' designates a cerebral concept. With 
the iphone/ipad culture, we are acting again with our fingers in the 
digital culture, and it is a very important turning point. Robert 
Darnton pointed to that also in "The Case for Books", by evoking the 
German word "Fingerspitzengefül". Darton: 'we find our way 
through the world by means of a sensory disposition that the Germans 
call Fingerspitzengefül. If you were trained to guide a pen with your 
finger index, look at the way young people use their thumbs on mobile 
phones, and you will see how technology penetrates a new generation, 
body and soul'".

The German concept of "to feel/experiment with the top of the fingers"
 (Fingerspitzengefül) fits particularly well to illustrate the 
turning-point of the screens that one "touches".
 Let's think to bodies related to computers and filmed... Let's think of 
so much examples where bodies and computers are interconnected. The 
digital culture is definitively not a disembodied culture, but rather a 
culture of the "augmented body", something like that.

... last but not least, I totally agree with Julia Flanders and Paul 
Spence: DH 2012 was amazing! Thank you so much to the Hamburg team...

Claire Clivaz

        Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2012 15:37:41 -0400
        From: Ashley Reed <reeda at email.unc.edu>
        Subject: Re: fundamental research questions
        In-Reply-To: <mailman.1.1342958407.5995.humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org>

Hi Julia,

I like your idea of seeking out "fundamental" questions in the traditional humanities to help guide our discussion of such questions in the digital humanities. In the field of literary studies (I, too, am being trained in a literature department) the first question that came to my mind was, "what is the relationship between the author and his/her work?" or, more broadly, "what is the status of the author?" From Matthew Arnold's "best that has been thought and said" to Wimsatt and Beardsley's authorial fallacy and intentional fallacy, to Barthes' "Death of the Author" and Foucault's "What is an Author?" this seems to be the question that guides much literary theory and criticism. Even schools of thought that reject the notion of an independently-acting author are generally concerned, not with doing away with the notion of authorship, but with relocating or redistributing it--in the reader's mind, for instance, or in the anxieties of the larger culture, or in the material and economic conditions of production and publication. Thus the status of the author would seem to be a '"fundamental question" in the field of literary studies.

As you suggest, adding "in the digital era"--"what is the relationship between the author and his/her work in the digital era?" or "what is the status of the author in the digital era?"--doesn't help much with our search for fundamental questions in the digital humanities; these still seem like literary critical questions (and legitimate, interesting ones at that).

But does the "author question" have an analogue in the digital humanities: "what counts as 'data'?" perhaps?

Ashley Reed
Project Manager, William Blake Archive
Department of English and Comparative Literature
UNC Chapel Hill

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