[Humanist] 27.357 great works of scholarship?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Sep 19 10:05:37 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 357.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2013 08:57:44 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: an important question

Recently on Humanist, in response to the discussion concerning the 
Digital Humanities Observatory's closure, Jim O'Donnell asked "where the 
great works of scholarship in DH are and whether it's a fair question 
yet to ask for them".

I know we'd like the answer to be a long list of books. Some of us would 
very much like our own to be on that list. But I think that the most 
truthful word in Jim's question is that "yet". I think, purified of 
self-regard and shunning the bandwagon, we should be wanting an answer 
made in full knowledge of what the phrase "great works of scholarship" 
refers to when someone who knows what that means for the humanities 
utters it. And wanting that, we should be very slow to push forward much 
of anything written to date.

To indicate the proper measure I am fond of quoting Clifford Geertz's 
agonized statement for anthropology, in "Thick Description" (1973), "We 
are reduced to insinuating theories because we lack the power to state 
them." I also have in mind the rush of joyous energy when cognitive 
psychologists, such as George Miller, came upon computational language 
and for an all-too-brief time thought that they had been given that 
power of speech at long last. (See Plans and the Structure of Behavior 
to feel that rush of excitement.) As you'll know if you've followed the 
history, Miller et al discovered soon after that what they wanted to say 
couldn't be said in computational language after all.

I think we lack the power of speech for digital humanities. I think we 
need to be patient with ourselves -- and keep trying, trying hard, to 
acquire it. And -- very important this is -- avoid the cant, the hype, 
however flattering.


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

More information about the Humanist mailing list