[Humanist] 27.358 great works of scholarship

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Sep 20 09:02:57 CEST 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 358.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Prescott, Andrew" <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>            (74)
        Subject: Re:  27.357 great works of scholarship?

  [2]   From:    "Jim O'Donnell" <cassiodorus at gmail.com>                   (82)
        Subject: Re:  27.357 great works of scholarship?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2013 09:16:51 +0000
        From: "Prescott, Andrew" <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  27.357 great works of scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20130919080537.64CCB3088 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

I think we already have great works of scholarship in the Digital Humanities. I was closely involved in it, but the scholarly aspects of it were really the work of Kevin Kiernan, so I would unhesitatingly point to Electronic Beowulf as a great work of scholarship. I would also argue that the Calendar of Fine Rolls of Henry III and such prosoprographical works produced here in King's as the Prosoprography of Anglo-Saxo England are works of great scholarship. They are fundamental for the study of their respective subject areas, embody profound learning, and have changed the way in which we view our subject areas. They are of course in digital form, which mean that the way in which they have expressed their scholarship is different to what I was brought up with, but surely that it is to be expected.

More complicated is where digital work has fed great scholarship. For example, The Canterbury Tales project has achieved its objective of revolutionising our understanding early Chaucer manuscripts, but it did not achieve it in the way it stated at the beginning of the project. The process of structured reading of the manuscripts involved in transcribing them encouraged a complete rethinking of their contents, and paved the way for Linne Mooney's identification of the Hengwrt scribe. The various published works of such members of the Canterbury Tales project team such as Estelle Stubbs, Simon Horobin, Orietta da Rold  and Michael Pidd represent collectively a major contribution not only to Chaucer studies but to our understanding of medieval English literature. It isn't a straightforward monograph publication, but a more complex process.

Andrew
 
Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS 
Head of Department 
Department of Digital Humanities 
King's College London 
26-29 Drury Lane 
London WC2B 5RL 
@ajprescott 
www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh 
digitalriffs.blogspot.com 
+44 (0)20 7848 2651 

On 19 Sep 2013, at 09:05, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> 
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 357.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                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.
> 
> Comments?
> 
> Yours,
> WM
> -- 
> 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



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2013 08:47:14 -0400
        From: "Jim O'Donnell" <cassiodorus at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.357 great works of scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20130919080537.64CCB3088 at digitalhumanities.org>

Willard, thanks for this exactly-on-point response.  My reason for
asking after the "great works of scholarship" arises from my years in
higher administration in ambitious institutions.  If in a contested
environment I seek resources for an undertaking, I must make my case.
There are many ways to make the case for DH, no question, and I've
probably made most of them, or at least all the ones I know and can
think of.  But the argument that we are developing tools and methods
and resources that will at some future date make fresh new scholarly
discovery possible is inherently weaker than the argument that we are
working in an area that has the following definite achievements,
achievements intelligible to a psychologist dean, a theologian
provost, a physician president, and a board consisting of Very Rich
People.  And it is not that we are in competition just with
Traditional Humanities, but rather with the engineering school and the
business school and the performing arts department, all of whom have
crisp high concept answers to the "show us what you've accomplished"
question.

So to take my question and Willard's answer, I think I would summarize
that the inquiry after great works is arguably not an entirely fair
question, but it is an inevitable one that we have to face.  I propose
that as a *partial* explanation for the initial symptoms presenting,
viz. the impermanence of DHO initiatives.

Jim O'Donnell



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