[Humanist] 27.792 getting closer to the miraculous

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Feb 13 10:02:03 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 792.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 13:26:22 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: getting closer to the miraculous

Geoffrey Harpham, President and Director of the National Humanities 
Center (U.S.), has dedicated his column in the newsletter of the NHC for 
Fall 2013/Winter 2014, to the question of digital humanities. I quote 
the first three and then the last two paragraphs:

> The humanities are often said to be in decline, but one area that is
 > indisputably in growth mode is the “digital humanities,” a loosely
 > defined and indeed constantly mutating and expanding set of scholarly
 > and pedagogical practices that draw heavily on computing technology.
 > Digital humanists are cropping up everywhere, attracting attention,
 > students, and funding, and for this and other reasons, the digital
 > humanities (DH) have become both ubiquitous and controversial.
> WhatÂ’s not to like? A lot, according to some, who charge that by
 > replacing scholarship with technical facility and deep thought with
 > razzle-dazzle, DH will actually weaken and corrupt the humanities rather
 > than reinvigorate them. In response, advocates have pointed out that if
 > their work is attracting attention and support, the humanities as a
 > whole benefit, and that in any event the mighty force of technology
 > cannot be denied.
> The question is hard to adjudicate in the abstract, so letÂ’s consider
 > the work of three scholars working in this mode, all of whom are
 > involved in the creation of a Triangle Digital Humanities Network that,
 > while centered at the National Humanities Center, draws on the human and
 > technological resources at our local universities.

He goes on to discuss this work. He concludes as follows:

> All three of these projects set off bells in the minds of some who
> feel that cultural artifacts are best appreciated in their achieved
> form, as printed words in a book or completed structures. But if the
> point of humanistic scholarship is to bring us to a richer and deeper
> encounter with the actuality of the past, then these projects
> certainly qualify as humanistic. Indeed, they could all be understood
> as attempts to undo a history of falsification wrought by the
> processes of abstraction and reduction required to translate acts of
> sometimes disorderly or impassioned creation taking place over time
> into the finished artifacts or objects we can appreciate today.
> One understandable but mistaken belief about the humanities is that
> they give us the past in a form that can serve as an anchor in the
> seas of time and change, a still point in a turning world, a source
> of reassuring stability. But this is precisely the wrong lesson to
> draw from the past, and the opposite of what the humanities actually
> teach us. In all their myriad forms, the humanities seek not just to
> represent the artifacts, documents, or events of the past, but to
> acquaint us with the dynamic processes that brought these things into
> being. The authentic humanistic response to life is not veneration
> but astonishment at, and gratitude for, the miraculous fact that,
> from the tumult of history, anything worthy of enduring admiration
> has survived at all. The humanities are all about that miracle, and
> if digital technology can get us closer to it, IÂ’m all for it.

For the whole article see 


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

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