[Humanist] 27.820 Busa and Cage

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Feb 25 07:56:12 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 820.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2014 08:50:01 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: false alternatives

Martin Mueller makes an important point about false alternatives in
dismissing quantitative questions, e.g. of speed, time or efficiency, in
favour of qualitative ones. We set ourselves up to be caught unawares by
threshold effects of the former. Suddenly something becomes possible because
it is at human scale, and so humans run with it. But isn't what is false the
binary choice, whichever direction you go? Thus stressing the importance of
the quantitative is just as dangerous, or given the ease with which it can
be demonstrated and measured, perhaps even more so. If the question is put
in terms of saving labour, isn't the important matter what you do once
labour has been saved, what your aim is in saving it? Use automation to get
rid of your toll-booth collectors so as to increase profits? Use a vacuum
cleaner so that you can keep a cleaner house? 

The dominant emphasis in early digital humanities on relieving drudgery,
Louis Milic pointed out in 1966, meant that scholars were undertaking
research defined by drudgery. (Milic's "The next step" in CHum 1.1, where he
comments on this point, has to be among the very best critical articles
examining work in the field.) Labour-saving had become their goal. They were
falling into the trap Busa warned against and Cage would have none of.


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