[Humanist] 27.1028 Happy birthday Humanist

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed May 7 03:12:38 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 1028.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 07 May 2014 10:25:00 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Humanist's 28th year begins

Because the clock that tells the time sits elsewhere in the world from where
I am (in Sydney, Australia), the completion of Humanist's 27th year has as
of this moment not yet been marked by the automatic change-over in volume
and issue numbering. But here it is 7 May, and so time to celebrate. Happy
birthday Humanist!

We edge on 30 years of operation. Some of us, a dwindling number, have seen
all of them pass. But melancholy be gone! Before that 30th turn, shortly
after Humanist turns 29, we here will be holding the 2015 Digital Humanities
conference at the University of Western Sydney. Plans and arrangements for
that event are, I am reliably informed, well underway in the capable hands
of Paul Arthur, Harold Short, Jason Ensor and some others. The Parramatta
campus of UWS, where the conference will be held, is a beautiful site and
offers inter alia an hour's ferry ride down the Parramatta River, then under
the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House to Circular Quay, from which
other ferries go to many beautiful spots. When I was in a Sydney camera shop
last year a clerk asked me, so obviously a foreigner, if I were planning to
take some photos of the Bridge. My reply then remains true now: I am weary
of taking photos of that Bridge, I said, but I never get tired of looking at
it. Some Sydneysiders call it the Coat Hanger. If only we lived in a world
so well designed that our coat hangers had such beauteous engineering in
them! Anyhow, the ferry ride is a treat, the campus beautiful -- and of
course the intellectual programme will be among the very best. For those
fortunate enough to come here and travel afterwards I am compiling an
annotated list of destinations -- some around Sydney, others a bit further
away (e.g. the Blue Mountains) and then those astonishing places to which
most of us fly. Google for Uluru, the Olgas, King's Canyon, Karijini,
Broome, the Kimberley (esp Windjana Gorge), Kakadu, Arnhem Land. Read Robyn
Davidson's Tracks, then watch John Curran's fine movie based on it and
filmed in location.

This morning, however, to celebrate Humanist properly, my nose was stuck 
in a book, G.E.R. Lloyd's The Ideals of Inquiry: An Ancient History
(Oxford, 2014). You may recall from a previous posting David Gooding's
argument about the human interpretative expansion which follows the
increasingly effective reduction brought about by our digital instruments.
Thus Lloyd in his final chapter:

> We can, of course, see immeasurably more with the tools that are now
> available, optical and radio telescopes, microscopes and the like,
> where analysing the data with computers adds enormously to their
> usefulness. But what we observe always has to be processed and
> interpreted in the light of assumptions, hypotheses, conjectures,
> even when we use computer modelling again to help in that work. We
> cannot escape our assumptions, though we can be critical of them,
> just as our predecessors did not escape theirs -- and yet many of
> them too saw the need to be self-critical.
> In today's science we do not bring into existence a new faculty, even
> when we develop a new style of reasoning. The same underlying
> capacity, more or less aware of its fallibilities, more or less
> trained, more or less 'domesticated', is in play throughout.  (p. 135)

What I cannot do here without quoting the entire book (not a long one)
is give an adequate sense of Lloyd's meticulous care in weaving back and
forth between the alternatives of continuity and innovation across the
four cultures of Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, India and China. What I
can do to honour all that has made Humanist possible and sustained it
for these last unbelievably many years is to pick up his suggestion that
the task we have before us is to develop computer modelling, which Ian
Hacking "now rightly stresses should be added to the distinctively
modern 'styles of thinking & doing'" (p. 131). So, no new faculty
(continuity) but a new way of deploying it (innovation), with massively
important consequences to be explored.

What a birthday present that is!

Enjoy the birthday, which is all of ours.

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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