[Humanist] 28.875 pull of the intellectual catwalk?
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Apr 9 07:52:08 CEST 2015
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 875.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Thu, 09 Apr 2015 06:41:47 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: fashions and trends
Reading chronologically through articles relevant to the introduction
and spread of computing in literary and historical studies in the latter
half of the 20th Century, I am struck by the power of fashion. A
technique, approach or theory (call it what you will) is introduced then
quickly becomes the only game in town. Or, to put the matter somewhat
differently, an intriguing, even compelling "as if" quickly morphs into
an "is". Critically intelligent scholars are swept up as
easily as supposedly less intelligent people are by a change in
clothing, music or whatever. Evidence in particular cases suggests that
the "next new thing" was there for years or decades, as it were, waiting
for its moment. Quantification in history, before it took off
after WWII, is an example. Lawrence Stone's crucial article, "The
revival of narrative: Reflections on a new old history", Past and
Present 85 (1979): 3-24, gives a fine account of that.
I ask naively, why are we so easily swept away when we know, or should
know, that whatever it is will soon be old hat? Why not many games in
town? Surely we can see that the fever for Big Data, like the outbreak
of "scientific history" Stone chronicles, is a mixed bag, not The Truth?
Is all this not a tale whose moral is to stay detached, or as much as
one can, from the intellectual catwalk?
Better questions most welcome!
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney
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