[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

More information about the Humanist mailing list