[Humanist] 28.762 engaging the public & matters of scale

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Feb 23 08:13:45 CET 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 762.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (31)
        Subject: scale

  [2]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                      (120)
        Subject: Engaging the Public

        Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2015 09:41:10 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: scale

Martin Mueller's "scalable reading" is attractive: we devise or reach for
instruments that extend our perceptual and cognitive powers beyond unaided
human scale. Happens all the time, as we celebrate here.

Two questions about this fascinate me. One is how what we mean by "human"
changes to incorporate a formerly remarkable aid that extended human
reach, e.g. the camera. The other is what happens to our conception of
knowledge. This latter change seems harder to notice. We exclaim, for
example, how online resources allow us to do this and that but can only
guess at the profound, slower moving effects on the concept of knowing -- if
we even bother to puzzle over them. We keep on writing as if technological
determinism were simply a fact of life even though "The most decisive
conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that
the world is not deterministic. Causality, long the bastion of metaphysics,
was toppled, or at least tilted: the past does not determine exactly what
happens next." (Hacking, The Taming of Chance, p. 1) In realms we're more
familiar with, what has happened, for example, to our conception of literary
style as a result of computational stylistics? Why, in this particular case,
are the rather startling implications of discerning an author's identity
from his or her use of common words not a matter of concern? (Yes, it's very
hard work to do this well, and yes, it seldom works well enough to inspire
confidence, but *any* success at all, it seems to me, is astonishing and
upsetting to our comfortable assumptions of authorship.)

So there's more to it than zooming in or out -- and abundant occasion 
to argue, no?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

        Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2015 13:49:59 -0600
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Engaging the Public
        In-Reply-To: <20150222092628.714E4A9E at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard:

> I was charmed the other day, thanks to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 (BBC),
> to come across a "Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy",
> Angie Hobbs
> (http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/university-appoints-first-uk-professor-of-the-public-understanding-of-philosophy-1.174523).
> I do recommend that you take the time out to listen to her interview
> (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b050yh93). We need many more such
> appointments, in all fields of the humanities including digital humanities.
> Humanists in the UK will recognise the phrase "public understanding" from
> initiatives for the public understanding of science, where again and again
> one finds stories of the curiosity-led research that has drawn someone
> into the sciences and yielded not merely a life worth living but also the
> discoveries we most value.

I did listen to Professor Hobbs' interview and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I would go further
perhaps in our thirst for knowledge. Since all subjects at university come directly
from philosophy, we should all endeavor to be like Professor Hobbs. Every faculty title
should contain, at least implicitly, the word "Public."

I was struck recently by a conversation at an editorial board meeting, where one colleague
said that it was difficult to find qualified reviewers for papers in a specific topic. The
person went on to point out that there were only 5 people in the world whose specializations
covered the area.

What have we come to at colleges and universities when our learning and questioning
reaches 5 people? It seems to me that we need to continue our specialization, but to make
a concerted effort to reach out to the public. Otherwise, what is the point?

> There is a dark side to the professionalisation of the academic life. The
> usurping of curiosity by the ladder of promotion is certainly one of them.
> For a rude awakening I recommend interviewing opportunistic
> candidates.

This is a dark side. I am lighting a small candle in the dark related to our recent evolution
of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (the revised acronym of
http://utdallas.edu/atec). ATEC has now officially become one of UT Dallas'
8 Schools (previously there were 7). I am co-working on a candidate document where we make
suggestions that public discourse be rewarded at the highest levels of
the university. At a public university such as the one I attend, we owe it to 
all taxpayers in the State to explain what we are doing, why we are doing it, and 
furthermore, what excites us about our areas.

It is no longer enough to speak only to 5 people if universities are to survive the 
radical (and exciting) changes coming from apps, MOOCs, videos, blogs, podcasts, and
so forth. I see myself as an educated guide for students, engaging them, questioning
their assumptions. Isn't that how philosophy began with the Greeks? Why have we


> Comments?
> Yours,WM
> On 21/02/2015 07:43, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 755.
>>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>>         Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:04:27 +0000
>>         From: "Stephen H. Gregg"<s.gregg at bathspa.ac.uk>
>>         Subject: Re:  28.751 evidence of value is evidence of worry
>>         In-Reply-To:<20150220080423.317D97FC at digitalhumanities.org>
>> Dear list
>> Teaching (very entry level) textual analysis with my undergraduate students
>> has really underlined - for me just as much as for them - precisely this
>> movement between close reading and what Matthew Jockers terms macroanalysis
>> (my students preferred this term to 'distant reading').
>> Best
>> Stephen Gregg
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
> Group, University of Western Sydney
> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2015 14:47:51 +0000
>        From: Martin Mueller <martinmueller at northwestern.edu>
>        Subject: Re:  28.755 evidence of value
>        In-Reply-To: <20150221074337.D1A6AA0C at digitalhumanities.org>
> The term I prefer is 'scalable reading,', which is the name of my blog at
> https://scalablereading.northwestern.edu  The most striking feature of
> digital text analysis tools is not that they are "distant" or "macro" but
> that they make it really easy to change your perspective. Depending on how
> well your data have been prepared--usually a lot more work than casual
> users suspect--you can zoom in or out at the drop of a hat. In business
> jargon, I take it that "drilling down" refers to that distinctive power of
> the technologies. 
> In addition to being a more accurate description of the really distinctive
> feature, "scalable reading" is also a more friendly term. It doesn't carry
> with it any assumptions that you ought to go "macro" or "distant" and that
> "micro" and "closer" are no longer where the action is. Instead "scalable
> reading" gives readers the option to vary the distance from the data
> depending on the tasks at hand.
> Martin Mueller
> Professor emeritus of English and Classics
> Northwestern University

Paul Fishwick, PhD
Distinguished University Chair of Arts & Technology 
   and Professor of Computer Science
Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
The University of Texas at Dallas
Arts & Technology
800 West Campbell Road, AT10
Richardson, TX 75080-3021
Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
Blog: creative-automata.com

More information about the Humanist mailing list