[Humanist] 29.66 good questions for digital literary studies

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 1 08:23:10 CEST 2015

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 66.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 31 May 2015 13:54:20 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: good questions for digital literary studies

In a very recent article, "Novel devotions: Conversational reading,
computational modeling, and the modern novel", Andrew Piper (McGill),
asks a series of very interesting questions:

> What would it mean for a novel to turn us as we turn its pages? How
> are we not simply moved, but transformed --“ turned around --“ through
> the novel'™s combination of gestural and affective structures? How
> might we think, in other words, about the correspondences between the
> novel'™s technics and its tropes in its ability to assume meaning for
> us as a genre at a profound personal level?

His aim, he says,

> is to begin the long overdue process of reflection on the act of
> computational modeling --“ as the construction of a hypothetical
> structure that mediates our relationship to texts -- and the ways in
> which such models are themselves both circular and conversional in
> nature.

Such reflection is most welcome, even if (as some of the writings of 
people here will attest) it has hardly been ignored in the literature of 
digital humanities for the last decade. Reflection on modelling is 
urgent, I think, but not overdue. I am at the moment unable to read 
Piper's article with the attention it deserves -- and it does appear 
deserving -- but I hope you find the time and have something to say 
on the subject. The article has just been published in New Literary 
History 46.1, online via Project MUSE, and is available from his site, 

Piper's article implies that we who are primarily in digital 
humanities do have a problem communicating our work to those 
who come to the field from outside it. I wonder, do colleagues 
in the older disciplines realise that there's a considerable body of 
relevant work done in a now thriving field? Do they take a look 
only to be confronted by too much technical language? Do they 
assume that nothing of much interest in its conference papers, 
journals and books is to be found? Or do colleagues assume in 
effect that "digital humanities" is a plural noun denoting subsets 
of traditional disciplines, each subset as much its own separate 
world as the discipline in which it is found? Where (to echo 
Alan Liu) is the critical interdisciplinary awareness in the 

Since Humanists includes many non-specialists, perhaps even in 
the majority, I'd suppose this is a good place to ask the question 
of how better we might communicate. What's wrong?


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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