[Humanist] 29.340 losing the humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Oct 1 07:25:47 CEST 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 340.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>                   (160)
        Subject: Re:  29.336 losing the humanities

  [2]   From:    Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>                    (15)
        Subject: Re:  29.336 losing the humanities

  [3]   From:    "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>             (68)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.333 losing the humanities

        Date: Wed, 30 Sep 2015 09:27:14 +0200
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.336 losing the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20150930043635.77EFA69E8 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

Please don't confuse measurement with what accountants do.
Accountants count things--dollars, euros, pounds, widgets,
workers, etc--and then perform additions and subtractions upon
these numbers.  All this counting and calculating involves no
measurement.  Quantifying is not measurement.

Similarly, counting citations or publications or other easily
counted beans, is not measurement, but it is accountancy.

Measurement necessarily involves a proper mapping of an
empirically estimated quantity onto a well (and pre-) defined
scale of numerical values shown to vary in a way that conforms
to the way the estimated quantity changes.  This is not easy
to do.

Furthermore, the imagination and inventiveness and ingenuity
and making skills needed to devise and build an instrument
with which to perform an empirical measurement well enough to
gain anything from all this, is typically a lot, whatever the
discipline is.  And there is, I would say, a great deal of
necessary art and humanity in this doing of measurement.

Kuhn was right to draw attention to the inadequacy of Lord
Kelvin's dictum, "If you cannot measure, your knowledge is
meager and unsatisfactory," as a basis for understanding the
essentials of work in the Physical Sciences, but Kuhn's paper,
"The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science,"
fails to even touch upon the human endeavour of trying to
measure things, and the imagination, inventiveness, ingenuity,
perseverance, joy, and sadness this involves.  People make
measurements.  In the Sciences we like to pretend this is so
unimportant that it's almost untrue.  The Humanities are
needed to remind us, and everybody else who looks upon the
Sciences with marvel and envy, that it is necessarily true.

There is no science without humans and their arts; there is no
technology without humans and their arts; there is no
engineering without humans and their arts; there is no
mathematics without humans and their arts.  And there is no
need for all this science, technology, engineering, and maths
without humans and their arts.

When we count beans and do sums with the numbers our vision
and minds seem to be prevented from seeing this reality.  This
is why Bean Counting makes life so much easier for the people
who are supposed to manage what we do: they just have to count
things and proclaim that the numbers tell us everything we
need to know.

What would help the Humanities would be a whole lot more
Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians
showing everybody that the Arts and Humanities are an integral
and needed part of what they do each day.  Together, we should
pity the Bean Counters and persist in showing them what they
are missing, not just wail against them.

Best regards,


> On 30 Sep 2015, at 06:36, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 336.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (40)
>        Subject: what's the problem and what can we do about it?
>  [2]   From:    Alexander Murzaku <lissus at gmail.com>                      (28)
>        Subject: Re:  29.333 losing the humanities
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Tue, 29 Sep 2015 07:05:11 +0100
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: what's the problem and what can we do about it?
> There's been much talk about digital humanities coming to the rescue of 
> the humanities as a whole. The story of David and Goliath does come to 
> mind, but still I would deflate the rhetoric and ask just who this 
> Goliath is and what makes him (or her) so threatening? I suppose in the 
> original story it's fear that makes the small people so small and lack 
> of it that makes bold David so effective. But in our case what makes the 
> humanities seem so weak? What can we do about it?
> The culture of accountancy elevates measurement and calculation to a 
> high place. In 1961, in "The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical 
> Science" (Isis 52.2, pp. 161-93) Thomas Kuhn demonstrated -- not too 
> strong a word, I think -- that measurement plays no more than a role in the 
> sciences, and a far more complex and theory-bearing role than is commonly 
> realised. Many prominent scientists have testified to the deleterious 
> effects this culture of accountancy has on research in their fields. 
> Accountancy renders the interpretative disciplines mortally weak insofar 
> as it is believed to be the standard of quality. Simultaneously, 
> ordinary working people know in ways this academic can only remember 
> dimly that what they do certainly does not provide them a life worth 
> living. That's where the humanities enter the picture.
> At a roadhouse dinner in Western Australia in early August this year, on 
> a tour of the Kimberly region, I found myself sitting opposite a man 
> whose company I had avoided because I thought him a typical businessman, 
> with whom I'd share no interests. How mistaken I was! He turned out to 
> be a CEO of a very successful business who had recently returned to 
> university so that he could study human psychology and find out more 
> about himself and others. He was ravenous for knowledge, including 
> knowledge about digital humanities -- and very bright. Such people we 
> need to reach. Why aren't we doing that?
> Do we not have abundant evidence that computing, which out of ignorance 
> bears into the present and future this culture of accountancy, is a 
> source of imaginative forms? Isn't this what digital humanities is or 
> could be all about? Would pursuit and publication of this truth not 
> attack the problem at its root?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> -- 
> 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: Tue, 29 Sep 2015 09:14:56 -0400
>        From: Alexander Murzaku <lissus at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re:  29.333 losing the humanities
>        In-Reply-To: <20150929053727.564DD69D8 at digitalhumanities.org>
> Dear Willard,
> As Rens Bod says, humanities have an image problem. My question is who
> created this problem. Unfortunately, I think it is journalists,
> intellectuals, academicians and, most of all, politicians. Even more
> unfortunate is the fact that most of these people are educated in the
> humanities. Are we, as a society, trying to create a new kind of
> proletariat - a working class narrowly specialized to do only one thing? Is
> this what Udacity's nanodegrees or Coursera's specializations are? The fact
> is that big corporations (Google, AT&T, Salesforce) are sponsoring this
> kind of education.
> Or maybe the only people that seek and obtain these narrow specializations
> are people with already a strong liberal arts education/background that
> have developed the curiosity, the stamina to complete something, and the
> basis to understand most concepts taught in these continuing education
> offerings. I am very curious to know (I am sure there are data) what is the
> educational background of the people that do complete the technical
> curricula offered through the various MOOC models.
> It could turn out that the people that can complete the mythical 10,000
> hours
> <https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/22/daniel-goleman-focus-10000-hours-myth/>
> of training are only those that have the desire to do it, the curiosity to
> seek it and Dweck's grit
> http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/april/dweck-kids-potential-042915.html 
> to complete it. It looks like all those traits and attitudes are fostered
> and are developed but not advertised enough in the trivium/quadrivium model
> where humanities are an important component.
> Best,
> Alex Murzaku

        Date: Wed, 30 Sep 2015 09:59:48 +0200
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.336 losing the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20150930043635.77EFA69E8 at digitalhumanities.org>

To all Humanist readers,

This has just been brought to my attention. 

 The Leiden Manifesto for research metrics 
 Nature, vol 520, pp 429--431, 23 April, 2015
 See  http://www.leidenmanifesto.org

I imagine that this will be known by many here, but perhaps
not to all.  It is interesting, and I think important, because
the authors are respected scientometricians, social
scientists, and research administrators.

If we could get our respective institutions and organisations
to adopt and abide by the ten principles of research
evaluation presented in this manifesto, things might improve

Best regards,


        Date: Wed, 30 Sep 2015 16:25:02 +0200
        From: "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.333 losing the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20150929053727.564DD69D8 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard and all,

Calculations are only as good as the material that goes into them. The
"image problem" of the Humanities, as correctly noted by Rens Bod, begins
with a proper understanding of what we are talking about. It has become
customary to identify the "humanities" with the German
"Geisteswissenschaften". As a matter of fact, statistically seen, there is
no such thing as "Geisteswissenschaften" in Germany, despite the recent
phenomenon of "digitale Geisteswissenschaften". The Federal Bureau of
Statistics (Statistisches Bundesamt) uses the much more apt category of
"culture and language studies" ("Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften") for
their calculations. And the results are very similar (or worse) than what
James Rovira has noted for English-language countries, although my
conclusions are somewhat different.

About 450.000 students were enrolled in studies of culture and language at
German universities, second only to the studies of the laws, economics, and
the social sciences (about 640.000 in 2004). While these are not current
figures, the relations have remained about the same. Twice the number of
graduates from culture and language studies were unemployed five years after
their graduation. A closer look will give a more detailed picture: less than
50% will be working in a position that is corresponding to their education,
about 20% and more being self-employed, with an income slightly above the
poverty line

We all know that "deep" insights will take several years or even decades of
experience, making decisions that computers can simulate at best. Between 60
and 80% of those who find employment at a German university are given
temporary contracts of less than 3 years, some as short as three months.
Only about 10% of the scientific personnel at German universities are
tenure-track professors as compared to 66% at American universities. The
average student-to-professor ratio in culture and language studies at German
universities has remained the same over the years at about 80:1, at some
universities up to 160:1. Fashionable interdisciplinarity tends to increase
the number of university courses with 17.800 being taught in 2015.

While the trend in the job market is towards "flexibility", the general
situation is a tremendous waste of resources. Between 32 and 40% of all
students who had enrolled in culture and language studies will terminate
their studies early without graduating. When I taught the history of the
culture studies, my courses were overrun by students who wanted to know what
they were studying, as Albert Magnus once said: "The goal of every science
consists in knowing what it is about" -- "at least", one should add. When
unemployment or low income have to be sustained over several years, the
situation will culminate, as soon as the old-age benefits will not be enough
for humanities scholar to live from.

While Wendell Piez informs us about plans in Japan to exclude the humanities
from supported fields of study, the new subject of Chinese Humanities is
getting increased support in the Middle Kingdom. If there is a future for
the humanities, it will probably depend on our capacity to find an
over-arching pattern that will relate the separate fields to each other,
interdisciplinarily and interculturally, so that new practices may be
devised that are of practical value. Perhaps, the tradition of the
humanities consists less in a canon of shared beliefs than in the shared
methodology of reinventing itself to be re-born into an expanding world


Am 29.09.2015 um 07:37 schrieb Humanist Discussion Group:
>          Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 14:05:32 +0000
>          From: "Bod, Rens"<L.W.M.Bod at uva.nl>
>          Subject: RE:  29.332 losing the humanities
>          In-Reply-To:<20150928063415.6ED1268FB at digitalhumanities.org>
> Dear Willard,
> Even if the benefits from studying the humanities at university could be demonstrated economically to the majority of people, the problem would still not be solved. It assumes that (the majority of) people are 'reasonable', while they may not be. They may be convinced on one day, and act differently the next day. This is especially because the humanities have an image problem. The idea that the humanities are useless to economy and that their value lies elsewhere is so much part of current western culture, that more is needed. It would only work if the benefit of the humanities is demonstrated (1) unanimously, (2) repeatedly, (3) by a large group of preferably very influential people. All three are important, but give people's short term memory the benefit must at least be repeatedly shown for some time.
> Best, Rens

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