[Humanist] 29.350 losing the humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Oct 4 08:35:17 CEST 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 350.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (50)
        Subject: Re:  29.347 losing the humanities

  [2]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (43)
        Subject: Re:  29.347 losing the humanities

        Date: Sat, 3 Oct 2015 06:22:34 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  29.347 losing the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20151003060636.AA2496A37 at digitalhumanities.org>

Much appreciation for Tim's intelligent commentary. I think it's accurate. I
would like to add to it.

I also think we're dealing with fundamentally different phenomenologies as
well: engineering emphasizes the concrete, material, and physically
observable and maniupulable, especially that with immediate application and,
usually, economic benefit. This describes the TEM in STEM. The other values
what are essentially material products devoted to producing or simulating an
emotional effect. You can't easily sell the humanities to a group of people
who devalue or trivialize emotional content, seeing it at best as a leisure
activity, especially when these attitudes are economically rewarded within
an institutional environment where there is intense competition for
departmental and grant funding and a political environment almost entirely
on their side.

We might want to keep in mind divisions between theoretical and applied
sciences as well, and see close affinities between theoretical physics and a
humanities discipline such as philosophy that doesn't exist between
engineering and either one of them.

A humanist's best bet is to find engineering types who miss playing dungeons
and dragons in their parents' basement and want to have some fun. Or maybe
they still are, and want to have some fun at work too. Another distasteful
route might be to simply point out the obvious implications for business and
politics in being able to understand how emotions are manipulated, but this
approach reduces humanities study to PR and advertising, maybe at best
management, but good luck selling that thinking to management people.
History tends to be valued for providing insight into what is "real," which
reveals serious limitations on what is considered "real" to begin with.

The truth is that emotional content is as inherently valuable to our quality
of life as building a bridge and finding a cure for cancer: we need both,
and neither are substitutes for the other, but that is exactly the point you
can't get people to accept.

Jim R

On Saturday, October 3, 2015, Humanist Discussion Group <>
> Hello!
> An impression I have of the way this "losing the humanities" conversation
> is set, and of how the same issue is treated elsewhere, is as a You, Us,
> and Them triangle.

Dr. James Rovira
Associate Professor of English
Tiffin University
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
Text, Identity, Subjectivity

        Date: Sat, 3 Oct 2015 10:25:15 -0500
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  29.347 losing the humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20151003060636.AA2496A37 at digitalhumanities.org>

> I don't want to suggest that this is all the humanities should
> be doing.  Of course not!  There's plenty more that needs to
> be worked on than histories in the STEM subjects.  But, I do
> think that if this was a stronger and more visible corner of
> what the humanities does with Us, it would help others,
> "Them," to understand and appreciate the importance of what
> the humanities does.
> Best regards,
> Tim


I suggest that “culture” is probably the overarching missing ingredient
in most computer science departments, with history being a core component of
culture. I make this observation based  on CS departments with which I am
affiliated, I have been affiliated, as well as through my experiences with
many of my colleagues. There may be other departments and places that take
the history seriously, and hopefully  we can be enlightened by responses on
this and other lists. There are always individuals who make a difference
because they are concerned with history, but my observation may reflect the
general situation.

Even within the topic of “history,” we have a wide field. There is the
history of language, relating to semiotics and the concept of analog
computing. My favorite history is Georges Ifrah’s “The Universal History
of Computing” which does justice to the early mechanical manipulations of
memory and automation, including the Antikythera Mechanism. History goes far
back well before 1940 when it comes to what characterizes the fundamental
nature of computing (e.g., state, memory, control, branching, arithmetic).


Paul Fishwick, PhDChair, ACM SIGSIM
Distinguished University Chair of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication
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