[Humanist] 31.487 Happy Christmas 2017!

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Dec 22 12:07:48 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 487.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2017 10:59:26 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Happy Christmas 2017!

Academics, especially retired ones, have the blessed liberty of shutting 
down many days prior to Christmas if not starting the process a few 
weeks earlier. I've been spending a bit of my liberated time reading 
Dame Anne Salmond's Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds (Auckland 
2017). Salmond's field is Maori Studies. She writes of New Zealand "as a 
site of cosmo-diversity, a place where multiple worlds engage and 
collide". I am wanting to know more about such engagements and 
collisions, ontological and epistemological, and so have wandered into 
recent work in anthropology, Amazonian and South Pacific mostly, and 
into ethnomathematics, contemporary and historical.

Recall Kurt Vonnegut's Bokonon, in Cat's Cradle: "Peculiar travel 
suggestions are dancing lessons from God." This dancing lesson 
originated with a colleague's invitation to a workshop with 
anthropologists at Cambridge last Summer. So now I stumble around an 
unexpected dance floor, crowded with accommodating and helpful 
anthropologists and their fellow travelers. I do this in aid of a 
project to figure out what we might do with the computing we could have 
if, as seems likely to me, it gets where it appears to be going, toward 
dynamic, participant-observatory simulation of possible worlds and 
artificial companions. This is decidedly not futurology, rather a study 
of possibilities, with the conviction that studying them gives us (who 
are in worldly terms weak) a lever and fulcrum with which to move things 
before they become too heavy. In any case, I am fascinated. And I admit 
to having no qualms to talk about it openly, knowing that no one is 
likely to be crazy enough to try the same, and if someone is and does, 
that he or she will do it differently. The more the better, no?

All of which is a way of saying, at a time long established, what I 
think Humanist is for, and which it occasionally demonstrates: to 
provide the bottles in which notes to unknown recipients may be put, 
then cast into the virtual sea. Who knows what comes of them? Strategic 
thinking is important within institutions, for the good of them and for 
advancement of careers, but intellectually (an old-fashioned word?) let 
us have more of curiosity, less of strategy! At the same time the job 
adverts, notices of publications, announcements of new centres and 
institutes &c are hugely significant -- and especially welcome to 
someone old enough to remember a past when there were no such jobs to be 
advertised, few publications, many fewer centres and so on -- when any 
association with computing was the kiss of death for a young academic. 
The problem now is, of course, to do intelligent things with these 

A few weeks ago I was a guest of the Transylvania Digital Humanities 
Centre, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, which enviably 
begins with many examples to hand and choice among them. Cluj is the 
birthplace of the great Renaissance monarch Matthias Corvinus, who built 
a library that rivaled the Bibliotheca Vaticana (until it was destroyed 
in war) and whom Marsilio Ficino regarded a Platonic philosopher-king. 
We can have great expectations of this centre -- expectations that 
location and history will inflect in surprising ways, and so teach us 
what we otherwise would never have thought.

Now, back home, all travelling and almost all preparations done, I write 
these words as messages telling me that "the holiday offers are almost 
over!" and that I can take them up and get the goodies delivered to the 
door by tomorrow. I've chosen, rather, to enjoy a bout of sharp elbows 
in the local supermarket so that I can get busy in the kitchen for the 
final push. (Preparations began with the Christmas cake and pudding in 
late October...)

Yesterday, in this rather northerly location in the Northern Hemisphere, 
was the winter solstice. Now in slow degrees more light. But wherever 
you are within reach of Humanist, allow me to wish you the very best, 
for now, for 2018, for as long as the tether stretches!


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of
Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western
Sydney University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

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