[Humanist] 31.34 study of aesthetics & the humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed May 17 07:52:55 CEST 2017


                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 34.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Bell, Mary Ellen - (mebell)" <mebell at email.arizona.edu>  (46)
        Subject: RE: Humanists Undermining the Humanities

  [2]   From:    Rafael Alvarado <ontoligent at gmail.com>                    (66)
        Subject: Re:  31.29 study of aesthetics of our source materials?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Tue, 16 May 2017 18:05:03 +0000
        From: "Bell, Mary Ellen - (mebell)" <mebell at email.arizona.edu>
        Subject: RE: Humanists Undermining the Humanities


The rhetorical work of appealing to social sciences for the validity of humanities as a field is fraught, but no less fraught than the self-authorizing assertion that humanities has value just because (i.e., aesthetics). Appeals to authority create a model of value in which more authoritative fields pronounce truth about less authoritative fields. But I regard social sciences and humanities as being in a conversation of equals. Deploying evidence from social sciences does not mean that social sciences has a larger or more valid point of view. Or is somehow 'truthier'. Psychology, for example, has often borrowed from literature and/or philosophy to formulate theories about human thought and the psyche. We each have a piece of the proverbial elephant. 
--
Mary E. Bell, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Office of Digital Innovation and Stewardship
University of Arizona Libraries
mebell at email.arizona.edu
orcid.org/0000-0002-2338-1382

-----
                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 29.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

>        Date: Mon, 15 May 2017 17:04:03 +0200
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: for our part

Those of the digerati who have sold the humanities to students and the public by reference to skills acquired in the digital humanities might want to read Eric Adler's  "When Humanists Undermine the Humanities" 
in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in the Chronicle Review section for
14 May. Among other gambits, such as the elevation of political concerns, Adler writes that,

> this skills-based rationale for the humanities is exactly the sort of 
> blunder traditionalists made during the 19th century. As promoters of 
> new disciplines in the social and natural sciences clamored for 
> inclusion, traditionalists insisted that the classical languages 
> deserved their dominant place in the undergraduate curriculum because 
> studying them promoted "mental discipline." It did not take long for 
> critics to dismantle that claim: The classical humanities, after all, 
> have no monopoly on "mental discipline," just as the contemporary 
> humanities have no monopoly on "critical thinking."
 >
> More important, these attempts to defend the humanities in fact 
> subordinate them to the social sciences.

He cites Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton University Press, 2010):

> In her book, Nussbaum cites a variety of studies by psychologists to 
> buoy her claims about the value of the humanities. Through this means, 
> she and like-minded thinkers like Paul Jay make social scientists the 
> arbiters of the humanities' value. The implicit message is that, 
> unlike the humanities, the social sciences have the tools to assess 
> value. To establish their worthiness, humanists must play the social 
> scientists' game. Like the guardians of the curricula of antebellum 
> classical colleges, such defenders of the contemporary humanities are 
> setting themselves up for failure.

Adler calls for "a reinvigoration of aesthetic criteria in the humanities". What role might digital study of our source materials play in such a reinvigoration?

Yours,
WM

--
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, 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)


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Tue, 16 May 2017 15:34:24 -0400
        From: Rafael Alvarado <ontoligent at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.29 study of aesthetics of our source materials?
        In-Reply-To: <20170516061632.CBD011A96 at digitalhumanities.org>


Willard,

Thanks for passing this along – from your nice summary, the piece deserves some close attention. I must say that I agree with Adler’s claim that “critical thinking” should not be the value that humanists use to define their distinctive contribution to education. But I would also argue that neither are “aesthetic criteria,” so far as I understand the idea, at least not as the leading value proposition (to use that phrase). Instead, I would propose something along the lines of “historical and cultural consciousness,” broadly conceived. For a genuine humanities education is one that in large part immerses students in a descriptive knowledge of history and culture, from a variety of perspectives, including art history, literary history, history of philosophy, ethnography, and so on. This kind of rich immersion, always mediated at the highest levels through mastery of human language, is simply out of reach for those pursuing STEM degrees, because of the sheer time involved, and the mental tolerance for (apparent) noise and paradox required to take it all in. Nor are big data approaches to historical corpora going to change this, although their contribution will have a great impact on the direction of the humanities, just as Braudel’s archaeological approach to history did in the previous century. It is the internalization of rich content that distinguishes humanists, and it is on this foundation that the humanities can take a critical perspective in the first place, since criticism arises from comparison of things observed to rich examples, well understood.

Now, I am aware that it is precisely on this question -- of whether humanists can in fact internalize a significant amount of historical and cultural material in the first place, given that no one can read “millions of books” -- that a current debate in digital humanities focuses. Perhaps more rests on the fate of this debate than we may have imagined.

Raf

Rafael C. Alvarado, Ph.D.
Associate Director, SHANTI
Lecturer, Media Studies
University of Virginia



More information about the Humanist mailing list