3.496 Ph.D.s and more about Humanist (107)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 26 Sep 89 21:06:36 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 496. Tuesday, 26 Sep 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 15:39:49 BST (9 lines)
From: Donald Spaeth 041 339 8855 x6336 <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Shortfall of humanists (3.471); Essential purpose (3.478)

(2) Date: 20 September 1989, 10:37:36 BST (28 lines)
From: Donald Spaeth 041 339 8855 x6336 GKHA13 at GLA.CMS
Subject: 3.478 essential purpose of HUMANIST

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 89 15:39:49 BST
From: Donald Spaeth 041 339 8855 x6336 <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Shortfall of humanists (3.471)

I originally sent these notes earlier this month, but clearly to the
wrong address as I neither saw them appear nor received the
comforting message from the LISTSERVEr that they had been received.
So here goes once again!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Date: 15 September 1989, 10:54:20 BST
Subject: Shortfall of humanists (3.471)

Ah, this looks like a subject which will run and run, so I think
I'll get my two cents worth in now!

I've heard this canard about the imminent shortage of humanists
before (i.e., in years past), but the rumours haven't been
fulfilled. It's wort nothing that there is
a large backlog of Ph.D.s who are not employed as academics, some of
whom have hung on in the hope that new jobs would materialise.
Universities have gotten out of the habit of hiring people who
take too long to get a job or hold too many temporary posts,
but this may have to change.

On the point that is perhaps more controversial--namely whether
the computer can speed up Ph.D. acquisition--I doubt it. In
fact, the tendency may be in the opposite direction. The entry
of data into databases/text retrieval packages is time-consuming.
The availability of computer techniques is likely to encourage graduate
students to take on projects which they never would have dreamed
of in the past, and which would have been considered the proper
reserve for mature scholars or to be impossible. Worse, it is
all too easy for the student to waste months/years keying in
data, happy in the knowledge that s/he is accomplishing
something, but without any clear idea of how the data will be
used. Computers may not have invented blind alleys
but they have made them longer. And
many supervisors do not have the experience themselves to

I'm not sure I accept the premise that Ph.D.s take too long to
acquire. If they do, it is the result of higher expectations
combined with the poor job market. U.S. theses are expected to
be books, showing awareness of a scholarship in the field and
contributing new insights. Ideally, the student will finish
with the first draft of a publishable book and several articles,
essential for the first job and eventual tenure.
Historically, theses aimed lower; they were thorough expositions
of a subject, often containing large amounts of descriptive
material with little analysis. This tradition has hung on
longer in Britain. There's nothing wrong with the latter
approach; but departments may find it difficult to modify
expectations (lower standards, they will say).

Donald Spaeth
CTI Centre for History
University of Glasgow
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 20 September 1989, 10:37:36 BST
From: Donald Spaeth 041 339 8855 x6336 GKHA13 at GLA.CMS
Subject: 3.478 essential purpose of HUMANIST

My views are diametrically opposed to those recently expressed by
Brian Whitaker. I find HUMANIST most useful when it enables the
exchange of technical information, on such subjects as OCR and
laptops, and least useful when it degenerates into an exchange of
matters (e.g. hearts) entirely unrelated to computing. As a
alleged expert in humanities computing, I find that communication
of information is the greatest problem. I never trust the word
of a computer salesman and can't try everything out myself. I find
the accumulated experience expressed in HUMANIST very useful, therefore.
So I think Humanist is succeeding here. A read-through of the
discussion of markup earlier this year disproves the belief that
a bulletin-board cannot enable in-depth discussion of technical issues.

Yes, it is easy enough to skip over references to hearts, and I'm
prepared to live with that as a second best solution. But, I believe
a line must be drawn somewhere and fishing expeditions for material
entirely unrelated to computers seem to me to be beyond the pale.
If there is a demand for such a service, surely it should be formed,
perhaps administered by some other willing humanities computing buff.

Donald Spaeth
University of Glasgow