Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 1.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/
 From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org> (98)
Subject: Humanist begins its 10th year
Birthdays and anniversaries seem like "eternal returns", ritual moments that
demand reflection on the simultaneous past and future. So I am righteous in
my excuse to belabour you with editorial ruminations at the end of
Humanist's ninth year and the beginning of its tenth.
Humanist began on 7 May 1987 as a consequence of an inspirational moment at
a conference of the Association for Computers and the Humanities in
Columbia, South Carolina. Its beginning was almost accidental, no more than
an attempt to provide continuing conversation for a small group of
frustrated individuals who met after hours at the conference to discuss the
lack of support for humanities computing and what might be done about it.
Philosophical investigations and meditations, as well as exchanges of
information, proved more appealing than academic politics, for which we may
all be most grateful. Thus the creature we now exercise. What a dismal thing
Humanist would have been otherwise!
Almost a decade later computing has become nearly universal, although in the
humanities its application remains at a primitive level on the whole and, as
Mark Olsen has famously pointed out, its effects on the disciplines are not
always obvious. It seems to me that John Burrows' counsel to patience, based
on the fact that change in scholarship is slow, is right, however. He and
many others have shown what can be done by what they have done, and if it
takes the rest of us longer, or if some of us choose non-computational
methods, so what? The proof is in the pudding, and I smell delicious
puddings in several corners of the house. Yes, I know, many are cruelly
excluded from the house altogether. How can we use computing to ameliorate
Institutionally, even amidst euphemistical "downsizing" (for this read
"getting a bonus for laying off employees"), there are nevertheless hopeful
signs. Let me cite just a few with which I have been directly or indirectly
involved; I'm sure news of others would be very welcome. One of the hopeful
events I have for you affects the near-future of Humanist; this seems a
particularly apt moment to tell you about it.
First, two recent meetings of considerable significance.
One was the annual gathering of the American Council of Learned Societies,
in Washington, DC, U.S.A., 25-27 April, where five of us participated in a
panel, "Internet-accessible scholarly resources for the humanities and
social sciences". The participants were Susan Hockey (Director, CETH,
Princeton/Rutgers), Jennifer Trant (Imaging Initiative, Getty Art History
Information Program), Charles Henry (Director of Libraries, Vassar), and
Richard Rockwell (Executive Director, Inter-University Consortium for
Political and Social Research); I, representing Humanist, was the
commentator. What made this event significant was, I think, the fact of its
being held at all, at this annual meeting. Such recognition of computing by
the ACLS follows just a few months on Humanist becoming its adjunct
publication, and a few more months on ACLS President Stan Katz's address at
the ACH/ALLC conference in Santa Barbara, at which he identified computing
as one of the most important priorities of the academy for the next decade.
The second was a special meeting convened last week at the National
Humanities Center, in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, U.S.A., to
discuss the role computing should have in advanced humanities research, and
specifically how the NHC should support its fellows with computing, even to
encouraging computing applications. This meeting was divided into seven
sessions, following NHC Director Robert Connor's summary of the history and
goals of his Center. Five of these sessions consisted of brief presentations
based on questions set by Robert Wright, Director of Development; two others
were for discussion.
1. Susan Hockey, David Seaman: Advanced technologies, resources, and access
2. Morris Eaves, George Landow, Ann Okerson: Scholarship, publication, and
and scholarly publications
3. Jacqueline Brown, Janet Murray: Teaching and curricular applications
4. Larry Friedlander, Institutional, professional, and disciplinary issues
5. Willard McCarty, John Unsworth: The role of colleges and universities,
research libraries, professional organizations, and institutes for
Again, the significant fact to my mind was that the NHC would take such
trouble to consider the nature of humanities computing before incorporating
it into its mission. I expect we will be hearing much more from the NHC later.
At the beginning of this message I referred to the original motivation for
Humanist, which was to establish humanities computing as a scholarly field.
Humanist quickly became international and so took on a much broader purpose.
Meanwhile institutions, which are conservative by nature, have been slow to
respond, but responses are now visible. Numerous places appear to have
worked computing into new academic positions in traditional departments
(reports on these would be welcome). In other cases, most notably for N.
America at Oberlin College, computer science has adopted the humanities as a
major focus. New positions in humanities computing itself have been slower
to develop, but there are a few: at Glasgow (Dan Greenstein), at McMaster,
in Ontario, Canada (Geoffrey Rockwell), for many years at Groningen, the
Netherlands (Harry Gaylord) and at Tuebingen (Wilhelm Ott). Which others
have I missed?
I am especially happy to announce :-) one other, at King's College London,
where I have just been appointed Senior Lecturer in Humanities Computing, in
an academic unit known as the Centre for Computing in the Humanities.
Although the technical and administrative details of Humanist have yet to be
worked out completely, I will be editing Humanist from London, probably as
of mid August. In the interim, with help, I trust there will be few
interruptions, but I suspect the chaos of a major move will occasionally
intrude. Your kind patience will be appreciated.
So, on the ninth anniversary of Humanist we may have reason to think that
our half-full glass, like the magical wallet of folktale, is slowly filling
itself up. As a child I always thought that the number 9 was a threshold, as
far as one could go without stepping over into a new cycle. Since I am as
good at walking on water as my cats, my personal step over the threshold is
a rather large one. (Prolonged study of Milton, some of you will notice, has
left its mental mark.)
On the verge, my best wishes and warmest regards to fellow Humanists. Happy