19.001 Happy 18th birthday to Humanist

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 7 May 2005 23:14:31 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 1
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 07 May 2005 23:11:31 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Happy 18th birthday to Humanist

It is no coincidence that at the same time of year we find ourselves
talking about mentoring, about gathering together in splendid,
spectacularly beautiful locations (such as Victoria, British Columbia -- be
there or square) and about celebrating Humanist's birthday. Eighteen today!
The chronological connection is made by the conference (in 1987, in
Columbia, South Carolina, the air then heavy with the intoxicating perfume
of flowers) at which inspiration for Humanist came, in a meeting of
disaffected support people, marginalized assistant professors and, as I
recall, one senior academic. Many lives have changed radically since then,
mine included. Some lives of great importance to us have ended in this time
-- Elaine Nardocchio, Don Fowler, Paul Evan Peters and Antonio Zampolli
come immediately to mind. But so much has improved.

The Canadians (whose leadership comes as no surprise to one who lived among
them for 20 years) are in process of appointing worthy people to positions
actually in humanities computing, some at a senior level. In Italy much is
continuing to happen in what can be regarded, if you limit computing to
machines of the Turing and von Neumann sort, as the oldest tradition we
have. In Australia there have been at least two international conferences
in the subject, the second much larger and more diverse than the first. My
own department has grown by leaps and bounds, now has MA and PhD programmes
and shows every sign of getting ready to leap again. There is now a
Blackwell's Companion to refer people to, a book series in the making, some
books (including my own) just about to emerge and a very impressive
professional journal whose only problem is too many competent submissions.
There is even, as will be announced here shortly, a Text Analysis Summit
about to be held. Imagine.

So, we can say that it feels very good to be 18.

Some academic groupings, though much larger and better funded, have
sterner, less companionable gatherings and altogether less welcoming
professional relations. In a recent number of Humanist, Stephen Ramsay
noted that not a bad word about the ACH mentoring programme has been heard
since it began. Perhaps he chose this mode of expression for the same
reason that a healthy, happy person will reply to the question, "How are
you?" by saying "Not bad!", rather than "Wonderful!" -- so as not to tempt
fate. In any case, he puts before us an accurate picture of how welcoming
and helpful the loose community of people in humanities computing actually
are. Reports from those who have been mentored attest to those qualities,
and some have themselves subsequently volunteered for the programme as a
result. Recently one of them, whom I had mentored, wrote to me asking if I
would contribute to the programme again. I said yes, delighted to see that
she had moved from being a mentee to someone organizing mentors in less
than two years.

The question is, I suppose -- you know me, there's always going to be a
question somewhere -- what do we do with the strength, vigour and good
reputation the last 18 years has seen us give ourselves? Where is the
central contribution to be made -- that is, the one to which we all need to
be contributing, whatever our private inclinations and talents?

This, it seems to me, is toward a much better understanding of how we all
fit together and work together. How we all converse, more often, more
effectively, with greater self-awareness. How we understand what we do *as*
conversing. Of course we need to have things to say that are worth saying,
but that's largely up to us individually. What's not is how saying becomes

Perhaps, as editor of Humanist, it's entirely predictable that I would
advocate asking how we can use what we've now got, to its best capacities,
to help make the transition between saying and conversing. Not an easy one
to make because of the risks involved in being open enough about the real
questions that responses, some of them perhaps vehement, actually come. But
sholars in the humanities write books, publish articles and give lectures
in order to communicate, yes? Designers and builders of systems in
humanities computing make intellectual tools for the same purpose, right?
-- to communicate, one might say, ways of thinking-by-doing. Otherwise,
rather than conversations on the air, we will find ourselves having turned
what is new into yet another way of advancing that which is definitive,
monumental and most assuredly has an IMPACT -- which, to me, sounds like a
cross between a bowling alley and a graveyard. Not for me and, I suspect,
not for you either.

So, on this 18th birthday, I offer congratulations to us all and best
wishes for an even more riskily talkative 19th year.


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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street | London
WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||
willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Sat May 07 2005 - 18:23:39 EDT

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