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Humanist Archives: May 21, 2021, 7:21 a.m. Humanist 35.33 - interdisciplinary: why ask?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 33.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-05-21 06:14:46+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: interdisciplinary: why ask?

Jim Rovira has found the fact of my asking the question to deserve some
comment, which I find enough of a provocation (thanks, Jim) to respond.

Like many here, I suppose, I've had quite enough of the club-swung
(thanks, Manfred) claims for interdisciplinarity, both from junior
people with no secure ground to stand on, and so quite understandable
that they should feel compelled to try, and from senior scholars who
read the criteria put out by granting agencies and conclude they won't
get their time away unless they sprinkle their applications with plenty
of 'interdisciplinary' salt. Looking at what comes from both ends of
that spectrum, I find little evidence of the hard but rewarding struggle
to become interdisciplinary.

I agree with Stanley Fish, in "Being interdisciplinary is so very hard
to do", Profession 89 (1989): 15-22, on the danger of thinking there's
neutral ground, a panopticon of sorts, from which one can view all the
disciplines -- but not with his conclusion, as I read him, not to make
the attempt. I think the attempt is all, hence my "Becoming
interdisciplinary" in A New Companion to Digital Humanities (2016),
where I cheer Gillian Beer's description of the problem, Geoffrey
Lloyd's amazing career of doing and fostering it &al. (And I attach here
-- my first time attempting this on Humanist -- Beer's brief speech on
the subject, which seems no longer to be available online.) I also
strongly recommend Lloyd's Intelligence and Intelligibility:
Cross-Cultural Studies of Human Cognitive Experience (2020) as well as
the forthcoming issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 46.3, soon to
be announced here.

So, Jim, I asked that question to provoke the sort of response Manfred
has given, and more. As some, or many, have remarked, digital humanities
is in a very good position to manifest real interdisciplinary work,
which (as Manfred says) must be manifested in each individual's struggle
to take on other disciplinary lifeworlds. This is true of collaborative
work as well -- it must occur in each head individually. And also like
he says, I don't see much of this around. For very understandable
reasons -- it's impossible, or nearly so, to reach the standards of work
one holds oneself to, it is rarely rewarded and often, in effect, punished.

Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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