Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: May 22, 2021, 6 a.m. Humanist 35.35 - interdisciplinary

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 35.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

    [1]    From: Tim Smithers <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.32: interdisciplinary (127)

    [2]    From: Max Kemman <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.33: interdisciplinary: why ask? (91)

        Date: 2021-05-21 09:26:52+00:00
        From: Tim Smithers <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.32: interdisciplinary

Dear Willard,

We need disciplines, I think; identifiable disciplines.  They
provide needed homes for our various and varied efforts at
research and scholarship.  Not always happy homes; sometimes
there is domestic strife and dispute; occasionally family
members are made to leave, or feel they must.  Still, homes
are needed.  How else could we leave one home and make a new
one somewhere else?

Interdisciplinary is a term I've long not liked.  In a strict
reading it means between-disciplines, and some of my
experiences of doing (so called) interdisciplinary research
have left me, and others, feeling lost, and lonely, and
ignored, in the middle of nowhere, homeless.  Manfred, you,
identify some of the reasons for some of these conditions
that I can relate to.

I would prefer co-disciplinary as a word to cover what happens
when things go well in our bringing together of things from
different disciplines to better do our research.  The Digital
Humanities, I would humbly suggest, is strongly
co-disciplinary.  For this, I think, there is evidence.

Just some thoughts, possibly from I don't know where.

Best regards,


> On 21 May 2021, at 07:41, Humanist <> wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 32.
>        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                               Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                Submit to:

> <snip>

>    [2]    From: Manfred Thaller <>
>           Subject: interdisciplinary (77)
> <snip>
> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: 2021-05-20 05:48:27+00:00
>        From: Manfred Thaller <>
>        Subject: interdisciplinary
> Dear Willard,
> even if the answer is slightly longer than the question, the following
> is a very spontaneous reaction, no great depth to be expected.
> What sort of interdisciplinarity?
> I guess there are generally three mainstream definitions.
> (1) Researchers read something from another discipline, get stimulated
> intellectually and look at their own discipline differently from now.
> Sorry, my usual satirical vein:
> Darret B. Rutman, “History and Anthropology: Clio’s Dalliances”, in:
> Historical Methods 19 (1986) 121-122.
> Despite the title it says a lot about quantification. And of course all
> the enlightened invokers of Heisenberg, Quantum Theory, Geertzian Thick
> Description or Shannon are very close relatives to the historian
> described by Rutman who has the vague feeling that somehow by quoting a
> sociologist a new patron lady of the discipline will be created, merging
> the personae of Madam Curie and nurse Nightingale.
> (2) Researchers hire somebody from another discipline - "a technician" /
> two researchers, voluntarily or forced by a funding agency, apply
> together for a research project, where they both contribute.
> Example: Hire technical expertise, provide Humanities knowledge. St.
> Pauls's cross:
> digital-modelings-uneasy-approximations
> (intentionally used instead of the project site).
> Problem: once the technician is paid off, no knowledge has been acquired
> by the instigators, so no follow up. For the record: I have quoted this
> project frequently as a big achievement, but hiring somebody for a once
> over simply does not change things.
> Or ... can others by such projects possibly be induced to learn a bit
> more themselves and create more closely integrated setups?
> Damned to be interdisciplinary by a funding agency: I think the
> following survey of the result of forcing people to be interdisciplinary
> by brandish a 12 million € club is uncommonly convincing:
> Humanities-1710.html
> The results of swinging a similar club a few years ago are unfortunately
> not as compactly available as the startup description given here:
> But, subtracting the casualty rate to be expected, some of the project
> websites there still point to sensible results achieved between 2013 -
> 2015.
> (3) Researchers acquire additional training, which does not belong to
> the canonical set of skills / knowledge assumed by their original
> discipline.
> Nevertheless, in my opinion this approach is the only one which truly
> should be called interdisciplinary. Or in my favorite words:
> Interdisciplinarity must happen in <emph>one</emph> head.
> Unfortunately the examples do not abound. Tara Andrews' or Joris van
> Zundert's work come to mind and there are of course others, but they
> still are vere rara aves. (Intentionally selecting examples from one of
> the younger age cohorts, to mellow the tone of this comment.)
> Best,
> Manfred
> --
> Prof. em. Dr. Manfred Thaller
> Zuletzt Universität zu Köln /
> Formerly University at Cologne

        Date: 2021-05-21 06:53:31+00:00
        From: Max Kemman <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.33: interdisciplinary: why ask?

Dear Willard and others,

Thank you for bringing up this question and for your elaboration. A
difficulty with discussions like these is that "digital humanities" is
presented as a singular field that is either interdisciplinary or not, and
it's inhabitants too are either interdisciplinary or not. In my book
Trading Zones of Digital History coming within the next year or so (with De
Gruyter/C2DH) I argue however that scholars engaging in digital history
(and digital humanities more broadly) constantly position themselves as
part of their 'home' discipline or at a more interdisciplinary approach as
they see fit. Yet to be able to make such strategic decisions of
positioning requires interdisciplinary knowledge, what Harry Collins et al
have called "interactional expertise", to determine where interesting
humanistic questions exist, how methodologies from other disciplines
(notably computational linguistics, computer science, data science, data
management) may aid these questions and enable future research
infrastructures, and to have interesting discussions with experts from
these other disciplines to collaborate on joint projects.

In my observations of DH projects, in *every *DH project the PI conducts
such interdisciplinary practices. Yet what I also show is that many other
participants in the collaboration are not necessarily interdisciplinary and
may instead focus on their own disciplinary goals and needs. Furthermore,
this scholar who is the PI in such a project may actually be very
'disciplinary' in other contexts. As such, projects as well as scholars
that are understood as part of DH may be interdisciplinary in some
respects, but not in others.

Best regards,
Max Kemman

On Fri, May 21, 2021 at 8:21 AM Humanist <> wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 33.
>         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                                 Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                 Submit to:
>         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.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty,
> Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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