Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Dec. 20, 2021, 9:46 a.m. Humanist 35.415 - the solstitial quiet

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 415.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2021-12-20 09:20:31+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: the solsticial quiet

Dear colleagues,

This season one year ago went unremarked on Humanist for the first time
in its long history. Covid was, you may recall, raging then as now, but
that wasn't the reason. Humanist had been silenced by another kind of
mad disease gone rapidly viral. Humanist has, thanks to our colleagues
in the Institut für Digital Humanities, Universität Köln, and in the
King's Digital Lab, King's College London, made a robust recovery.
Something indeed to celebrate!

Using the expression "to go viral" causes me to muse on the fact that it
became a common expression when it did--coincidentally (surely it must
be so) in the same world in which the pandemic arose. It also brings to
mind the Roman poet Ovid's depiction of Rumour (Fama), whom he depicts
living in a kind of echo chamber, where "wander thousands of rumours,
falsehoods mingled with the truth, and confused reports flit about...
Here is Credulity, here is heedless Error, unfounded Joy and panic Fear;
here sudden Sedition and unauthentic Whisperings." (Met. 12, 39-63,
Miller trans.)

Humanist is calm and slow and editorially careful as I can manage -- for
a reason Ovid illustrates. I like to think of Humanist as a mode of
scholarly publication at the informal and speculative end of
scholarship. In his collection of essays, Themes Out of School,
philosopher Stanley Cavell recalls his father’s admonition against
snobbery: “You can learn from anyone”. So also you can teach and do
scholarship in any medium. Cavell says he took his father's admonition
“as naming a tremendous aspiration” (1983, xii). So it is also to use a
demotic form such as the social and conversational Internet likewise, 
or so we attempt with Humanist in a modest way as suits the moment.

A splendid example of doing scholarship in a popular medium is a recent 
movie made by philosophical historian of science Peter Galison, "The 
Edge of All We Know" (Netflix), on the work of the Black Hole Initiative
( together with the Event Horizon Telescope. 
Its seriousness as a scholarly work is brought out in discussion between 
Galison, Lorraine Daston and Simon Shaffer in "Behind the Scenes: Black 
Holes--The Edge of All We Know" 
( Watch 
these tonight -- the movie first, if you can manage.

The point of these pointers is to recommend reflecting amidst holiday
preparations, or after them, on the potential of this medium in this
form to do scholarship in ways otherwise not possible. I'm certainly 
disinclined to advocate replacing any existing mode of scholarship 
(such as has been and is being done tragically by some libraries), 
rather suggesting that a bit of the millennial dream can be realised to 
extend our expressive and investigative horizons, and perhaps 
occasionally is. More, please.

Now is one day shy of the solstice and five days shy of Christmas; some
holidays have already passed, others are farther ahead. For whichever of
them is yours, all my best wishes. Stay safe and well!


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

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