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Humanist Archives: June 1, 2021, 6:10 a.m. Humanist 35.59 - interdisciplinary

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 59.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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    [1]    From: Alan Liu <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.56: interdisciplinary (102)

    [2]    From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.56: interdisciplinary (5)

    [3]    From: Willard McCarty <>
           Subject: doing not labelling (18)

        Date: 2021-05-31 09:02:56+00:00
        From: Alan Liu <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.56: interdisciplinary

Dear Willard,

I'm not sure where this belongs in the rich thread prompted by your
original question: "What evidence can be adduced to demonstrate that
digital humanities is in practice interdisciplinary?"

Here's something from a long-ago essay I wrote, later included as chapter 6
in my *Local Transcendence* book under the title "The Interdisciplinary War
Machine." (An earlier version appeared in German as “Die interdisziplinäre
Kriegsmaschine” in *Texte zur Kunste*, No. 12 (Nov. 1993): 127-37). The
vocabulary of "Web 2.0" in this excerpt is now quaint. But I think the main
point still applies. In the present application: whether DH is or
can/should be perceived as interdisciplinary is a question that should be
asked not just in an academic context, where much of the good discussion
has played out, but also in a wider societal one. I'm afraid to say that
this opens up the Pandora's box of all the not-well-informed or
throw-out-the-baby-with-the-bathwater critiques of DH as "neoliberal" (a
term at least as unbounded and ill-defined in its usual adversarial stance
as "interdisciplinary" in its typical advocatory stance).

From my *Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the
Database* (University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. 177-178:

Some of the most crucial problems in interdisciplinary studies now bear on
the differential relations between such *institutions* as corporate
business, science, the health industry, the legal profession, media, the
government, the military, and education. In varying ways,
interdisciplinarity has recently been central to all these institutions.
But the interdisciplinary practices of some institutions have exerted an
overpowering, normative influence over those of others – to the extent that
we may say that we are now threatened by a monoculture of
interdisciplinarity. The current hegemon, clearly, is corporate
interdisciplinarity. In the corporate sphere, interdisciplinarity is a
function of the elementary social unit of the New Economy: the team (a
phenomenon I have discussed in greater detail in *Laws of Cool*). One of
the most important kinds of corporate teams is the interdisciplinary team
(including the "tiger team" outside the normal chain of command) created to
address particular problems or opportunities by assembling experts from
across departments (e.g., design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing).
And paralleling corporate interdisciplinarity is the model of big science,
which at least since the Manhattan Project has had remarkable success in
convening similar multidisciplinary research teams (composed, e.g., of
physicists, mathematicians, chemists, and computer scientists).
Furthermore, in just the single decade from the popularization of the
Internet in the early 1990s through the rise of the "Web 2.0" or
"user-created content" / "Web services" era in the early years of the
twenty-first century, the corporate and the scientific practices of
interdisciplinarity have been reinforced by collaborative information
technologies (e.g., collaboration programs, "extranets," "Web services,"
"content-management systems," blogs, wikis, and, in general, fuller
implementations of the principle of networking). Such technology both
allows work teams to interoperate seamlessly across corporate information
systems and geographic borders and, as in the case of social networking or
folksonomic-tagging sites, disseminates an uncannily similar model of
teamwork to popular culture. The crucial point is that, while in the past
most social institutions improvised their own protocols, practices, and
conventions of interdisciplinarity, the current domination by big business
and big science abetted by Web 2.0 has the potential to impose an
ultimately impoverished uniformity of interdisciplinarity ....

On Sun, May 30, 2021 at 11:43 PM Humanist <> wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 56.
>         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                                 Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                 Submit to:
>         Date: 2021-05-30 15:04:50+00:00
>         From: Henry Schaffer <>
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.45: interdisciplinary
> Years ago I had stopped worrying whether my research field was in a
> discipline, was interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary or some other
> variation. My work was in genetics, a field broadly considered important.
> It had subdivisions which were clearly seen by geneticists (biochemical and
> quantitative) but that division was ignored in simple use of the term
> "genetics".
> My campus had a Genetics Department. Did that make genetics a discipline?
> However many of the departmental faculty actually had their appointments
> and departmental homes in other university departments, such as Statistics,
> Crop Science, Entomology, Animal Science, Biochemistry and more - and may
> have added up to a majority of the Genetics Department. Did that make
> genetics interdisciplinary, or maybe transdisciplinary? More importantly,
> should I have spent sleepless nights worrying about that?
> But now my Genetics Department was mostly incorporated into a new (rather
> large) Department of Biological Sciences along with faculty from a number
> of other biological departments. What does that do to the discussion of
> whether Genetics is a discipline? It raises the question of whether Biology
> is a discipline - maybe not since it's in the College of Sciences. Could
> Science be *the* discipline? Whoops - it's College of Science*s* - plural.
> So are the sciences each disciplines?
> Should we care?
> --henry

        Date: 2021-05-31 08:09:38+00:00
        From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.56: interdisciplinary

Thank you, Henry, for pointing to possible absurdities in such a discussion!
Instead to debate about terminology we should ask with whom we share objects of
interest, with whom methods of research.


        Date: 2021-06-01 05:00:59+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: doing not labelling

Dear Henry,

I think we're in agreement about labelling this or that as
'interdisciplinary', then getting into the thickets of what being
interdisciplinary is -- the definitional tarpit. My point was that the
concern needs to be about two things: the 'how' one goes about learning
the ways of another discipline, and the readjustment of our concern from
'being' (and so meriting the label, or not) to 'becoming', which is an
endless, life-long project. The latter is to a greater or lesser degree
demonstrated, not (self-)awarded, as is the former.

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

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