Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 16, 2022, 7:45 a.m. Humanist 35.600 - disciplinary health: facts provided

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 600.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-03-15 06:31:36+00:00
        From: Manfred Thaller <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.594: disciplinary health: a fact-check

Dear Herbert,

the paper (by most commentators refered to as an essay):

An early analysis, that this was an ideological preparation for
aggressive policy:

This point of view seems in the meantime to be the communis opinio of
all commentators who have written about the development of the situation
in the last weeks. Cf.


Oher countries / languages / points of view:

The claim, that the essay was the reason to destroy Kyiv, rather than to
invade Ukraine, is a case of pars pro toto.

Kind regards,

Am 15.03.22 um 06:39 schrieb Humanist:

>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 594.
>          Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                        Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                  Submit to:
>          Date: 2022-03-14 21:27:09+00:00
>          From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
>          Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.591: disciplinary health?
> Willard,
> it would be helpful if a further professional historian could be involved in
> fact-checking the following assertion in the above mentioned post [Humanist
> 35.591]:
> Putin "recently published a paper on Russian and Ukrainian history, which he
> than used as pretext for the systematic destruction of the city of Kyiv".
> Or is a project like CheckThat! able to judge the sentence? Maybe under Task
> Thanks in advance, Herbert
> -----Ursprüngliche Mitteilung-----
> Von: Humanist <>
> An:
> Verschickt: Mo, 14. Mrz 2022 6:19
> Betreff: [Humanist] 35.591: disciplinary health?
>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 591.
>          Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                        Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                  Submit to:
>          Date: 2022-03-13 12:09:22+00:00
>          From: Manfred Thaller <>
>          Subject: Re: disciplinary health?
> Dear Willard,
> well:
>> Looking across them,
>> what would we say disciplines are for?
> This, I think, is a question, which should be at the back of everybody's
> mind who is engaged with academia. Though many people might disagree
> with that, doubting whether we need disciplines at all.
> There have been times, when I, too would have doubted that: My argument
> for a dissolution of disciplines used to be, that there are only
> problems plus methods and tools to be applied to their study and a - in
> my opinion - observable increase in the number of available methods and
> tools would imply an increase in the number of recognizable
> sub-disciplines which, becoming ever more specialized, made the original
> wide disciplines less useful as explanatory categories.
> There are recent developments which let me retract that opinion and,
> indeed, I believe that dealing with history - with which I identify - as
> a broad area has a purpose, which can be discussed epistemically and
> abstractly better on the level of the discipline as a whole, than on the
> level of urban history, gender history, cultural history, history of
> agriculture or whatever.
> Much of the following argument will be derived from observing recent
> developments in “the Humanities”, particularly the “Digital Humanities”.
> I’ll try to explain what I understand the purpose of History to be
> followed by an explanation why I consider these observed developments
> contrary to that purpose. If someone is closely connected to an
> emotional understanding of some concept of academia's manifest destiny,
> I would propose you do not read onward. I might be offensive.
> What is the purpose of "History" as systematic academic treatment of
> history, consisting of the totality of past events?
> The so far not widely known amateur historian Wladimir Wladimirowitsch
> P. has, as we all have learned, recently published a paper on Russian
> and Ukrainian history, which he than used as pretext for the systematic
> destruction of the city of Kyiv. Had Batu Khan not seen fit to destroy
> 1240 all but 200 houses of the same city, it might today easily be the
> seat of Wladimir Wladimirowitsch in his bread job.
> At the surface, History's mandate might seem to be clear: It would be
> nice, if there is a common understanding (a) that the reasoning in
> Wladimir Wladimirowitsch's paper is demonstrably wrong, but even more
> important (b) to understand why Batu Khan thought it acceptable behavior
> to massacre along happily. (b) Is the more important of these two, as I
> connect it with the dream that when one day we understand sufficiently
> well what lead Batu Khan to his mindset, we might become able to
> understand how to prevent Wladimir Khan's successor to acquire the same
> mindset for a second repeat performance in 2804.
> Less dramatically: The purpose of History is to understand our past
> sufficiently well, to be aware of the societal consequences of our
> collective actions. (While dreaming: And avoid such as are demonstrably
> destructive in the future.)
> This is of course a very specific example for a more general purpose to
> be able to understand the past. But being less abstract than such a
> broader definition, I find it easier to derive a few points of view from
> this example which explains why I find some recent developments as
> endangering that purpose and therefore the health of the discipline.
> I read that in Britain colleges have seen fit to warn students that a
> seminar on Oliver Twist might "cause anxiety and stress to readers". I
> bow to the wisdom of my colleagues from the literary disciplines, but
> any person to whom Oliver Twist causes anxiety and stress is
> constitutionally unfit to be a historian. If this means History is not
> among the Humanities, well, so be it. This is in no way a devaluation of
> or lack of respect for people who experience anxiety and stress reading
> Oliver Twist. Acrophobia in no way diminishes the intrinsic value of any
> human suffering from it. It disqualifies them as roofers, however.
> Which, of course leads further: A person who reads a detailed report
> about the Shoa or slavery and does not experience intense revulsion and
> loathing is morally decrepit, a social liability and nobody I'd invite
> for dinner. Persons who get so carried away by this revulsion and
> loathing, that they become unable to analyze detachedly and in cold
> blood which cultural structures gave rise to the mentality of the camp
> guards and the slavers may be admirable humans, valuable acquaintances
> and perfect drinking buddies - still, in my opinion, they are unfit to
> be historians. Utterly so. Historians are supposed to face "human's
> inhumanity" in all its forms, stay sane and analytic and extraordinarily
> distrustful if something in their contemporaneity looks remotely like an
> attempt to harness their revulsion and loathing. For the simple reason
> that they know, that induced revulsion and loathing was at the root of
> all too many of the instances of "human's inhumanity" in the past.
> I apologize for the pathos. Fortunately not all of history is revulsive,
> far from it. But in the days of Wladimir Khan the handling of the cases
> when it is, seem me to be more central and have more explanatory power
> than the study of the history of the county fair. (Nothing wrong with
> the later: the development of the various types of local fairs can be
> very enlightening about the social structure of the communities in which
> they occur and the cultural truisms these communities cherish; some of
> which may have implications which are less than idyllic.) And of course,
> being charmed by an event may be almost as much of a distraction from
> detached analysis than being repelled by it.
> But before we turn from what analysis means, another observation which
> may be considered offensive by some.
> If we look at what I have written from one level of abstraction above,
> one might say, that the purpose of History is to act as a witness.
> Witnesses are, as we know, sworn in to tell "the truth, the whole truth,
> and nothing but the truth". You may understand that, giving this
> conviction, reading  "The conference recognizes that digital humanities
> scholarship is inextricably sociopolitical." in the CfP for DH Unbound
> 2022, I am sure that
> (a) This understanding of the Digital Humanities is incompatible with my
> understanding of History.
> (b) If this should be extended to mean that the Humanities in general
> are a sociopolitical movement, I have no interest in that part of them
> which defines itself as such.
> Which finally leads me to the question in your subject line: "what makes
> for disciplinary well-being?"
> Short answer, which at least follows for me from the above: A discipline
> is well, when it is able to agree what its primary purpose is,
> independent of the question what the results achieved with this purpose
> in mind can be used for secondarily. Engaging in the Humanities to
> promote a political purpose is epistemically exactly as convincing for
> me as engaging in them to raise the profitability of the college.
> Are our disciplines healthy?
> Well, Clio is a rather old lady in the meantime, and she may have seen
> healthier days, but in the end she's a tough old bird. The Humanities,
> as in "a sociopolitical movement", well ...
> Kind regards,
> Manfred

Prof.em.Dr. Manfred Thaller
formerly University at Cologne /
zuletzt Universität zu Köln

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