Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Nov. 5, 2022, 7:53 a.m. Humanist 36.238 - why Humanist?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 238.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-11-05 07:31:20+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: Humanist

There are likely but a very few here who have been in Humanist since the
beginning, in 1987, and only a few more long enough to understand its
role in establishing what we now call digital humanities as an academic
discipline or practice. The crucial need then, and now, was to provide a
means for scholarly conversation about problems and methods. Humanist
quickly progressed beyond the mere exchange of information about this
and that, e.g. conferences (there were very few then), new software etc.
Notices of worthy events, academic positions and the like will always be
welcome, but the point of Humanist in particular is conversation about
things that matter to the scholarly character of academic life and work.

Back when I was a doctoral student, I was advised by a fellow student, a
successful careerist, to keep what I was doing secret so that someone
else wouldn't 'get there first'. I ignored this advice; I found it
repugnant--and still do. Sitting one day in an Old English course 
before the professor arrived, I overheard fellow students complaining 
about having to read Beowulf. I had just spent the previous evening, 
after putting my son and daughter to bed with stories, being swept 
away by that very poem. So in the classroom the next day I found  
myself wondering why the complainers had become graduate 
students at a time when jobs were scarce. The only plausible 
hypothesis I could come up with was that they were in it for the 
comfortable position in a nice office with a good salary. Nothing 
against that for sure, but really!

Perhaps I am naive, only protected from the damaging consequences 
of my naivety by senior status. But I have a higher opinion of scholarly 
work than that suggests, having seen over and over again how the 
intellectual and personal value of research is unique to the person--
and utterly transformative. There may be better arguments for being a 
scholar rather than a careerist. I would very much like to think they are 
stronger for the satisfaction of basic needs as well. Something along 
the lines of winning the game but losing your soul in the process?

So, let us use this medium in its current form to discuss crucial
problems we're having with our research--when they actually can be
articulated. Let us throw false caution to the winds and say what
puzzles us. And when someone is brave enough to do that, let's jump in
and help. This happens here sometimes. It needs to happen more often.
Digital humanities in my view is starving for it--for arguments not so
bullet-proof that they have become proof-like and so, dead.


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

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