Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Nov. 9, 2022, 7:29 a.m. Humanist 36.248 - why Humanist, with an edge

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 248.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-11-09 07:17:51+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: disciplinisation, or guildification

Forgive the clumsy coinages; perhaps someone can come up with better.

This is in response to Enrica Salvatori's response to my 'why Humanist'
posting. She wrote with kindness but ended with an edge, gently wielded:

On 07/11/2022 08:32, Humanist wrote:
>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 243.
>          Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                        Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                  Submit to:
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>          Date: 2022-11-06 21:10:33+00:00
>          From: Enrica Salvatori <>
>          Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.238: why Humanist?
> Dear William,
> your exhortation is so beautiful. Thank you.
> I have the impression that the Digital Humanities have now made the first and
> second (the third?) halfway point, they have “grew up" for better or for
> This mean they are full into a process of disciplinary closure that "in
> inhibits debates like the ones you want.
> Am I wrong?
> Enrica Salvatori
> Medieval History
> Digital Public History
> University of Pisa

It's that 'closure' to which, at the risk of a musky twitterstorm, I want to
reply. In mediaeval terms she would understand better than I (if the late 
Middle Ages is her area of study) the OED tells us that a 'guild' is 
(mutatis mutandis, natürlich)

> A confraternity, brotherhood, or association formed for the mutual
> aid and protection of its members, or for the prosecution of some
> common purpose.

and that from the first guilds came

> The trade guilds, which in England come into prominence in the 14th
> cent., were associations of persons exercising the same craft, formed
> for the purpose of protecting and promoting their common interests.

Nothing wrong there. But it seems to me there's a fundamental difference
between a trade guild and a nascent, incunabular and quite experimental
discipline such as digital humanities: members of a trade guild shared a
very clearly defined craft and ready purpose, whereas a discipline
taking its baby-steps is in the early (YES, early) stages of
development. I am not saying that there's anything wrong with the
latter, indeed that is its intellectual strength. Behold the brilliance
of a very young child, discovering the world, or rather making it,
putting the pieces together now this way, now that, and finding out what
works, physically and, more and more as time goes on, in the terms of
the culture in which that baby is groping to become a member, a person
in its terms.

My analogy clearly has problems, but the point I wish to make is that
brilliant practitioners not knowing what they're doing but all the time
finding out, inventing, experimenting AND DISCUSSING is, I think, exactly 
what we need.

We need much less, especially now that DH is trendy, of the firm walls
and inspection at the door, and frequent inspection within the
clubhouse for belonging, ejecting those found insufficiently
conformant. We need the anomalous--and, fortunately, have a bit of a
leash so that we can run about and find it and find out if it's worth
worrying. And bark a lot.

Humanist is all about that, in my book, about the barking.


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

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: