File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 229

Date:         Tue, 30 Sep 2008 07:30:57 +0100
From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty-AT-MCCARTY.ORG.UK>
Subject: 22.238 our role in fixing things
To: humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 238.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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         Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2008 07:25:32 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <>
         Subject: our role in fixing things

It's good to hear from Andrew Brook that in his experience students are
more or less as always. My minimal hope is that this is indeed so. I for
one agree with his local activism, "be in the mind-expanding and
human-flourishing business in everything we do with students
individually and in our various groups". Perhaps it is hopeful as well
as a bit depressing that I find myself (to compare small with great) in
the position of I. I. Rabi as told by Ithiel de Sola Pool in Humane
Politics and Methods of Inquiry (p. 295):

> There is an anecdote, and I believe a true one, from the time when
> General Dwight D. Eisenhower became President of Columbia University.
> At this first meeting with the faulty the new president told them
> about various plans to do good things for the "employees" of the
> university. At the end the Nobel Prizewinning physicist, I. I. Rabi,
> rose and said, "Mr President there is just one point: we are not the
> employees of the university, we are the university."

At Queen's University Belfast, for example, the administrators are
openly talking about a "customer services" office for the students.
According to reliable reports I get, students there are not unlikely to
complain that because they have paid for their education they should get
this and that. (Most students in the U.K. have NO IDEA what it means to
pay for even a significant fraction of what it actually costs to educate
them.) I have had a conversation with a student in which I got back from
her in righteous tone some script or other from a handbook of rights and
privileges (but not duties) -- the presence of buzzwords were a dead
giveaway. Not uncommon are e-mail messages from undergraduates to their
lecturers (most often if the lecturer is young, but not always) that
begin with use of the first-name, in the following manner: "hi, X, hope
you had a nice weekend. i can't get my essay in, hope this is ok." What
bothers me here is that the obvious lack of respect mirrors our own lack
of self-knowledge of what we're for and self-confidence in what we are

My own answer to the question of what we might do, locally, within the
digital humanities, is to stop thinking and talking in the common
yess'um-utilitarian way (shuffling the feet, with eyes downcast and
hands in pockets) and assert the dignity of what we do by challenging
received knowledge rather than simply encoding it. Instead of blathering
on about "transferrable skills" -- and so transferring the value of what
we do from ourselves right out into the 9-to-5 workplace, and so
de-valuing that value, I think we should be revealing worlds of
possibility and hope beyond what the deadly dull workplace can ever
provide for. In the fact that computing cannot do X, Y and Z is the
revelation of what miraculously human beings can do.

I think this is, in the form of a rant, what Neven suggested by his far
gentler, more subtle question:

> Digital humanities is able to show how, in this layered structure,
> information differs from knowledge. Could it move somehow towards the
> third level?

But I would ask, again, how can WE move it to that third level, and
perhaps on from there.



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