15.060 obstacles to humanities computing & other studies

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Wed May 30 2001 - 02:15:11 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 60.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (48)
             Subject: educating the imagination

       [2] From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> (17)
             Subject: Re: 15.056 obstacles &c to humanities computing

             Date: Wed, 30 May 2001 07:06:59 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: educating the imagination

    I'd say that the Norman Hinton's English PhD who does what he or she needs
    to do or is curious about, ignoring the folks who are trying to define
    what's important, is exactly right -- as long as that person has what
    Northrop Frye called an "educated imagination". I suppose this is what
    Fotis Jannidis is saying too.

    My first experience teaching English literature taught me that the students
    did not know how to read literature, or anything really beyond the level of
    newspapers and magazines. They had no idea what to do mentally with love
    sonnets other than to talk about how this or that image reminded them of
    what happened last summer. (The author at the time was John Donne :-) The
    conventional way of handling this is, I suppose, to force the students to
    read lots of the stuff, rewarding certain kinds of responses, discouraging
    others. That approach eventually worked on me. My experience suggests now
    that my imagination couldn't begin to function until I understood how to
    read the stuff, i.e. until I internalised all the simplistic rules about
    literary conventions, genres, the theories floating about at the time etc.,
    along with a huge amount of literature. That last bit proved exceedingly
    important -- literature by the dump-truck load, read non-stop without time
    for any reflection at all, in preparation for my Toronto PhD qualifying exams.

    Sometimes I get rather discouraged about PhD training now -- not what my
    colleagues do, really; mostly they seem very good scholars and teachers,
    doing what they do with the best of intentions. But (if I may resort to a
    notoriously vague term) the academic cultures I know appear tacitly to be
    telling the newly-minted ones that unless they learn to walk the walk and
    talk the talk they have no chance of ever getting paid to do what
    presumably they undertook the long years of training to do. Curiosity
    hasn't a chance, is forgotten. The goal appears so often to be to establish
    the right profile; the work (which I think is the point) simply isn't

    We *certainly* don't want that sort of thing for humanities computing, if
    we can avoid it, and I'd guess that Norman's anger may be due to such
    perversions. But at the same time, we cannot have newly minted computing
    humanists thinking that the social sciences are all bunk, or that literary
    criticism is all about reading stuff "in" to literature, or that
    artificially understanding 90% or even 99.99% of text is good enough --
    especially that understanding can be quantified at all in that way; we
    cannot have them ignorant of history or philosophy etc. They have to have
    some idea of languages other than their native one. And so forth and so on.
    Otherwise their imaginations won't have the basic stuff with which to be
    curious. They won't be able to *desire* to do scholarship with a ferocity
    of intelligence which will not be stopped by anything or anyone.


    Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
    Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/

             Date: Wed, 30 May 2001 07:07:34 +0100
             From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com>
             Subject: Re: 15.056 obstacles &c to humanities computing

    The question and answer relevant to what I said about the doctorate in
    English is not "do you know who Shakespeare is?", but "Did you have a
    Shakespeare course while studying for your doctorate?" In my case, the
    answer is "no". Since I was not specializing in the Renaissance, there
    was no reason for me to take one.

    (Our requirements (University of Wisconsin, in the 1950's) were to take
    a seminar in every field in which we did not take a comprehensive exam
    -- and a seminar was not a comprehensive course, but a special topic
    that interested the teacher.. I chose to write a doctoral exam on
    Shakespeare rather than take any coursework.[ p.s. I got the highest
    grade of the 24 candidates])

    In the 1960's the U.S. Government began talking about possible
    nationwide standards for the Ph.D. in English. This was so vigorously
    opposed by the graduate departments of the country that the plan was

    Again, I feel the same way about "humanities computing". Learn what you
    need and let the rest go hang. And don't let anyone tell you what it
    is you need if you don't agree.

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