20.475 fixing the MLA's problem, or what should the Town Crier cry?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 1 Mar 2007 09:30:49 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 475.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2007 09:23:36 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: what should the Town Crier cry?

Recently, in Humanist 20.472, Ian Lancashire reminded us of the MLA
report on tenure and promotion (December 2006), which revealed a
rather narrow conception of scholarship and lack of experience with
it in the digital medium. In Critical Inquiry 30.2 (2004), Jerome
McGann, in the symposium held by that journal, "The Future of
Criticism", noted that at its recent editorial board meeting that
"not a person in the room seemed to know what TEI was/is (the Text
Encoding Initiative) and how it was/is transforming the entire core
of our work as humanists (for example, the library)"
(criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/issues/v30/30n2.McGann.html). In 1986,
writing about the very poor state of studies in technology, Langdon
Winner wrote that, "the interesting puzzle in our times is that we so
willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the
conditions of human existence" ("Technologies as forms of life", rpt
in Technology and Values, ed Westra and Shrader-Frechette, 1997, p.
61). And, for someone of my generation, Bob Dylan's lyrics are
always audible,

>Come gather 'round people
>Wherever you roam
>And admit that the waters
>Around you have grown
>And accept it that soon
>You'll be drenched to the bone.
>If your time to you
>Is worth savin'
>Then you better start swimmin'
>Or you'll sink like a stone
>For the times they are a-changin'.


Although there are some who are awake and puzzling over the changing
present as it is constituted, as it reveals possibilities for every
discipline and area of enquiry, the crowds of sleepwalkers are
everywhere. Old understandings are slow to compost, old cosmologies
particularly stubborn, but the problem that strikes me in gatherings
of academics is how the blinkers of disciplinarity (or should I call
it departmentalism?) train us to create and maintain an intellectual
periphery to which we, perhaps even as a matter of duty to the
profession as well as a practical necessity, relegate the new, the
unprofessional, the barbar-ian.

What can we do? What is our role in waking up the sleepwalkers?
Shouting's no good, and wild promises have for computing long ago
been discredited. Is the best counsel simply hard work and patience?


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Thu Mar 01 2007 - 04:37:52 EST

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