3.659 adverts on Humanist, etc. (137)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Sun, 29 Oct 89 20:12:15 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 659. Sunday, 29 Oct 1989.

(1) Date: Sat, 28 Oct 89 14:28:01 EDT (60 lines)
From: Ken Steele <KSTEELE@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Growing Pains?

(2) Date: 29 October 1989 (57 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: limiting Humanist

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 28 Oct 89 14:28:01 EDT
From: Ken Steele <KSTEELE@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Growing Pains?

I understand Willard's recent decision to eliminate non-
computing job postings from HUMANIST, in the interest of
maintaining focus; the decision is perfectly reasonable, and under
the circumstances the only real option. Yet I am sure I am not
alone in feeling some regret that the jobs for which I will
ultimately be applying are considered irrelevant or tangential to
the largest and most active e-mail list in which I participate,
and (I believe) in the humanities as a whole.

I suspect that the recent controversy over the relevance /
value of "technical" discussion versus "miscellaneous" notes and
queries is also symptomatic of a larger issue: must electronic
scholarly discussion be limited to electronic scholarship?
Understandably, the first BITNET discussion groups in the
humanities evolved around humanities computing subjects, first
INITIATIVE, and recently GUTNBERG. Yet increasingly, non-
technical lists such as ENGLISH, LITERARY, REED-L, and (just this
week, I believe) WORDS-L, have been forming to bring non-computing
discussion to electronic mail (and no doubt there are many of
which I have yet to hear). Word of an evolving e-mail journal
is also indicative of a change in the e-winds. I wonder if
HUMANIST's recent controversies reflect the current growing pains
of academic e-mail?

I received a surprising amount of enthusiastic encouragement
from members of HUMANIST for my (uncharacteristically) outspoken
position on the question of technical queries. Could it be that a
growing (although silent) minority are, like myself, computer-
literate humanists rather than computing humanists, interested in
discussing drama more often than DRAMs, Keats more than keyboards?
The (successful) defence of notes & queries and (less successfully)
of non-computing job postings on HUMANIST seems to suggest a
growing need for a non-technical national or international
discussion group.

I have been observing BITNET discussions for less than a year
now, and it may well be that I am misinterpreting these recent
developments. I DO know how very difficult it is to convince
humanities scholars who are NOT primarily interested in humanities
computing to make use of e-mail, and I suspect that this shortage
of voices helps to explain the considerable silences on the less
technical lists. The silences may also be accounted for by the
considerably greater anxiety which accompanies the putting forth
of an academic argument as opposed to merely passing along
technical information (at least this has been my experience).

Are there enough discussion groups out there which fill this
need? Are there scholars out there to fill these groups? Has
anyone compiled a listing of BITNET humanities discussion groups?
I look forward to answers, elaborations, opinions, and even
perhaps even challenges.

Ken Steele
University of Toronto
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 29 October 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: limiting Humanist

My thanks to Ken Steele for his thoughtful comments on yet another
struggle over what we're about. The following is in part in response to
his note, in part a response to other comments on related issues.

In my mind there are two purposes for limiting the range of subjects we
deem proper to Humanist. The first is to achieve focus, the second to
avoid overburdening ourselves. So far we have gone about the first
loosely and heuristically, as I think is appropriate to the nature of
the medium and its novelty to us. We have established limits only when
driven to do so and usually tried to find a way of staying in touch with
the genii of the fringe. In doing so, we have both gained and lost, but
as far as I can tell, we have gained more than lost, and to have done
nothing at various points would have meant far more serious losses. We
cherish deeply the myth of original innocence, as I think we should, but
sometimes it interferes with clear thinking. So, we tend to think that
once upon a time Humanist was exciting and free, and filled with
possibilities, but that now it has become compromised and is getting
limited and narrow. There may be truth in this story of decline, but
what we do not have to accept is the notion that the dulling of
Humanist, if that has taken place, is inevitable.

Inevitability brings me to the second purpose. There is no sign that the
growth of Humanist is levelling off, and with the increase in membership
is bound to come an increase in the volume of mail. This has happened
steadily and can readily be demonstrated. I see no way of avoiding a
responding change in Humanist so that you and I are not forced to give
this up because we can no longer cope with the volume of mail. The
response must be, I think, to decide what subset of the whole range of
possibles we want to call our own and to make every effort to sponsor or
otherwise see that parallel seminars take up what we can no longer carry
on. The real trick, and a fascinating problem, is to manage whatever we
deem to be irrelevant. But more about that at the MLA.....

In the matter of publishing adverts for jobs, I have difficulty
understanding why this should not be the purpose of a separate group
(run by the MLA for N. America or by a consortium of organizations
world-wide?). Such a group wouldn't have to bother those who are not
looking for jobs or seeking to have jobs filled, and it could easily
accommodate inquiries from seekers. As sympathetic as I am to those who
want "real" academic jobs or good people to fill them, I can't see that
Humanist is the proper vehicle for advertizing positions innocent of

While wishing e-journals well, I have no sense that Humanist is going in
that direction or should. The format of the seminar seems perfect for
our purposes. And it will continue to be as lively and interesting as we
make it.


Willard McCarty