10.0060 the academy and the world

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Mon, 27 May 1996 21:13:25 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 60.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Todd Blayone <tblayone@peinet.pe.ca> (18)
Subject: Re: 10.0057 the academy & the world

[2] From: carlyle@cats.ucsc.edu (37)
Subject: Comment on "public opinion"

Date: Sun, 26 May 1996 21:30:08 -0400
From: Todd Blayone <tblayone@peinet.pe.ca>
Subject: Re: 10.0057 the academy & the world

>For good or ill -- I think for good -- computing in the humanities engages
>us with the world. We may be few in number, but perhaps we are part of the
>solution rather than the problem.

I'm not sure that "computing in the humanities" automatically "engages us
with the world." On my left sits a copy of _Literary & Linguistic
Computing_. On my right sits a slick brochure advertising CD-ROMs (with
titles like "World History" and "Great Authors"). The former exists as a
direct result of "computing in the humanities." The latter appears to have a
more humble origin. Nevertheless, the products advertised in the brochure
will show up on home computers all over North America.

BTW, how many Internet sites (produced by humanities scholars) target
non-academic readers? How might "we" exploit the new medium to "engage
the world"?


Todd Blayone ***http://www.chorus.cycor.ca/blayone/todd.html
Coordinator, Chorus ***http://www.chorus.cycor.ca/chorus.html
Co-Editor, HCR ***http://www.chorus.cycor.ca/hcr/hcr.html
Ph.D. Cand., McGill ***http://www.mcgill.ca

Date: Mon, 27 May 1996 20:41:15 -0400
From: carlyle@cats.ucsc.edu
Subject: Comment on "public opinion"

[The following was sent to me privately for posting on Humanist by
someone not a member of the group but who is sent bits of our
conversations from time to time by a friend who is. It takes a rather
unexpected approach to the question I posed, suggesting that we hide from
the public eye. Would this work? Would we want to live and teach in such
a world? Does it make any sense to speak about the "liberal arts"
surviving if they can only do so in obscurity and isolation from society?

The only hope for the liberal arts lies in the public's utter
ignorance of what they are. As long as the public has no
concept of what humanities professors do, it can be cowed
into believing that it might be important. The public is
sure that science is important; the public knows that it is
completely ignorant about science; therefore the public is
willing to support science as such and leave it to the
scientists to decide who gets the grants. The public mostly
doesn't know that the humanities exist at all, and therefore
it has heretofore supported humanistic studies only because
supporting science entails supporting universities and (so
far) universities insist on including the humanities. If
humanities professors try to "reach out" to the public to
explain to it what they do, they are doomed. The only
strategy that holds any hope is to increase as far as
possible the public's ignorance of the true content--even,
if possible, the very existence--of the liberal arts. Scholars
ought to take the position that has worked so well for the
mathematicians: "What we do is so complex and sophisticated
that you'd have to study for years before we could even
begin to explain to you what our questions are." If the
science departments could be sold on the idea, the best
protection for the humanities would be the abolition of
disciplinary and divisional categories for organizing the
faculty. The object should be to return to the good old days
when, as far as people who hadn't been to college were
concerned, a professor was a professor, i.e., a mysterious,
polymathic, absent-minded, myopic genius, the purpose of
whose existence is to relieve the public of the necessity of
exercising its intelligence on any topic.

Mark Engel