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Humanist Archives: Nov. 4, 2019, 6:33 a.m. Humanist 33.372 - what is...?

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 372.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2019-11-04 06:22:11+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: what is...?

Jeffrey Savoye has asked a question that has been around since the
1960s, at least in Anglophone discussions: to use the current term,
"what is Digital Humanities?" One could say, for that matter, what is
English Studies? Would we come up with a coherent answer by listening in
on discussions across the specialisms or by examining curricula? One
would come up with a list of ostensible subjects, but could anyone argue
for their coherence? Having such arguments would provide for a worthy 

One answer for why this is so is that the very attempt at definition is
wrong-headed, that discipline X is what its practitioners do, not what
anyone says X is. Another answer, specific to the humanities, is that
the disciplines thus named can only be defined by what they are not:
formerly, not the study of the affairs proper to God (that's theology);
now, not the study of the physical world, nor the study of society. Is
it a problem that the humanities elude definition?

The best I've ever been able to do with "digital humanities" is to say
what I am interested in and what I make of it, e.g. in answer to a
neighbour or taxi-driver. Occasionally that actually works.

I've spent some time reading formal grant applications that these days
often refer to digital humanities as part of what is proposed. Often all
that is meant is use of a computer to do things that once done become
results that presumably have some value, whereas the instrumental means
of getting them remain unexamined and are very likely forgotten. I think
we can safely say that in those cases "digital humanities" is an empty
term. If, for whatever subject, these means are critically examined,
then the term has substance. As long as what was done with the machine
is preserved and examined, we have something to work with.


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org)

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