Home About Subscribe Search Member Area

Humanist Discussion Group

< Back to Volume 33

Humanist Archives: Dec. 16, 2019, 8:38 a.m. Humanist 33.495 - John F. Burrows (1928-2019)

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 495.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2019-12-15 19:22:39+00:00
        From: David Hoover 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.493: John F. Burrows (1928-2019)

To those of us who knew him, the news of the passing of John F. Burrows
produces a profound sense of loss. He was a great mind and a generous
spirit who will be sorely missed. John produced more innovative and
generative ideas after his retirement than most of us will manage in a
lifetime. I vividly remember the first time I met John, at the ACH/ALLC
conference (precursor to the ADHO conference) in New York in June of 2001,
which he attended to receive the Busa Award and give his Busa lecture. I am
sure that most of the audience expected, as I did, a retrospective talk
about his long career in computational stylistics. Instead, he introduced
Delta. His invigorating and ground-breaking talk has had a long-lasting and
powerful effect on almost all of my own subsequent scholarship, and on the
field of computational stylistics more generally.

Beyond its innovative and generative character, perhaps the most important
hallmark of John's work was his constant lesson that computational analysis
of literary texts must, to be valuable, be insistently literary, must
address questions of genuine import for literary scholars. When the sad
news came, I had just finished putting a quotation from John at the head of
a chapter of my forthcoming book (which would never have been conceived,
let alone written, without him):

"The close reader sees things in a text -- single moments and large amorphous
movements -- to which computer programs give no easy access. The computer, on
the other hand, reveals hidden patterns and enables us to marshal hosts of
instances too numerous for our unassisted powers."

"The Englishing of Juvenal: Computational Stylistics and Translated Texts."
Style 36 (4): 696.

I shall not look upon his like again.

 David L. Hoover, Professor of English  NYU Eng. Dept. 212-998-8832

Adolph slid back into the thicket and lay down behind a fallen log to
see what would happen. Not much ever happened to him but weather.
--Willa Cather

On Sun, Dec 15, 2019 at 10:23 AM Humanist  wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 493.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>         Date: 2019-12-15 15:05:24+00:00
>         From: Willard McCarty 
>         Subject: John F. Burrows (1928-2019)
> The great scholar of computational stylistics John F. Burrows died
> peacefully in Sydney this morning, following by a few days the death of
> his wife Pam.
> There are many better qualified than I to take the measure of his work
> -- I invite their responses here -- but I know enough to see in that
> work implications yet to be appreciated across the disciplines,
> including those sciences we seldom associate with the humanities.
> Burrows' scholarship is not the stuff of bandwagon fanfare. It is what
> we might call the quiet, slowly acting stuff that awakens the reader to
> new, disturbing, exciting questions, bestowing, in Blake's words,
> "expanding eyes". And we wonder, reading it, how by statistical methods,
> complex and black-boxed, a most elusive of human characteristics, style,
> becomes mathematically visible from a large number of weak markers?
> What does this tell us about us? And what does that tell us about
> directions in which the machine could go?
> There have been many pursuits of style by means of computing, but few
> who have pursued it have, as John did, so masterfully and patiently kept
> always to the fore the subtle balance between literature read with a
> lover's eyes and precisely countable, computable data. His balancing of
> them began more or less with Computation into Criticism: A Study of Jane
> Austen's Novels and an Experiment in Method (1987, the year Humanist
> started) and ended, as far as I know, with "Rho-grams and rho-sets:
> Significant links in the web of words", DSH 2018. That article typically
> announces a new venture:
> > ... an initial account of a promising new procedure for
> > assessing some major forms of stylistic difference among written
> > texts... It can be seen, perhaps, as a valedictory gesture as I enter
> > my 90th year and come, so I must suppose, towards the end of a long
> > scholarly career.... Few readers of this journal will need my
> > rationale to persuade them that our work is worthwhile. It is
> > intended, rather, as a contribution to the continuing struggle to
> > persuade our traditionalist colleagues that we have much to offer.
> Always, modestly, "our work", always socially minded, worrying its place
> among colleagues. But how much further in his articulation it goes. In
> doing so, it serves as a reminder that digital humanities comes to life
> and will stay alive not as some 'next new [rapidly ageing] thing' but in
> the interdisciplinary meeting ground of relation to the older fields of
> enquiry, which have so much to teach us.
> Farewell, my old friend!
> Yours,
> W
> --
> Willard McCarty
> Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews and Humanist 

Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted
List posts to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org
Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/
Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php

Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)

This site is maintained under a service level agreement by King's Digital Lab.