[iDC] The Future of the Humanities

David Berry D.M.Berry at swansea.ac.uk
Sat Jul 9 12:50:37 UTC 2011

Hi Mark

Thanks for that post, which I thought was extremely thought-provoking and timely. I think the hierarchy of knowledge you drew is increasingly guiding UK government policy and agree with you that it is a false dichotomy. I think that your call to map the nexus between humanities and science is important as it is to understand the hybridity that constantly  lies underneath this distinction. Perhaps quasi-science and quasi-humanities to paraphrase Serres. :-)


David Berry

Swansea University

Sent from my iPhone

On 6 Jun 2011, at 08:09, Mark Marino <markcmarino at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi, IDC-ers,
> Last summer I met a computer scientist who shared with me his hierarchy of knowledge.  In his schema, the sciences were at the top and all branches of knowledge and learning in the academy fell underneath.   By his account, at one time, due to a collective ignorance, much of knowledge was ordered under the Humanities, but slowly over time that ice cap had been chipped away and had floated off and melted into the larger sea of Science where it belonged.  By his account medicine, astronomy, and many other realms of knowledge had been relocated to their rightful place, leaving only certain types of speculative philosophy, perhaps a few arts, and other trivial or superfluous enterprises.
> I don't think this computer scientist was misrepresenting his perspective to be provocative, though I do believe he knew exactly which of my buttons he was pushing.  His pedestal for positivism was built upon a larger progress narrative (that a humanities course might even critique).  Nonetheless, it took a long coffee break with a philosophy librarian friend to pull me back from the ledge or perhaps get me off the war path.
> In an age where very reasonable folks are questioning the value of a college education, when the digital humanities seem to be flourishing, and when the US and global economies are still flagging sending students into their most pragmatic shells, I wonder if it isn't time for a new kind of humanities course.   I guess I am thinking about something different than what I know to be "digital humanities" in as much as that can mean the humanities plus computers (not to reduce -- I just don't mean that version of DH.)
> Remember last year and Cornell's President Skorton's address?
> http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/01/humanities
> From an Inside Higher Ed article on the topic:
> Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, said he has noticed increasing concern among university leaders about "the marginalization of non-scientific work" in higher education. "At every meeting these days, there is concern expressed about the status of the humanities and the fear that the humanities and to some extent the social sciences are being sidelined in a discussion about higher education that seems to focus almost exclusively on the economic value of universities."
> Are the Humanities under attack?  If they need rescued and if so how?
> So here's an idea, and this is not new:  humanities need to be able to show what they can offer even the sciences. (Now I don't mean getting caught up in the debate over the "value" of the humanities directly -- as that's like trying to defend a fine arts program on the basis of the Christie's auction price on a few Picasso's. Also Stanley Fish's retort that the humanities need not justify themselves comes to mind, but it's probably easier to make that claim when you are the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law.  That's not to slight, but to say it's easier to claim the humanities don't need to argue their value when you've already established/earned your own security.
> Here is where my personal interest comes in with Critical Code Studies in the Humanities and Critical Code Studies (HaCCS Lab), where one of the goals is to create new spaces for humanities and computer scientists to meet and discuss.   While I think it is naive to suggest that the humanities will all of the sudden be valued the way the sciences are, I'd be interested to hear about humanities courses geared toward scientists.  Not Rocks for Jocks but Greeks for Geeks.   Critical Theory for Civil Engineers.  I'm interested in classes that teach the traditional humanities topics but that are aimed at the science students --  beyond, say, the History of Science or the History of the Philosophy of Science. Which is another way of asking: what can the humanities teach the sciences (which probably plays into a completely useless binary)?
> I guess I've been thinking a lot about what humanists can offer code studies and can't help feel that we could design humanities courses geared toward science students that would be (actually and hopefully perceived to be) valuable to their pursuits -- with perhaps the long-term goal of not erasing but seriously smudging the division between the sciences and humanities.  Don't get me wrong -- these would INCREASE humanities offerings, not take the place of current classes.
> I know I'm preaching to the interdisciplinary choir, but can anyone reply with actual courses they've taught or offered at their institution that seem to fit this bill?  Can we propose imaginary courses that might accomplish these goals?   Or does this in effect undervalue that work that any good humanities course does already?
> Thoughts?
> Mark Marino
> HaCCS Lab
> University of Southern California
> http://haccslab.com
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