[iDC] The Future of the Humanities

Mark Marino markcmarino at gmail.com
Mon Jun 6 06:10:13 UTC 2011

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?

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