Monthly Archives: November 2010

Defending Humanities

Thanks to a tweet from Rebecca Frost Davis at NITLE, I had the opportunity last week to read Wesleyan president Michael Roth’s post about the humanities at his liberal arts college.  Roth contextualizes his discussion with reference to recent opinion pieces in the New York Times that have been prompted by cuts at SUNY Albany.  I hope a future post will address Digital Humanities, which is the focus of a NITLE initiative.

Roth notes a familiar peculiarity on liberal arts campuses–the oddness of presumed humanities disciplines being classified as social sciences whilst some of their courses are listed as humanities.  We have a similar situation at Wheaton College, where the History Department in which I teach is considered a social science for purposes of governance but my colleagues and I consider our courses to be in the humanities for purposes of student graduation requirements.  Noticing such seeming discrepancies points to the multiple uses of these categories and thus surfaces some of the complexities that affect debates about the future and utility of the humanities.  College and university administrators have an obligation to help the general public and our students and their parents understand these complexities.

I was disappointed to find that Roth failed to mention Digital Humanities in his post, especially since the New York Times published the first of a projected series on the field last week.  In fairness, I should note also that the print magazine of my undergraduate alma mater, Rice University, recently published an article about the institution’s Humanities Research Center without mentioning Digital Humanities either.  These failures seem to me to be missed opportunities since Digital Humanities can offer students ways to reflect on their emerging digital culture as well as on cultural developments of the past in new and exciting ways that also contribute to the skill sets they bring to their future workplaces.



Filed under digital humanities


Ahhh. This morning I achieved a goal that has eluded me this week. I spent the whole morning immersed in the world of digital humanities, text encoding, and general scholarly contemplation of the Wheaton College Digital History Project. No small achievement since much of my energy has been focused on my father’s health for the past month. We discovered on October 5 that a seemingly simple physical annoyance–foot pain associated with a nail infection–in fact had a more disturbing explanation. Dad has Stage III melanoma. He had surgery on October 21 and will have another on November 17. I spent the two and a half weeks between October 19 and November 7 in Austin, and though I did steal a full day for work on proposals for DH2011, I have been feeling quite distant from my scholar-self while I have been operating primarily as my daughter-self.

The distance was only magnified as I tried to replicate my usual work patterns during the past all-too-brief week I’ve been spending at home. I’ve sat down at the computer each morning after taking the dog out and making coffee, going online before truly waking, and feeling frustrated that I could not find the immersion point. I’ve known intellectually of course that my brain and body were simply deploying the defense mechanisms that would get them the rest they have needed, a response to the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that comes with trying to support aging parents as they confront one of the most frightening and bewildering experiences of their lives.

I don’t begrudge them any of that, and in fact I feel lucky to have the flexibility that comes with working outside the classroom for these few months so that I can help in whatever ways are useful as they begin their journey through the medical system and establish a treatment plan. At the same time, it feels so good to have been at the computer productively for these past few hours. To have been inside my scholar-self and usefully exploring ideas about how to use these last few sabbatical months to positive effect. So much better than the feeling of hammering on the door to that self from the outside, chasing specters of deadlines and expectations from the exhausted basic-self and wanting to flee in despair.

Aah. Immersion feels good.

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Filed under digital humanities, productivity