Laura Mandell NEH NINES Summer Institute 2011 We are gathered at this NEH Summer Institute for a high

purpose which, I would argue, is fundamentally this: to defend the need for expertise in the Humanities and to redefine its form. In this opening talk, I ll just set out the stakes as I see them, but of course, as a Humanities expert, I ll do it through recourse to history, and in particular, the history of disciplinary specialization, a legacy bequeathed to us from the Enlightenment. In his own Introduction to An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke spends a great deal of time worrying about the political implications of insoluble disagreements, insisting that misunderstandings of the meaning of words are what fuelds them. Obviously the transition from monarchical to republican rule, which he can imagine at this point, troubles him: his anxiety-curing fantasy is that all disagreements can be arbitrated solely through rational means once people completely agree upon the precise meaning of the words they are using. Jonathan Swift portrays a world governed by utterly rational agreements, the Houyhnhm society of horses depicted in Book IV of Gulliver s Travels, and as George Orwell long ago pointed out, the result is a society in which no one can disagree. To do so would be to accuse oneself of irrationality – aka insanity. And in one of the first major tributes to the psychology of projection, Swift portrays a resolutely rational but completely insane Gulliver at the end of the Travels stopping up his nose against the stench of Humanity. We in the Humanities don t have to worry about this because we have a long tradition of critiques of rationality, Swift s among them.


But Locke s fantasy led another direction as well. I ll just restate the fantasy again: if everyone can completely understand the meaning of everyone else s words, truth will rule in a democracy, just in the same way that a king rules in a monarchy. The motivation behind Locke s radical nominalism – his essay has been seen as proposing more about the workings of language than the mind, at least since Horne Tooke s Diversions of Purley published in the 1790s – the motivation, political anxiety, drops out as the drive for greater and greater terminological precision takes the form of medical nosologies and other specialized texts. Robin Valenza has fully traced the emergence during the eighteenth century of expert diction or what we sometimes call disciplinary jargon. Here we might worry as much or more than the sciences. I remember the assault against literary theory during the late culture wars including an attack on English professors, for writing incomprehensible treatises. I remember seeing excerpted in the pages of Harper s Magazine my friend Judy Frank s response. I m paraphrasing here. You wouldn t ask a physicist to stop using jargon when speaking to another physicist. The work of specialists in any discipline requires a technical vocabulary. And of course the point of an undergraduate and graduate education is to learn disciplinary terminology and methods. There is a countervailing point of view. Jurgen Habermas sees modernity as an incomplete project precisely insofar as the specialists have not brought their insights back to ordinary citizens. But in preventing any changes from being leveled for inadequate functioning, Humanities disciplines are covered there as well: 1) we do an incredible job with pedagogy, avoiding the problems of dwindling enrollments besetting the fields of


chemistry and computer science, for instance; and 2) we even have a specific subdivision in our fields devoted to addressing citizens, the public humanities, which we see as worthy service. Service. Service is part of the Holy tenure triumvirate: service, teaching, research. Disciplinary representations are adjudged adequate if the citizenry can be targeted through service and teaching. Not. Research. I will take one of the most difficult books I have encountered in a long time, Jerome Christensen s Romanticism at the End of History. I argued with a friend about the value of the book: thank God, said I, that I work at a teaching institution and so am habitually reminded that I must be able to communicate my research to human beings. Reformulating your ideas in terms comprehensible to most people is, my friend countered, a waste of time. While you are trying to communicate with students, James Chandler and Jerome Christensen will have achieved higher levels of understanding by referring via shortcuts to what they already know: they can build higher. But higher for whom? For themselves and an elite group of readers? Whereas instrumental or applied fields always find their justification for isolationist expertise in medical or technological advances, what are ours? What is this expertise building up to? Is it completely irrelevant to anyone except those of us in the discipline? Of course the ends of instrumental and applied reasoning, of scientific experimentation, are unexamined and open up huge questions. But no matter how problematic, they are relevant to citizens lives, entering into those lives at the level of daily practices and tacit knowledges. If the sciences have trouble because they do not build into their discoveries and fabrications cognizance of human significance, as if


living longer in whatever state were good in itself, the Humanities err in not taking account of day-to-day relevance in their thinking about human significance. What I want to suggest here and wish that we may have an open mind about as we undertake this week s work is the following possibility: that our research would be better as research, our theory as theory, if it functioned as part-and-parcel of thinking it through. I hope the import of this statement is visible: it suggests that digital projects which enable achieving new knowledge by multiple users—even non-academic, aspiring experts—might require the kinds of thought and publication that goes beyond mere service. Or, a better way to put that might be: it argues that incorporating service into research makes it much better research. I ll now give two examples. When I came to the first NINES Summer Workshop held circa 2005, by Jerome McGann and Bethany Nowviskie, I had a set of web pages containing bibliographies of materials related to my own Poetess Archive. The bibliographies were organized in ways that made complete sense to me but left some of my collaborators a bit at sea: no matter, thought I, they just need more information about how my site is organized. These static web pages were in fact simply the public equivalent of all my notes, say 3x5 cards, collected as preparation for writing and publishing an argument. But things changed at the NINES workshop. Bethany held a design class in which she said, I want all of you to ask, What would motivate all kinds of people to come to a site like mine, and what kinds of research question would they expect to be able to answer? Following those instructions changed everything about the site,

everything: server location, data entry, site design, tools used, and even collaborations


needed. Every decision about designing the database made by me and my collaborator (incidentally, he has a Ph.D. in particle physics), every decision required confronting and answering hard questions about disciplinary form. I felt at the end of the process that he should be awarded an MA in English. Imagine trying to work together to determine how, logically, mathematically, algorithmically, any work of literature in particular counts as transatlantic. I m not sure that makes the project the equivalent of an article or book,

though indeed I was promoted to full professor based on this work, based on a letter written by my chair who has no experience with the digital and which I will share with you this week. But equivalencies: if all we had to do was establish equivalencies between digital and print research, we wouldn t need to hold an NEH Summer Institute on the topic; the task would be mundane. My second example requires imagining a scenario, first at our moment, and second, at a moment forty years hence. You are writing a book about Romantic Melancholy, and it is the first day of your research leave. Over breakfast, you get onto your wireless and peruse the library catalogue, finding some titles of related items in the stacks, and searching a few proprietary databases purchased by your library. You finish your coffee, jump into your Prius, drive to the library, search for parking. Once inside, you go to the reference desk: you know there is some kind of online catalogue containing texts important in the history of medicine, but you cannot remember the name of it – the reference librarian helps you. Then you show him or her that you are not getting enough hits when you search ECCO and EEBO, and he shows you some alternate terms to use: mumpishness, for instance. He also mentions a special collection at the Clark that you might apply for an ASECS grant to go see. Next you walk to the stacks, go to the


PR8500s where you find the books you had gotten call numbers for on your laptop this morning. You had been trying to judge which of the books you should trust as authoritative on the latest research: one book published by Oxford UP is missing from the stacks, and, when you check at the desk, they tell you that another professor has checked it out. You will order that on Amazon dot com. In the stacks, you find another book that had not come up when you searched the online catalogue this morning. This book is titled, Everything Laura Mandell needs to know about melancholy before writing her book, which you grab, as you dash out for lunch. Now, forty years hence. No library. No stacks. No reference desk. Just you and your laptop. Have you been fired? No. Right now, a group led by Robert Darnton at Harvard is creating something to be called the Digital Library of America, designed to digitize all university-library books that will be shared digitally across universities. As Chuck Henry, President of the Council of Library Information Resources puts it, university libraries replicating each other s holdings are too expensive to sustain. We must eliminate [quote] redundancy.


When I gave a talk at Cornell delineating this scenario and some ways that we might intervene in it, to protect our understanding, our own ways of understanding and filtering information, one response was, I m so glad you spoke about library search 7


That s actually not what I m talking about: I m talking about our whole

embodied way of being scholars, and, to repeat Jerome McGann s persistent refrain, when our thinking world is redesigned, we have to be at the table—we cannot leave it to librarians. We, professors, students, researchers, must make this environment, and the only way we can be at the table is if such work is recognized by departments and administrations for the research about research that it is. Part of what we do when we work theoretically flows through our hands, and we won t know what part that is until it is gone, unless of course, we think this through, and preserve it. So I ll show you a success story, a very minor one, that I hope indicates the necessity of fully opening one s mind and working toward reconceiving research, or maybe even fully understanding it for the first time, in a changing world that demands our intervention. This work was done by a fictitious technical editor Laura C. Haystack who was up for tenure, examined by participants in an MLA workshop about which Susan will give you more information later. This editor writes in a scripting language called XSLT. And here is the fruit of some of her work, which I ll show you live. She oversaw the TEI-encoding and the transforming-into-web-pages of the Letters of Robert Bloomfield, an edition edited by Tim Fulford. Bloomfield was a working-class poet, and Elizabeth Glover (formerly Bloomfield) was his mother. If you search in Google for Elizabeth Glover or Elizabeth Bloomfield, here is what you get:


But if you search for Elizabeth Bloomfield Glover –


The first three hits are web pages from this electronic scholarly edition, and a fourth is the xml encoding for one of those pages, showing you all the information about provenance, editing policies, collaborators, and coding. To get these to be top returns required manipulating metadata properly. Overseeing coding or algorithms for name extraction so that a recipient of letters comes up in a google search requires learning to publish information in a form that enables research. And this form of publication could be much more sophisticated, including topic modeling, APIs, and publications about the work done in our research journals. The point is, this publication saves the laboring-class poet s mother from oblivion, for students, for future researchers—in making her a top return, it militates against a culture in which the past comes to be seen as nothing more than obsolescence. The tenure judges at the MLA worskshop said that this expert s work was equivalent to technical writing. Is it? If not, what kinds of theorizing and argumentation are involved that may be


invisible to an uninformed eye? Do we want researchers in Humanities disciplines doing this work, and if so, how will we reward them?


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