POST: A Kind of Skepticism Humanists Should Hold On To

Ted Underwood, Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois, continues his examination of some of the areas of overlap between the humanities and more quantitative disciplines. Underwood’s main concern is that

numbers tend to distract the eye. If you quantify part of your argument, critics (including your own internal critic) will tend to focus on problems in the numbers, and ignore the deeper problems located elsewhere.

Underwood uses the example of his series of posts on genre in large digital collections to illustrate how the quantitative-focused feedback he received kept him from seeing the more significant problem in how he was understanding the concept of genre itself. He continues,

Skepticism about foundational concepts has been one of the great strengths of the humanities. The fact that we have a word for something (say genre or the individual) doesn’t necessarily imply that any corresponding entity exists in reality. Humanists call this mistake “reification,” and we should hold onto our skepticism about it.

dh+lib Review

This post was produced through a cooperation between Hugh Burkhart, Christopher A. Miller, Caitlin Pollock, and Jennifer Snider (Editors-at-Large for the week), Zach Coble (Editor for the week), and Roxanne Shirazi and Caro Pinto (dh+lib Review Editors).