Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Veysey, "The Plural Organized Worlds of the Humanities"

Veysey, Laurence. "The Plural Organized Worlds of the Humanities." The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920. Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979.

Daly-Goggin refers to this chapter and Veysey's book-length work, The Emergence of the American University (Chicago, 1965) in her discussion of patterned isolation. Here, Veysey examines the humanities during the period of 1865-1920. The historical focus isn't especially relevant for my work, and I can't find specific references to "patterened isolation" (which does appear explicitly in Emergence). Veysey's discussion of professionalization (pp. 57-72) presents a few useful pieces for returning to, maybe. The chapter itself presents three perspectives on the humanities to characterize the 55 year era:

  1. Burgeoning variety: the humanities as a continuation of the genteel tradition, which gave way to the fading of generalists around 1890 and the beginnings of advanced research, professionalization, and specialization. pp. 52-57.
  2. Professionalization: National organizations, learned societies and groups, and a devil may care attitude toward disciplinary interrelatedness (Veysey says the social sciences had a much more pronounced interrelatedness). pp. 57-72.
  3. Homogenous social context: Four kinds of groups: educational (school-related), custodial (keepers of special collections), voluntary associations (clubs, etc.), and media (publishers, performance agencies, etc.). pp. 72-85.

The final two sections of the essay are concerned with a review of the forces at work (85-89) and an assessment of the "basic intellectual achievement of the era" (89-92). Veysey suggests that the era can be reduced to 50 or 60 names (92), and he proposes that a comparable survey should be considered for the period running from 1920-1970. This move to name-counting indicates that the contributions were individual and typically measured as such. He refers briefly to movements--constrasting low-brow (counter-culture, avante-garde, and revolutionary) and high-brow (old world high culture) movements, but his final judgment is a count of notable, named contributors and their exemplars--Santayana for those outside the academy and C. S. Peirce for those affiliated with the academy.

"On the plane of thought, they claimed to represent the heritage of higher 'civilization.' Thus, in a time of rapid academic transformation marked by strongly progressive assumptions, the humanities stood for an important degree of continuity. While participating to some extent in the pervasive onward and upward mood, their spokesmen insisted that an acquaintance with the literary and artistic remains of the long-term past still ought to furnish the hallmark of the truly educated man or woman" (52). 1865-1920: An inertial humanities concerned with remnants.

"To the generalists, research meant submergence in arcane dry-as-dust materials located within subfields they could scarcely comprehend, along with the acceptance of a dubious and pretentious scientific posture. The Ph.D. and the entire Germanic style of graduate training threatened liberal education. Did it threaten the existence of the cultivated social elite as well?" (54)

"Those who reject the dominant scientific conception of the pursuit of knowledge can only wander off in a score of mutually unrelated directions. It is easy to see these as amounting to no more than a mixed bag of random leftovers. In particular, when such fields as history, English, foreign languages, and the history of art and music rejected science and yet invoked the past, there was the grave danger that they would run around in a spirit of sheer antiquarianism--calling attention to anything merely because it existed, with no self-conscious principle of selection, no concept of the logical relationship between evidence and larger hypothetical generalizations. Of course none of this matters if one stops dreaming of intellectual unification and rests content with the celebration of particular achievements in art, music, poetry, literary criticism, or philosophy. But these symptoms of confusion, drift, and retreatism deserve emphasis in dealing with a rubric that to outsiders appears far more coherent than it is" (57).

"The most important boundary may well be not the formalistic one between so-called amateurs and professionals but the line that divides those who William James called the once- and twice-born, between those persons of all backgrounds who have become converted to a profoundly sustaining intellectual allegiance of this kind and those others (possibly laboring alongside them in the same academic departments) who have not" (61). Could this be switched into a networks vocabulary re: homophily bias, boundary spanners, and centrality?

Terms: unguided drift [that characterizes the humanities] (56), specialization (59), managerialism (60), "intensification of elitism" (63), centrifugal forces (68), quasi-aristocratic clubbishness (68), MLA cliquishness (74).

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