A liberal arts degree in the 21st century has become a common point of mockery especially when speaking to my more scientifically enclined counterparts. I am constantly surrounded by engineers and I cannot state how many times that I have been asked “Why major in History?” or “What do you plan to do after you graduate?”. The answer for me is simple. Everytime, I simply reply I want to teach the young minds of america about the importance of recalling our past and the power that ability to remember and corelate has. As a liberal arts major, I have spent a lot of time justifying my existence which I why the introduction of a technology which can basically in the eyes of my non-liberal arts peers, can do my job and can do it much faster.
This introduction of what we liberal arts folks call distance reading, could very well spell the downfall of my profession. If a student can look up an in depth literary analysis of a historical account and gather a sort of pseudo summary of that account then what is my purpose within this relationship between student and their acquisition of knowledge? What benefit do I have against a computer?
The answer is simple for me, the distinction between close and distant reading is akin to how Ramsay views the differences between searching and browsing. One allows a person to actually witness and fully experience a single piece, to be intimate with and understand it. The latter provides much the needed context regarding the general issue and give the viewer a more stable base. This of course allows one to know where to place and how to interpret the information of the former.
It is therefor imperitive that as a future scholar of liberal arts one has to master both ends of the spectrum. We have to learn how to use these scientific advantages in order to adapt to the modern times that we live in. After all, after speaking to older generations of historians they discussed how their generations boasting main skill wasn’t necessarily the in depth analysis of a data set, but instead they were more proud of their ability to just acquire that information. I had a professor boast about her ability to travel to Russia, translate a book into english and then use that translation as evidence for one of her theories in her book. In today’s generation our main ability is not the broadness of our research, that is a given thanks to the wonder that is the internet, instead we attempt to over analyze the data we discover. Hence the generation of the post-modern field of history. A field dedicated to a new found analysis of history that had at one point been believed to be completely true, and for the most part was not widely disputed.
Its therefor obvious that the debate of close versus distance reading isn’t necessary for liberal arts scholars. Instead we should hurry and accept the fact that they both have benefits in regards to research, and that if we plan to keep up with the pace of knowledge then we must adapt to the new methods of acquistion that these hard sciences can offer to social sciences.