3.191 humanities computing, cont. (88)
Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@VM.EPAS.UTORONTO.CA)
Fri, 30 Jun 89 00:14:26 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 191. Friday, 30 Jun 1989.
Date: Thursday, 29 June 1989 1004-EST
Subject: humanities computing
As a point of information, to help sharpen at least the
sorts of models with which we work when we discuss
"humanities computing," has anything similar developed in
the other tridents/quadrants of traditional academia?
Are there special "computers and physics" or "computers and
the natural sciences" groups? Or "computers and sociology"
("sociological computing")? Was there a point in the
development of the new technology when "computers and
logic" or "computers and mathematics" groups came into
being, and if so, do they continue to exist in distinction
from some other approach?
I search for non computer analogies in my own broader field
of specialization -- I learn a lot from analogies -- and think
that in some ways the attempts to deal with "social sciences
methodology" may come close. A society was created, sometime
back in the 1960s called "Society for Scientific Study of
Religion" (triple-S R). It still exists. I know several people
who have been members at one point or another, some who have
been leaders. I don't know how current SSSR members see
themselves, or what the Society's current raison d'etre
may be, relative to the fields of religion or the social
sciences. My impression, perhaps quite misguided and not
fully informed, is that it has tended to become a
self-perpetuating island, and that the more mainstream
religious studies societies have pretty much assimilated
social sciences approaches as appropriate and are moving
ahead with the new synthesis. There was a need, when SSSR
developed, and the SSSR did bring it to people's attention.
If the need has passed, what then?
I'm trying to find analogies that have a central "methodological"
(a word that I'm not always comfortable with) component. There
are lots of situations in which sub-fields (geographical or
chronological, for example) split off and develop alongside
the spawning (intentionally or unintentionally) body. I don't
see this as really parallel to "computers and..." groups,
except perhaps in areas such as linguistics, about which
I am not very qualified to speak. Perhaps similarly, in such
"disciplines" (I'm nervous about that word too!) as
history and sociology and anthropology, in which there are
visible distinctions between people who tend to operate
more "quantitatively" from those who are more "humanistic"
in orientation (if those are the proper contrasting terms!),
different types of groups with different interest foci emerge
and often flourish with great value. This situation probably
comes closer to what is going on IN SOME AREAS with the
"computers and..." approach. To what extent, and in what
areas, does the appeal to "computers" represent an attempt to
emphasize quantitative approaches as over against something
else? I have that impression of "computational linguistics,"
although as a relative outsider, I really do not know.
At present, my feeling is that in the humanistic areas that
interest and concern me most -- textual, paleographical,
philological, literary, intellectual-historical, socio-historical,
philosophical, and the like, the use of computers needs to become
fully integrated with, not somehow adjunct to the ongoing academic
endeavor. And the energies of those who have become expert, in
various ways, with how to use computers in these contexts need to
be directed at the less literate, computerwise, as well as shared
with the more literate. To the extent that we fail to invest our
talents and time in the ongoing, "traditional," organizations
and contexts, to that extent we will impede the sort of synthesis
that will inevitably come, but which we have a great opportunity
to hasten. My humanistic ideals (ok, values) at this point reflect
that aspect of Platonism (probably itself reflecting values that
have common roots with some southeast Asian traditions) that
saw the task of the enlightened one (e.g. in Plato's Cave Analogy)
as fulfilled only when that person returned to the less enlightened
to help them along their path. Thus for me, computer groups for
the enlightened have their primary function to assist the
less enlightened, and not to become self-perpetuating islands.