3.610 humanists and computers (72)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 19 Oct 89 20:39:32 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 610. Thursday, 19 Oct 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 18 Oct 89 21:38:26 CDT (23 lines)
From: "Kevin L. Cope" <ENCOPE@LSUVM>
Subject: Humanists Approaching Computers, Or, Oil and Vinegar

(2) Date: 19 October 1989 (30 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: humanists and computers

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 89 21:38:26 CDT
From: "Kevin L. Cope" <ENCOPE@LSUVM>
Subject: Humanists Approaching Computers, Or, Oil and Vinegar

A recent HUMANIST grammo wonders why humanists (the generic, not the computer-
ized kind) have so much trouble dealing with computers. First, let me affirm
that this is definitely the case, not just a matter of seeming. I've tried
to introduce no less than six colleagues to the simplest application of all,
e-mail, but only one of them has even begun to use this resource. Indeed, I've
begun to think of this process of introduction to humanities computing as a
kind of inoculation, which sometimes "takes" and sometimes doesn't. Let me,
therefore, propose what will doubtlessly be a controversial explanation.
Humanists (again, the generic kind, not the deluxe kind seen on HUMANIST)
are often over-ideologized but undereducated. In literary studies, for
example, the two still-dominant modes, deconstruction/post-phenomenalism and
neo-marxism, are products of 19th-century industrial culture. The great
majority of generic humanists, trained in these traditions, have trouble
dealing with the many other models of the world, including those offered
up by information science, that have come into being in the last 75 years
or so. At least in America, it's possible to proceed straight to the Ph. D.
without knowing the slightest thing about computing, physics, astronomy, or
anything else. So we need to teach students of the humanities more about
the world and less about theory before we can get them to compute.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 19 October 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: humanists and computers

I think it is true that, as Kevin Cope says, the usual sort of
education to which a humanist is exposed in N. America has serious
defects, and that consequently the usual sort of humanist gets an
allergic reaction from computers and their enthusiasts. Some aspects of
this reaction are not unwarranted, but that's another matter. It is also
true, I think, that training in science and medicine (and I guess we
should include the social sciences) has a corresponding defect. The cult
of the expert -- in some ways a debilitating approach to knowledge -- is
reflected in programmes of specialization that early on shut out half the
intellectual world and more. As a result we foster the development of
experts who are given no way of connecting what they know so well with
the rest of the human community, including others who know different
things very well. Of course, there are many brilliant exceptions, but
they are exceptions.

Computing in the humanities, it seems to me, has become the home for
those who don't fit in the specialist's straitjacket, though given
sufficient time I'm sure we too can conform. Before we do, wouldn't it
be enlightening to talk a bit about what sort of programme could form
around humanities computing that would exploit its bringing together of
the humanities and the sciences -- including the social sciences?

Willard McCarty