3.1246 Offline 28 (358)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Fri, 30 Mar 90 23:32:15 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1246. Friday, 30 Mar 1990.

Date: Friday, 30 March 1990 1152-EST
Subject: OFFLINE 28

<<O F F L I N E 2 8>>
by Robert Kraft
[29 March 1990 Draft, copyright Robert Kraft]
[HUMANIST 30 March 1990]
[Religious Studies News 5.3 (May 1990)]
[CSSR Bulletin 19.3 (September 1990)]

<Taking Stock>

OFFLINE was created originally to serve as a point of contact
in what would hopefully be a two way street between interested
religious studies persons and "computing humanists." Maybe I
wouldn't have put it exactly that way in 1984, but in retrospect,
that's what I had in mind. New things were happening very rapidly
in areas of computer technology, new vocabularies were being
created, new approaches tested, old things done differently.
Those for whom all this was potentially, if not yet actually
relevant needed to know about these developments. And their input
(see how naturally I speak "computerese" -- and you understand
it!) was important to help insure that the computer enthusiasts
did not ignore significant issues or create difficult problems
that might come back to haunt us all at a later time.

In the early days of OFFLINE, there were attempts to create a
glossary of computer terms and ideas, and to encourage discussion
of standards for foreign character recognition. User groups (now
often called SIGs = Special Interest Groups) were organized
whenever practical, and mention sometimes was made of significant
computer publications of possible interest to readers. Seemingly
pertinent new developments of hardware and software received
notice. The tasks were pretty obvious, following a model of
trying to take an audience from very little or no knowledge to a
level of respectable understanding. The main goal was, without
apology, to help speed up the acceptance and effective use of
computer related research within the scholarly community -- an
end result that seemed to me not only extremely useful but also
ultimately inevitable, in a general sense.

Feedback from the audience of OFFLINE never became much of a
factor. Occasional comments and suggestions were made -- my
unfortunate attempt to use an analogy from the medical world
(computer viruses and AIDS) once generated two heated complaints
-- but for the most part you let me go my own way without much
assistance or interference. For the most part, I have assumed
that the column was meeting some real needs, although on a few
occasions I heard from some readers that they enjoyed the column
even though it was mostly over their heads. A mixed blessing!
Many of us have grown along together in OFFLINE, so that what was
once new and mysterious is now mostly taken for granted, and what
interests us most goes far beyond the level of simplicity we once

This growth, of course, creates a dilemma or two. On the one
hand, there are always newcomers to the area of discussion, who
need to be led along carefully and deliberately. On the other,
there are many more "advanced" users of computer technology who
also merit recognition and assistance. And in between are various
shades of interest and expertise, all of them deserving at least
occasional attention. How is it possible, and is it even
desirable, to address all these different levels?

<Mostly for Beginners>

It is difficult to get our relatively uninvolved students to do
background preparation. They seem to want to be fed the necessary
information, hopefully in an entertaining way, in class. So we
tend to bully them with quizzes, reports, threats of poor grades.
But I have no such leverage with the readers of OFFLINE. All I
can do is to try (and hope) to spark some interest that will
carry beginners to a next level. There are assignments that can
be made. Browsing through back issues of OFFLINE itself might be
of help to some. In fact, the assignment to obtain that material
on diskette (see instructions at the end of the column) and learn
how to search and browse it effectively holds various benefits,
despite the fact that much of the information will be seriously
out-of-date in this rapidly moving world. Much more organized,
and full of both general and very specific information for all
levels of interest, is the often mentioned BBBS (Bits, Bytes &
Biblical Studies) volume by John J. Hughes (Zondervan, 1987). It
is still an excellent investment, despite the passage of time,
and will help orient readers to the major areas of computer usage
in most fields of study, whether "biblical" or not.

The biggest help for a beginner, however, is getting started.
There is only so much that one can learn about computers in the
abstract, and it is very difficult (at least for me) to make much
sense of it in the abstract. Take the plunge. Get access to a
machine that has proved its value in academic contexts (for most
of you that will mean an Apple Macintosh or an IBM/DOS type, or
perhaps an IBYCUS SC), ask someone to help you get started, and
do something -- write me a letter, link up to the library or to a
bulletin board, play with an electronic text. If there are no
machines for you conveniently to use, and you must explore the
labyrinth of deciding what to purchase, and price is an
important factor, don't be afraid to look around for used systems
(e.g. in newspaper ads) or mail-order bargains. Of course there
are risks in such an approach, and of course you need to exercise
as much care as possible, but those caveats are always true --
even for new and expensive systems -- and you need to start
somewhere/somehow. Starting is important.

My first system, a decade ago, was a used Commodore Pet, Business
Machine version, purchased through a newspaper ad. It was a
family machine -- games, educational programs, a spreadsheet for
taxes and records -- with only a "40 column" screen (i.e. it
could only show 40 letters in line width), but an 80 column
printer. And a BASIC programming language built in. I even
managed to get it to print Greek letters, and learned something
about programming at the same time. I still have that computer
system and it still works, although none of us use it anymore
because it can't communicate easily with the systems that have
become popular in the intervening period. Make me an offer? You
probably won't. The point is that for a relatively modest cost it
was, and still is, possible to get started with a reliable and
versatile machine. If I had to start today, with my ancient
language needs, I would be shopping around for an Apple Macintosh
(they are available used and/or reconditioned). Without those
needs, the immense world of IBM and IBM clones would also be
considered. A "remaindered" Toshiba 1000 laptop for under $700
(plus a printer) might appeal to me in that situation (check the
ads in the plethora of personal computer magazines!).

Basically, I'm a frugal person. OK, then, I'm cheap -- a penny
pincher. Blame it on the great depression and WWII rationing
which helped forge my youthful habits, or on some personal flaw;
for whatever reason, it's true. I would not go out and spend gobs
(or even daubs) of money on alluring software unless I was really
sure I needed and wanted it. There is lots of good freeware and
"shareware" (pay a small fee if you like it) available,
especially in the IBM/DOS world. Maybe you will ultimately want a
more flashy -- and more expensive -- wordprocessing package than
the one I am using to write this column (PC Write, which is
shareware), but you don't have to make that investment at the
outset. You can start cheap, and build up to what you determine
will be most useful to your needs. But do start. And let me know
if there are specific ways OFFLINE can help.

<The Too Often Too Silent Majority>

I suspect that most readers of OFFLINE, at least in its printed
manifestations (as contrasted to the electronic version that
goes to the HUMANIST discussion group on BITNET), fall somewhere
between beginners and experts. Most of you own your own
computers, others have regular access to such machinery, and you
write papers, reports, books -- maybe even letters -- through
this powerful "wordprocessing" tool. Some of you use
"spreadsheets" to do your accounts and taxes. Some of you keep
track of bibliography and addresses and other information that is
easily stored in its various subunits that can then be
reconstituted in various combinations through a "database" type
program. A few of you have even plugged into the vast and growing
universe of electronic "bulletin boards" and communication
possibilities by using a "modem" and telephone lines, or by being
"hardwired" into an existing network.

As things have developed, it is to this varifocused group that
OFFLINE has mostly come to address itself. Yet it has often been
a flight in the dark. You have seldom made it known to me what
sorts of information might interest you most. Perhaps this is
because the possibilities are so immense and variegated that you
wouldn't know where to begin. Perhaps you are too timid, and
without an invitation would not presume to make such suggestions.
Well, let me remove that excuse. I want to know what you would
like to know about using computers in your work, and will even
prod you with the old "multiple choice" approach. Would you be
interested in discussion of any of the following in OFFLINE?

-getting and using electronic textual materials
-accessing remote library resources from the computer
-the pros and cons of database storage and retrieval
-plain and fancy printing ("desktop publishing")
-using electronic networks and communications
-peeping through the keyhole at computer programming
-OTHER (please specify)

Not that I would try to handle all such subjects by myself! But
expert assistance is available, and the idea of coopting guest
columnists or contributors appeals to me very much. Please let me
know how you can be helped. Otherwise, you remain victims of my
perceptions of what you should know!

<For Those Who Know More>

"Experts" have been described as people who know more and more
about less and less until ultimately they know everything about
nothing! With regard to computers, I'm not there yet. I guess I'm
more of a generalist. But all sorts of expertise exist in the
computer world, as in traditional academia, and it has become a
goal of OFFLINE to keep the experts interested and involved
without devoting the column to their needs and detailed foci.
There are appropriate places for experts to meet and mingle --
the journals called Computers and the Humanities and Literary and
Linguistic Computing, to name only the most obvious. There are
workshops and conferences, some of which have been reported upon
in OFFLINE. What has not been happening with sufficient
regularity, from my point of view, is the interchange at the
expert level between traditional "field-oriented" scholarship and
the new "computer-oriented" research. In this context, OFFLINE
wants to be a mediator and a gadfly.

Perhaps you are tired of hearing the following sentiments, but
they still seem to be in need of saying. Have you seen many --
any? -- reviews of field-specific computer data or software in
the traditional scholarly journals? (You can find a wealth of
such information in John Hughes' aforementioned BBBS! Come to
think of it, has it been reviewed in the journals?) If you want
to obtain an electronic version of the Bible in English, for
example, do you know what is available, how accurate it is, how
you might make use of it, etc.? When new study editions of Bibles
(such as the Oxford Annotated Bible), or new Bible concordances
are published we usually can consult reviews by the experts as to
the reliability and utility of these materials. But procedures
have not yet been developed in most of the traditional
professional societies for similar evaluations of electronic data
and tools, which can already take the user far beyond anything
offered by conventional static printed books. Have you, as users,
made known your interests to those in charge of the review
sections of your professional journals? Have you, as experts,
volunteered to take part in helping to develop such avenues of
information? We are living in a period of rapid adjustment and
transition (just ask you local librarians!). Things will go much
smoother if we all get involved at the appropriate levels.

Computer assisted research that finds its way into printed form
is gradually making its impact on traditional fields of
scholarship, to be sure, but general information about how one
can take advantage of the new tools and approaches is relatively
scarce. Susan Hockey's very "old" Guide to Computer Applications
in the Humanities (Johns Hopkins, 1980) is still very useful in
showing what can be done through various approaches. For specific
examples of such applications, the bibliographies in Hughes BBBS
are full of leads. But where will you find out if the software
tool that you might like to use to facilitate your special
research, or the data on which you want to run it, are reliable?
How do you register your observations that the available software
doesn't really do what you, and others like you, might want to
do? Where do the traditional expertise of the scholar and the
expertise of the programmer confront each other, for better or
worse? We need to be paying more serious attention to these
matters if we have any hope of taking full advantage of the new
powers at our disposal.


The story is not one of complete frustration, by any means. Much
good will exists in many of the traditional societies, and a new
group of experts is emerging who can help foster changes where
they become recognized as desirable. Electronic publication as an
end product, not just as a means to printed output, is gaining
impetus in the professional societies (e.g. Modern Languages
Association, American Philological Association) as well as among
the presses (e.g. Oxford, Zondervan), and some exciting new
"experimental" products are on the horizon (e.g. from Harvard's
PERSEUS Project). More and more texts are being made available
from various computer oriented sources and in various formats
(e.g. on diskettes, on CD-ROMs, with or without accessing
software) -- e.g. recently a neatly packaged machine-readable
version of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind (trans J.B.Baillie)
arrived from Georgetown's new Center for Text and Technology, as
the first in a projected series. The new Rutgers-Princeton Center
for Machine Readable Texts in the Humanities is coordinating its
activities with the Oxford Text Archive and other repositories in
producing a text-inventory that will become available in
electronic catalogues through the library systems. The libraries
themselves are acquiring more such materials along with the
machines and technical expertise to use them. Archiving of
existing electronic materials (e.g. by SBL) and establishing
broadly based standards for dealing with them (by the
international Text Encoding Initiative project) are receiving
long overdue attention.

All of these things need encouragement and support from
individuals and professional societies as well as from
educational institutions and from private and government funding
sources. Certainly monetary support is most welcome -- the
relatively small budget of the National Endowment for the
Humanities can only spread so far, and projects that do receive
awards almost always need to raise "matching funds" in addition.
The fact that you may not be asked directly for this sort of help
does not mean that it would not be appreciated. Identify a pet
project and support it.

But there are other important ways to offer support as well.
Universities are constantly involved in reevaluating their
programs and resources, and if they do not perceive the value of
a given activity, it is not likely to flourish, especially when
money is tight. But with regard to computing activities, the
decision makers seldom have appropriate input from humanists
regarding humanist related needs. You can help by alerting your
administrations, including libraries and computing centers, to
your actual and potential interests in these connections. Are
your humanities departments aware of and plugged into the
growing wealth of available resources? Are your libraries
addressing computer related needs (usually in coordination with
the computer centers)? Finally, have you ever considered dropping
a note of appreciation to the administration of an institution
(not necessarily your own) that sponsors an activity from which
you gain benefit? That sort of support can also be very important
in times when hard decisions are being made on the basis of
relatively limited (often one-sided) information.

And there is a large agenda that remains, which will also grow
as we gain new insights and recognize new opportunities. Among
the other things that concern me especially at this point are (1)
the continued need for getting reliable information to scholars
and students who do not regularly consult the humanities
computing publications and discussion groups -- the idea of a
sort of "syndicated" column (or columns) offered to various
traditional newsletters has been mentioned before; (2) the need
for appropriate reviewing in the traditional journals of relevant
computer related products, as noted above; (3) sponsorship of
representative demonstrations and exhibits at regional, national
and international professional society meetings, to make it
possible for people to see and even participate in what is
happening -- perhaps it is worth developing and supporting a
project team for this purpose as a short term stimulus; (4) input
from the societies (based on the opinions of their experts)
regarding priorities for data encoding (which texts deserve
immediate attention?) and for software development (what do the
users want to do with the data?); (5) support for new, at this
point "experimental," ways of using the new technologies to
advance education and scholarship aggressively -- e.g. electronic
textbooks that take advantage of the ability to mix text and
graphics and sound in various user-determined combinations. It
seems to me that the stage of raising awareness, in general, and
of overcoming apprehension is mostly under control. The period we
have entered calls for more aggressive coordinated approaches to
producing appropriate results based on this growing new


Please send information, suggestions or queries concerning
OFFLINE to Robert A. Kraft, Box 36 College Hall, University of
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA 19104-6303. Telephone (215) 898-
5827. BITNET address: KRAFT@PENNDRLS. To request printed
information or materials from OFFLINE, please supply an
appropriately sized, self-addressed envelope or an address label.
A complete electronic file of OFFLINE columns is available upon
request (for IBM/DOS, Mac, or IBYCUS), or from the HUMANIST
discussion group FileServer (UTORONTO.BITNET).