5.0121 Rs: Disappearance of Humanities Computing - I (3/177)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 5 Jun 91 16:09:33 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0121. Wednesday, 5 Jun 1991.

(1) Date: Tue, 04 Jun 91 18:50:05 EDT (28 lines)
Subject: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(2) Date: Tue, 04 Jun 91 20:18:53 CDT (47 lines)
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(3) Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 01:24:57 EDT (102 lines)
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@VM2.YorkU.CA>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 04 Jun 91 18:50:05 EDT
Subject: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing? (1/72)

In repsonse, briefly, to McCarty's laments on the demise of humanities
computing...the last point struck a nerve. If you can figure out how to
remove the wall between faculty and staff, you'll become famous or
infamous or both.

I think more humanities people should seek information, instruction,
whatever, in the field of Information Science, and adapt things learned
there to humanities.

I hold the MA in history, am asst. editor at our university press, copy
editor for a history journal, and make back-of-the- book indexes.
(Crazy combination, I know.) I'm completing my MLS at Univ. of Iowa
this year, and have been fascinated by the Information Science
components of the coursework...gives one encouragement to adapt what's
being taught to other areas .. especially instructional ...

On the indexing front, the use of computing for index creators and users
is fascinating.

No, I don't think humanities and computing SHOULD be having a mid-life
crisis. But, if so, maybe a counselor is in order! I'll check my AARP

Paula Presley AD15@NEMOMUS bitnet
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------51----
Date: Tue, 04 Jun 91 20:18:53 CDT
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing? (1/72)

A brief comment, perhaps only tangentially related to Willard's
thoughtful and articulate discussion of humanities computing -- but one
which may be helpful to the discussion he would have us pursue.

A few months back, our Faculty Development Committee began preparations
for a faculty summer seminar (HUMANIST readers may remember seeing
postings about this over the years). As we struggled to settle on
a theme of study for the two-week seminar, we decided that "creativity"
might be fun. But: one group of us (including, gentle reader, the
author of this missive) wanted to explore especially computer-mediated
creativity and related issues (can computers be creative?) -- while a
second group became excited about creativity in an especially poetic
direction. While these two directions are by no means exclusive --
we came down to a choice between (a) seminar facilitators known for
their expertise in humanities computing, including an author of
both a significant book on the impact of computing on the humanities
and an important hypermedia program, and (b) a poet who is also an
editor, a frequent speaker at humanities conferences, etc. The
committee (narrowly) chose the latter.

When I communicated the results to group (a) -- the described author
sent back a note containing his observation that humanities folk were
moving _away_ from computing altogether. He, in turn, was leaving
his position (as a classics professor at a state university) to accept
a position at a technical institution.

My comment/query: is this anecdote and observation echoed by anyone
else's observations and experience? If so, then perhaps Willard's
largely positive comments on the disappearance of "humanities
computing" as the result of several evolutionary developments must
be, alas, counterbalanced by this (in my view, terrifyingly negative)

I don't mean to invite the sort of handwringing Willard rightly
castigates -- but if many of our colleagues are "moving away" from
computing (and just, as Willard notes, some dimensions of humanities
computing are achieving useful and impressive maturity), those of us
currently invested in humanities computing ought to take notice and
perhaps take stock as to why.

Sorry to sound like Eeyore,
Charles Ess
Drury College
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------109---
Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 01:24:57 EDT
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@VM2.YorkU.CA>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing? (1/72)

I will seriously entertain Willard's hypothesis of the immanent
extinction of humanities computing people when the most frequently
asked computer question from colleagues is no longer "Why can't I
get French accents on my computer", the most frequent answer from
academic computing advisors is no longer "You must be doing something
really weird like storing text files" and the hardest things to do
on a University computer are no longer uploading and downloading
files. If the Universtiy of Toronto has evolved beyond this state
of affairs, then Willard has no one to blame but himself.

I will consider seriously one of his predictions:

Emergence of instructional software that is not just an electronic
analogue of some textbook exercise but a medium for a kind of learning
that is genuinely new.

Of course, the great majority of teaching programs are either electronic
reference books or electronic flash cards. The HyperCard environment
lends itself all too readily to both possibilities.

A more interesting application of computer resources is the simulation
of complex situations. We are familiar with such simulations in
training programs for pilots and in the games based on such programs.
Let's consider the possibility of simulating for the undergraduate the
complex situation of a scholar analysing a literary text. The scholar
may have spread out on the desk a photographic facsimile of the
author's manuscript (or, for many classical and medieval texts, facsimiles
of several competing manuscripts), and several authoritative editions.
At least some of these materials will be out of print and likely available
in only a few libraries hundreds or thousands of miles from the
places where the majority of undergraduates study. These materials could
be packaged on a single compact disk and displayed side by side on one
or more large (double-page) monitors. The issue of side by side display
is essential if we are to simulate for the student the way a scholar
really works... you do not close or quit the quarto of Measure for
Measure before openning the folio, you spread them out side by side.
(NOTE: Hardware requirements--compact disk player
--large and or multiple monitors
OBSERVATION: Hardware requirements are often more
complex and more expensive in the Humanities
than in business, mathematics and computer
PARENESIS: We are unlikely to make significant progress in
the use of computers for learning in the Humanities
until we accept this observation and work out
strategies for presenting it to university

So far we have dealt with *primary* texts. The essential *secondary*
texts will include relevant research dictionaries like the Oxford
English Dictionary. The scholar would also have at hand a variety of
history books for the period: literary, art, architectural, political,
institutional, social, and so on. As a start we can begin to simulate
these resources with appropriate timelines, with possibilities for
juxtaposing and merging these lines in various combinations, as well
as doing proper searches, including GREP searches. The secondary sources
should include maps, photographs of terrain (how many students of
The Battle of Maldon know what the causeway looked like?) and of
relevant art and architecture, as well as music and recorded readings
with appropriate dialect (north country for Wordsworth, Irish for
Swift). This material need not all appear side by side, but should
be isolated from the primary texts on a separate screen to simulate
the scholar's clear distinction between the text under analysis and
contextual materials. Linking between primary and secondary texts
should be as easy as possible -- select a word in the primary text
and issue one command to bring up a dictionary entry, another to
bring up a map, and so on. From here we could move on to articles and
monographs about the primary text. The process of simulation involves not
merely giving the student a scholar's library but also leading the
student seamlessly into some of the scholar's habitual research
(NOTE: Hardware requirements--screen and software for high
resolution graphics if the art reproductions
are to be more than cartoons
--high fidelity sound

This much is basic. Beyond this it gets interesting. One of the commands
available when a word or reference item is selected might branch to
an appropriate on-line data base or an appropriate list, like Humanist,
Ansaxnet, Ficino, History, and so on, using an automatic logon script
rather than expecting the student to close files, quit the program,
start Kermit, call the university computer, and so on. Leaving the mail
reader or news reader would invoke another script that would
deliver the student back to where he or she left off in the primary

The goal would be to simulate the way the scholar works, but in a manner
accessible to the undergraduate who doesn't have an office full of
reference books, travel grants and a year's sabatical to produce a
term paper. Those personal expenses would be replaced by the
institutional expense of providing the necessary hardware and
software, which could be used by many students, year after year.
Of course, a part of the price of admission for the student would be
some sort of obligation, either moral or practical, to add to the
fabric of texts and intertextual links in the simulation.