5.0134 Computing in the Humanities (2/59)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 11 Jun 91 16:56:23 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0134. Tuesday, 11 Jun 1991.

(1) Date: Mon, 10 Jun 91 19:43 CDT (9 lines)
From: Michael Ossar <MLO@KSUVM>
Subject: computers and equality

(2) Date: Tue, 11 Jun 1991 00:44:50 -0400 (50 lines)
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (Willard McCarty)
Subject: humanities computing

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 91 19:43 CDT
From: Michael Ossar <MLO@KSUVM>
Subject: computers and equality

I want to thank Gary Forsythe for his fascinating message. But how does
a voice synthesizer function for someone who presumably receives files
and needs to deal with texts in several modern and classical languages?
How does it handle, for example, a Greek quote embedded in an English
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------65----
Date: Tue, 11 Jun 1991 00:44:50 -0400
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (Willard McCarty)
Subject: humanities computing

My thanks to all those who contributed to the discussion on (as it
came to be called) the disappearance of humanities computing, including
Eeyore, Chicken Little, and others. I admit to a few wild statements,
but then an utterly sober, reasonable approach, I feared, might not
stir anyone to reply. People were stirred, so perhaps Blake's aphorism
about the road of excess leading to the palace of wisdom held for us
in this case.

My serious purpose was to ask, "What is happening in humanities computing?
What needs to happen?" With the benefit of the replies, let me revise
and restate these questions.

>From my own experience, I conclude that institutionalized humanities
computing has the following 5 functions:

1. service, to respond to users on demand, e.g. to run labs, answer
questions, demonstrate software, find texts.

2. evangelical, to promote the uses of computing by demonstrating its
value, e.g. in workshops and fairs.

3. pedagogical, to teach courses ranging from the exclusively
tool-oriented (e.g. on WordPerfect or HyperCard) to those which focus
on methods of teaching and research in the humanities.

4. infrastructural, to build largely out of existing pieces an
institutional structure whereby those who wish to pursue computing in
teaching and research can do so without penalty, perhaps even with

5. research, to conduct computer-aided research in the humanities: primarily
to observe at first hand the computer as a perceptual agent (note that
research as information-gathering, so as to be better at 1, above, is
a different matter).

My previous note attempted to argue, or at least to assert, that the
first function -- which seems to be all that many folks think of when
"humanities computing" is mentioned -- is not where the academic action
is, however necessary it may remain. When I spoke of hopeful signs, I
was referring to the second through fifth activities, and I would now
like to invite more comments on these, or on others I have
inadvertently overlooked.

Willard McCarty