5.0690 Getting Resources for Computing Humanists (1/70)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 17 Feb 1992 19:44:16 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0690. Monday, 17 Feb 1992.

Date: Wed, 12 Feb 1992 23:50:05 EST
From: "Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM.BITNET>
Subject: Re: Rick's question

Comments-on: Friday, 14 Feb 1992 09:53:39 EST
Comments-of: "Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM>

I posted this response to a suggestion on ANSAXNET that we make sure
that humanities faculty, computing humanists, quodlibet, serve on
our institution's computing committees to insure that humanists get
the equipment they need for their work. A couple people who are
members of both ANSAXNET and HUMANIST have asked me to post it here
so that we can extend the discussion, including more computing services
staff, etc. than reside on ANSAXNET. So, treat it as a valentine.
Read it, smile, kiss someone, and throw it away.

***----------------------> Original Mail From <----------------------***
"Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM.BITNET>

The way you get equipment here at WVU (and, apparently, at Illinois) is
to make use of equipment. Actually, that's how scientists and engineers
get it, too. Once the Beowulf Workstation began rolling along and
I was invited by Apple to show it off at a corporate conference for
academics, my dean began to provide me with equipment. Now, he's equipped
a lab for me. Wish I had time to invest in it the way he wishes I would.
But I have Exeter and Abingdon and you folks to keep me occupied. But the
point is, you can't get equipment by merely asking (or having a designated
asker on a committee) unless you've already proven you can use it. That
sound's like a catch-22, but it's the way it works. No one can commandeer
computing money for humanists unless the humanists are demonstrating that
they REALLY have a use for it. Too many word processors have been purchased
which have not been mastered by humanities faculty for that to happen again.

I have also found that the folks in the sciences are much more helpful
than they used to be. I think they know that, although I use computers
for weird things, we now share some of the same problems.

And finally, I should add that you must never suggest that Humanists have
just recently jumped onto a computing bandwagon. In point of
fact, computers weren't sophisticated enough to handle significant
humanities problems until recently. Mainframes were never
meant to be text processors, and still don't do it well. Personal Computers
actually address some of our problems pretty well, but only the big
workstations based on mini-computers like Sun and the Next are really
appropriate. We've just begun to get enough memory, and the monitor real
estate is still a bit expensive. It's not that we just learned about
computers; it's that they weren't worth our learning about before 1985 or
so. Tell this to your engineering friends: the simplest sort of literary
problem is more difficult to address with a computer than the most complex
statistical analysis on data derived from a controlled experiment. The
proof of that pudding is that not a single computer analysis in the humanities
has established a "general acceptance" in the profession of whatever question
it addressed. (I must be wrong about that, but I can't think of any, so
I'm creating a place for you to point out how ignorant I am.) That's not
because we're all so cantankerous; it's because the nature of proof required
for the general acceptance of a point in our field is simply more complex be-
cause the problems are more complex.

You should all educate your deans, chancellors, headmasters, etc., on
a couple of points: I. Don't ever sit quietly when someone says, "well,
you Anglo-Saxonists can get by without computers, albeit with a modicum of
difficulty; the physicists simply can't." Why should we retreat to outmoded
methods of doing OUR jobs when the physicists don't have to? Get 'em an
apple tree. It was sufficient for Newton. II. Ditto on networking; the
power in the university is aligned with those who are on the university net
(not necessarily the same as e-mail). Can you get access to all files
which should be open to you (e.g. registration for your students, online
memos on travel grants, etc.); if not, find out from math or computer
science what they've got working for them. That's where you need your
liaison on the computing committee.