9.118 the humanities & computing

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 24 Aug 1995 17:59:16 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 118.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] Subject: new challenges
From: Richard Heinzkill <heinzkil@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>
Size: 24 lines
[2] Subject: RE: 9.115 humanities computing & disciplinary boundaries
From: FLANNAGAN@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu
Size: 53 lines

From: Richard Heinzkill <heinzkil@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>
To: mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 1995 18:39:38 -0800
Subject: new challenges

I almost fear to submit this because I'm afraid it adds enough fuel to the
fire that I will get flamed. Please! I'm only the messenger. I quote from
the book jacket copy on a newly published book, Bonfire of the Humanities by
David Marc, Syracuse University Press.
"The inaugural volume in the Television Series focusess on the relationship
between the rise of the multi-media environment...and the decline of the
humanities in academia... David Marc is mad as hell about some things, and
he's not going to take it any longer. He finds that most university
humanities programs remian top-heavy with embittered careerists who would
rather deny the evidence than admit that...their techniques and skills have
become archaic."
What I find interesting is not so much the argument that the humanities are
outmoded (I've heard that before), but that the multi-media environment will
bring about our downfall. When I see how our campus is being graduatlly
transfigurged (thanks to an obligatory technology fee added onto to each
term's tuition) into an electronic environment, I know the times are
changing. Humanists aren't going to disappear, but they certainly do face
new challenges.


Richard Heinzkill office phone: (503) 346-3095
University of Oregon
Knight Library Web: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~heinzkil
Eugene, OR 97403-1299 e-mail: heinzkil@oregon.uoregon.edu


From: FLANNAGAN@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu
To: mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 1995 07:30:41 EDT
Subject: RE: 9.115 humanities computing & disciplinary boundaries

Thanks, Willard, for pointing out the evil potentials of the Tower of
Babel. You're on God's side. I was on the Other's, in this case,
because I was hoping for the spread of knowledge through the agencies
of TEI--SGML--HTML--RTF. The ziggurat becomes a pyramid of universal
language, rather than a babble of commercial nonsense.

There are problems. I just found out that sales of electronic
dictionaries have now begun to outstrip those of the paper versions at
Houghton-Mifflin. That's good and bad. I do use my very expensive OED
on CD-ROM to replace the 20-some volume set, and I plan to buy the
299-pound (that's English money) Johnson dictionary on CD-ROM to
use in place of the paper one I am fortunate to own. That's the good
side. But yesterday my wife and I were looking at a flyer from a
software sales company who wanted to sell us translation software, and
she, having spoken French and Spanish before she learned English, was
pointing out the fact that the "automatic" translations shown on screen
as examples were all pretty awful. They were not quite as bad as "Get
your pen pregnant with Parker ink" in Spanish, but the fact was that
the software is not smart enough yet to do more than a lousy and
literal translation from one language into another. The Tower of Babel
is not quite re-erected.

But we can put stuff, good and bad stuff, on a home page on the World
Wide Web, and people can write us telling us the bad stuff is bad (here
is where truth or even good taste comes in) or the incorrect stuff is
incorrect, and we can make it good or at least correct it. Also, we
can get good stuff on that home page really quickly, with technology
that is getting easier to understand and to use--thanks to people like
Bill Gates with murky motives. I am optimistic enough to think good
drives out bad in a public forum, though I can agree with Willard that
the marketplace sometimes drives out the good for the commercially
viable (USA Today as opposed to NY Times for quality and depth of

Commercialism is there in the marketing of Netscape, though, as Willard
says (did he?), that might be something of a bubble, not a babble. I
don't mind the little color advertisements that pop up on Netscape,
just as I don't mind too much the ads on PBS that come before the
classical music starts. I may buy the product, and, if it doesn't
work, not buy it again.

Babel is up again, not as a symbol of oppression but as a symbol of
quality and good communication rising to the top in what is in the best
sense a global village. We academics or we people interested in good
ideas, though we are as usual poor and oppressed, can talk about
important things, ignored by most of the people who want to make money
off of us.

Roy Flannagan