9.682 designing a position in humanities computing

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Wed, 3 Apr 1996 21:30:30 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 682.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (50)
Subject: designing a position

[2] From: John Slatin <jslatin@mail.utexas.edu> (70)
Subject: Re: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

[3] From: Chris Ann Matteo <chrisann@phoenix.Princeton.EDU> (29)
Subject: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

[4] From: "Alan D. Bulley" <s458507@aix1.uottawa.ca> (46)
Subject: Re: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

[5] From: tomdill@womenscol.stephens.edu (15)
Subject: Re: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 21:09:02 -0500
From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu>
Subject: humanities computing jobs

With continuing thanks to H-CLC, here follow more contributions to the
discussion on how the needs of computing humanists are best to be met by a
staff or faculty position.


*Date: Tue, 2 Apr 1996 12:00:49 -0500 (EST)
*From: David Hoover <hoover@is.nyu.edu>

On Mon, 1 Apr 1996, H-CLC (BD) wrote:

> Date: Tue, 2 Apr 1996 00:48:13 -0500 (EST)
> From: K. Marie Mennie <kmennie@ccs.carleton.ca>
> Regarding the literary academic with a large computer bent:
> This _is_ an employee that I'd guess most universities, my own included,
> _desperately_ need.
> It's also a position that might be easily and cheaply filled by a student,
> or a few students.
> *-+-------------+------*--------------------------------+----------*--+
> news: alt.fan.kia-mennie mail: kmm@aaln.org
> web: superior.carleton.ca/~kmennie/, and/or aaln.org/ht_lit/
> *-+-------------+------*---------------------------------+-----------*--+
> `From ignorance our comfort flows / The only wretched are the wise.'

This is, unfortunately, I think, a very common notion. Since many
students are very proficient with computers, why not use students to
support humanities computing, support and develop web sites, teach
faculty how to use equipment, and provide software support? Some of these
duties might be profitably given to students, but I think it would be
inadvisable to overestimate the importance of technical wizardry. A
department's (or university's) web site seems to me to require faculty
presence, input, control, and humanities computing requires expertise in
the subject matter as well as computer technology. My fear is that the
cheap way will be taken even when it is inappropriate. To my mind, a
humanities computing faculty member (with a technical support staff,
perhaps partly students) with full faculty status, teaching and committee
duties is a far better model, and one more likely to be useful and
comfortable for faculty. Now, if we can only sell the idea to
administrators and keep from overwhelming such a person with minutia so
that he or she cannot achieve tenure (if it still exists).
David L. Hoover, Assoc. Prof. of Engl. hoover@is.nyu.edu / 212-998-8832
Webmaster, English Department http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/english


*Date: Tue, 02 Apr 1996 11:26:54 -0500
*From: Joanne Riley <jriley@jhu.edu>

Here is some info about how we deal with this question of faculty tech
support at Hopkins:

The Academic Computing Center of the School of Arts & Sciences and
Engineering includes three senior staff positions called "Discipline
Specialists" to focus on supporting faculty's technology needs. I am the
"Humanities Specialist" (I have a Masters degree in Ethnomusicology and
another in Ed Tech); there is also an "Engineering Specialist" and a
"Sciences Specialist". We do NOT do networking and the like, although on
occasion we have been known to do a bit of configuration here and there
when our tech staff is overloaded. Instead, we consult with faculty
re/educational technology issues, translate techno-babble for them, do
triage for the tech staff, advise on purchases, keep them up to date on
developments in the computer field related to their areas of research, put
out a "Faculty Computing Handbook", create web sites for teaching and
research, do guest teaching in their classes upon request, assess teaching
technologies, etc etc etc. It seems to work very well - the faculty like
communicating with an Acad Computing person who is trained in their general
area, and I enjoy the position a lot. There is occasional talk about
making this a faculty position, but to me, being senior staff makes more
sense, since I'm not focusing specifically on my academic field
(musicology) -

Do let me know if you would like more info... Best of luck with your search.



Joanne Riley
Humanities Specialist
Homewood Academic Computing
Johns Hopkins University
3400 North Charles Street
Krieger Hall 163
Baltimore, MD 21218


*Date: Tue, 02 Apr 96 15:13:45
*From: Rosanne G. Potter <rgpotter@iastate.edu>

> Our position would expect an advanced degree in
> literature and probably start at around $38,000.
> Thanks! Nelson

Lovely to know that such positions exist. At our place most of this job is
done by a staff person, a young techie with no academic background, and the

> to teach one or two
> courses related to "computer mediated communication" or "computers in
> literary studies".

is being done willy-nilly when those of us with experience teach other
faculty on the side and our students in the process of teaching other

Rosanne G. Potter
Iowa State University


*Date: Tue, 2 Apr 1996 15:45:22 -0800 (PST)
*From: Stan Beeler <sbeeler@andreae.unbc.edu>

I have watched with interest this discussion of a humanities computing
position. I think that my own position is very much like the one
described. I was hired as a faculty member in the English Programme under
the job description of Literature Technology and Communication. My
background is in humanities computing and 17th century lit and I teach
both here. Sometimes I find myself doing a lot of "details" like
replacing hard drives on the web servers that I manage, but in general I
am a faculty member like any other. I try to train graduate students to
assist in computer related projects at UNBC, but I don't think that
students can handle all of the responsibilities that are required. Good
support staff can be very important, however, humanities computing is
becoming so specialized that one needs to know a substantial amount about
both humanities and computing in order to do research that "pushes the
envelope." There is also the danger that one can become involved in other
people's work to the detriment of personal research goals.

|Dr. Stan Beeler |English Programme | University of Northern B.C. |
|e-mail:sbeeler@andreae.unbc.edu | WWW: http://quarles.unbc.edu |

Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 08:28:05 -0600
From: John Slatin <jslatin@mail.utexas.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

Joseph Wilson is right, in my view: one person can't provide *professional*
network administration and high quality scholarship and teaching. I say
this after having tried to do so for some five years. Not quite two years
ago, I was able for the first time to hire a full-time Systems Analyst to
manage our growing network (the Computer Writing and Research Lab now
operates three networked classrooms, a multimedia lab for student projects,
and a research lab for graduate students; we w ill be adding a fourth
classroom in the fall), and the difference has been as night and day. At
the time we hired our SA, we had only two classrooms and the research lab,
and all of them were adjacent to each other; frankly I could not have
successfully made the transition to the next level of service, as we brought
our third classroom online and upgraded the equipment in the existing
classrooms. I put the oriignal network together, and for some reason it was
still more or less working; but it certainly wasn't working optimally, and
it's purely miraculous that we didn't have a major crash. I couldn't do it now.

But I don't want to put the matter in merely negative terms as I've just
done. Even more important, I think, is that having the services of a highly
skilled, well trained professional has given me and my colleagues and our
graduate students the capacity to innovate, pedagogically and in scholarly
terms, in ways that would not have been possible previously. To cite just
one instance, the CWRL now maintains the largest instructional Web site at
UT Austin, with over 7000 files including syllabi, on-line "handouts," an
electronic journal, and a great deal of undergraduate work. We couldn't
have done this without the support of someone who was trained to *listen*
carefully to clients' needs and assist with translating those concerns into
computational terms. It was very helpful, I think, that our first SA (who
left in December for a job that paid $10,000 more than I could offer) was
also a practicing writer with an undergraduate degree in English-- although
some of our computing practices must have seemed to him, shall we say,
"non-standard" from the standpoint of a computer professional, he was
prepared to recognize the value of our pedagogical and scholarly efforts and
find ways to help us realize our ambitions. Our current SA has only the
technical background, and while he's technically excellent, I must say that
he doesn't seem to have the same grasp of what we're after.

The Computer Writing and Research Lab is administered by the Division of
Rhetoric and Composition. The situation in the Department of English (a
separate unit) is very different. The English Department has never commited
resources to a full-time support position, or even a half-time position
(we're a department of 80 faculty, 150 grad students, 15+ staff). And there
*is no departmental network*, though I have been writing proposals for one
since 1987 and have had the basic approvals in place since 1992. The
Department continues to rely on volunteer help from already overworked grad
students and staff (the most technically competent member of staff quit a
few months ago because she had been asked too often to help recalcitrant
faculty solve minor technical problems *in addition to* her regular staff
duties). The University has just taken a major initiative to purchase
computers for faculty; some 45 members of the department just received
powerful new computers that many of them do not know how to use, and there
is no staff support.

As for Willard's Big Question-- what is humanities computing, and how do we
integrate it into the curriculum?-- there is no single answer, except
perhaps for this one: humanities computing requires that we express our
various disciplinary concerns-- our theories, our knowledge, our pedagogical
and scholarly practices-- fully in computational terms. This is what TEI
attempts to do; it's also what software like TACT attempts to do: these
efforts amount to theories of textuality and reading expressed
computatoinally, just as hypertext programs like Storyspace amount to
computationally expressed theories of writing. The caveat-- or one of
them-- is that the results may not look at all as our prior experience
might lead us to expect; those of us who've been practicing print-based
scholarship throughout our careers think we already know what "theorizing"
looks like, and certainly our less computationally inclined colleagues will
have trouble recognizing software as theory (or scholarly practice).

Well, I'd better stop there for now; sorry for the long ramble. I hope some
of it somewhere helps someone!

Professor John M. Slatin
Director, Computer Writing & Research Lab
Div. of Rhetoric and Composition and Dept. of English
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712
jslatin@mail.utexas.edu http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu

Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 09:55:23 -0500 (EST)
From: Chris Ann Matteo <chrisann@phoenix.Princeton.EDU>
Subject: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

Will Ms. Mennie please reply and clarify what is meant by "easily and
cheaply filled by...students"?

I'm all for including the possibility that post-grad students might very
well qualify for the sorts of positions which HUMANIST is attempting to
define here. However, the "cheaply" concerns me.

Am I wrong to be worried that such language threatens to "cheapen" the
value of this emerging professional? Shouldn't we be trying to ensure
that literary/computing specialists don't fall the way of writing
instructors and adjunct faculty -- "temp profs" with little security,
support, or credibility at colleges or universities? The types of
positions often filled by students?

Rather than degrading such emergent positions (or demoralizing students
for that matter), let's enrich the value of this important and debateable

Chris Ann Matteo chrisann@phoenix.princeton.edu
Comparative Literature 318 East Pyne Hall, P'ton NJ 08544
Princeton University 530 W. 113th St., 4B, NY NY 10025
Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 10:31:20 -0500 (EST)
From: "Alan D. Bulley" <s458507@aix1.uottawa.ca>
Subject: Re: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

On Wed, 3 Apr 1996, Willard McCarty forwarded the following comment:

> *Date: Tue, 2 Apr 1996 00:48:13 -0500 (EST)
> *From: K. Marie Mennie <kmennie@ccs.carleton.ca>
> Regarding the literary academic with a large computer bent:
> This _is_ an employee that I'd guess most universities, my own included,
> _desperately_ need.
> It's also a position that might be easily and cheaply filled by a student,
> or a few students.

Now, I don't know what anyone else thought of this idea but I think it is
lacking in a few areas:

1) The kind of humanities computing position that has been described so
far (specialisation in a humanities discipline, coupled with a very high
degree of facility with computing) cannot simply be filled with one or
more students working on a part-time basis. A position like this needs
the kind of continuity from one year to the next that students can simply
not guarantee. Furthermore, this kind of work is time-consuming and would
more than likely require a full-time appointment.

2) Beyond the time requirement, there is the question of integration of
computing into the humanities discipline. This necessitates hiring
someone who is not simply a graduate student and "handy with computers,"
but who has taken the time to think out properly the implications of
information technology for research, pedagogy, the university, society as
a whole, and thinking itself (not an exhaustive list, by any means). Again,
not the best place for a student.

3) Hiring a student or students to fill a "humanities computing" position
will probably help to guarantee that the position never receives any
respect from faculty members and committees that are not onside with the
use of IT in the humanities in the first place. This is a sure way to
relegate humanities computing to the margins. If Prof. Mennie is really
convinced that the position is one that universities "_desperately_
need," then such desperation should be able to find the necessary funds
and level of academic appointment for the person hired to do the work.

4) ...which leads in to my last point: if the position is so "_desperately_
needed," why talk in the same breath of filling it "easily and cheaply"
with students? Some people might call that view cynical; I couldn't
possibly comment.

Alan D. Bulley
Faculty of Theology/Faculte de theologie |s458507@aix1.uottawa.ca
Saint Paul University/Universite St-Paul |abulley@spu.stpaul.uottawa.ca
Ottawa, Canada

Fax: (613) 782-3005

Date: Wed, 3 Apr 1996 13:52:22 -0600
From: tomdill@womenscol.stephens.edu
Subject: Re: 9.677 design of a position in humanities computing

I have followed the responses to Nelson Hilton's query about a
humanist/computer expert administrator position with great
interest, but must interject my probably small and local question--
the responses come in the language and with the orientation of
large university-based faculty--I teach at a small liberal arts
college that faces the same problems and is impossibly exploiting
and burdening the one faithful computer administrator who must
be all things to all people but who does not, for example, have
tome to figure out the problems implicit in a lone English
major's wish to do a hypertext project in Storyspace. (Actually,
I have been able to help with that from the depths of my ignorance.)
So the question is--if such a position could be described and
incorporated into a small program or department, how would that
differ from the kinds of problems already delineated by the
message from, for example, Rice University?
Tom Dillingham