10.0608 disciplined training

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 17:32:57 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 608.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (55)
Subject: humanities computing

[2] From: mgk3k@faraday.clas.virginia.edu (29)
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

[3] From: "Alan B. Howard" (101)
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

[4] From: orlandi@rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it (18)
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

[5] From: "Todd J. B. Blayone" <todd@cyberjunkie.com> (28)
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 16:55:24 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: humanities computing

Chad Kearsley's message in Humanist 10.600 is indeed very helpful in
thinking about how to take humanities computing seriously in the
institutional sense, i.e. as an academic subject. To teach it in the form of
a postdoctoral programme is a cogent proposal worth some thought; such a
programme need not exclude teaching the subject earlier in a person's
career. Perhaps we can take up the subject of a postdoctoral programme
later, or now as a related thread.

Ideally a computing humanist is someone entirely competent both in a
non-technical field and in applied computing. Such competence is rarely
going to be achieved at the MA level, so we should design a programme as a
serious introduction to the tools and methods at the point where the student
has a coherent idea about some field of application but not mastery of it. I
would assume that such a programme should aim at training two kinds of
students: those who plan on a non-academic career, and those who
subsequently take up more advanced graduate work.

I conclude from those who work or have worked outside the academy that
serious training in applied computing in fact constitutes very good
preparation for jobs in the business world, and that students with this
training tend to be attractive to employers. I would assume that we cannot
afford to ignore them in the design of an MA programme, and it seems to me
that accommodating them should not be difficult at all nor should it in any
way diminish its value for the other kind.

For the career academic an MA programme would aim at giving students a
serious methodological introduction so that they have the range of
possibilities in mind as their specialised interests come into focus. In my
experience over the last 6 years such introductions work best before
students have done any significant amount of work on their dissertations.
(Once the dissertation is underway, few students want to hear about such
possibilities, or should; finishing is their chief desire.) With this
training, once they settle into an area of advanced work they tend quickly
to grasp where computing methods will help; they have an idea of how their
research will be affected and so have a much better chance of choosing
intelligently what to do.

Adding applied computing into existing graduate programmes without otherwise
altering them is problematic, it seems to me, because the students already
have enough to do. Interest is so great that they will nevertheless attend
informal courses and workshops, but they tend not to stay because the
pressures on them from their home departments are considerable.

If we postpone training altogether until after the PhD, how are we properly
to serve the academy or how to attract sufficient students? At that point
they are very busy attempting to find gainful employment and so produce the
rather conventional kind of published work that they must have to their
credit. Large amounts of money for postdoctoral fellowships would of course
help, but we don't have this money.

So, I would argue, an MA programme is a very good idea, I would think for a
significant proportion of the student population. Not for all of them. To
some extent, I'd suppose, computing has or will become a universal feature
of scholarly work, but I cannot see that every kind of research will ever
demand a consciously deep involvement.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 17:53:13 -0500
From: mgk3k@faraday.clas.virginia.edu
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

I don't think I'd ever want to argue that a humanities computing program
should exist in a disciplinary vacuum, but Chad Kearsley's recent post
tempts me to play devil's advocate and ask why in this thread we (all) seem
reluctant to imagine the computer as anything more than a supplement to
fields already established in the humanities; is it not possible to conceive
of the computer as an inherently humanistic instrument? Similarly, if we
take "humanities computing" as a rubric for such things as the "history of
writing" or the underground electronic music scene (as well as TEI and
TACT), doesn't this inevitably lead on to inquiry in areas recognizable to
us on their own terms?

Or, to reverse the question, are not courses and curricula in the humanities
-- the daily grind -- sometimes susceptible to the institutionalized
abstractions which lead to what the poet and critic Don Byrd calls
"statistical reality"? I'm reminded of a passage near the end of Norbert
Wiener's _The Human Use of Human Beings_: "I have spoken of machines, but
not only machines having brains of brass and thews of iron. When human atoms
are knit into an organization in which they are used, not for their full
right as responsible humans beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it
matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood. _What is used as
an element in a machine, is in fact an element in the machine_. Whether we
entrust our decisions to machines of metal, or to those machines of flesh
and blood which are bureaus and vast laboratories and armies and
corporations, we shall never receive the right answers to our questions
unless we ask the right questions" (emphasis in original).

Which of course begs the question of what the right questions are.


Matthew G. Kirschenbaum University of Virginia
mgk3k@virginia.edu Department of English
http://faraday.clas.virginia.edu/~mgk3k/ Electronic Text Center

Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 09:15:01 -0500 (EST)
From: "Alan B. Howard" <abh9h@faraday.clas.virginia.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

In response to Chad Kearsley:

I heartily agree that the problem is to integrate learning and
teaching in the humanities. I also agree also that one danger we
face is the temptation to substitute training in the technology
for improved training in the disciplines; the technology will
allow us to do it faster, to distribute it more widely, to
reach audiences outside our normal orbits, and to do all of
this with the extraordinary impacet that this technology
delivers right now. But, as Thoreau remarked on the introduction
of the telegraph, faster and farther reaching
communication amounts to little if no one has anything worth

And so I'd like, again, to invite Chad and others to take a
serious look at


This site is dedicated to learning THROUGH the technology, not
under it or beside it or in addition to it. The technology
provides a new and very powerful way of doing interdisciplinary
studies, not simply a novel delivery system for disseminating
the same old product. It is focused on
undergraduates and Masters-level students -- not on post
doctoral candidates. And, while it does not yield the kind of
perfect blend of Humanities Scholar and Systems Engineer some
think desirable and necessary, it does yield students who go on
to Ph.D. programs in the Humanities (including the American
Studies Program at Chad's own UNC) as well as writers and
information managers at Humanities related locations like The
Chronicle of Higher Education, PoliticsUSA, Edmark, and Harper

In short, I believe that the real challenge is to integrate the
technology into teaching at every level. I believe that that
won't be easy because it will require re-thinking how andwhy we
teach on adiscipline-by-discipline basis. And this will require
great imagination and courage not alone because these qualities
are no more widely dispersed in academia than in the population
at large, but also because the technology offers the
comfortable illusion of progress that is, at bottom, little
more than more attractive packaging.


Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 09:58:27 +0000 (GMT)
From: orlandi@rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

In this discussion, where I already tried to take part, if "humanities
curriculum" means curriculum in the British university, then disregard
what follows. Otherwise, Siemens' opinion

> >The ideal computing humanist, in my mind, who might be 'shaped' (if you
> >will) by a program such as that suggested earlier by Willard is this: a
> >humanist who brings to his or her specific discipline an understanding and
> >application of the computing tools which are relevant to it, and an open
> >mind to explore others which may be so as well.

misses the point, because it is NOT computing tools which matter, but
the principles of computing. If you do not understand them, you will
never be able to utilize the "tools" sensibly.


Tito Orlandi orlandi@rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it
CISADU - Fac. di Lettere Tel. 39.6.4991-3936
P.zale Aldo Moro, 5 Fax 39.6.4991-3945
00185 Roma

Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 00:38:27 -0500
From: "Todd J. B. Blayone" <todd@cyberjunkie.com>
Subject: Re: 10.0606 disciplined training

> Perhaps the curriculum being suggested by Howard, Kirschenbaum,
> Giardano, McCarty and others might be better suited to a post-doctoral
> program rather than an M.A. or Ph.D. program. In this way the next
> generation of computing humanists will be able to bring to the table the
> same strong disciplined training that the current generation appears to
> have brought.

Your comments seem to presuppose that "the humanities" transcends
particular communications technologies. Matt's program appears to recognize
that cultural production and research is always bound up with particular
communications technologies. In this way, his program is not an add-on, but
a reconceptualization of the humanities (as traditionally understood). A
student of this program would study/practice the production/mediazation,
transmediazation, transmission, and reception of (traditional and
non-traditional) cultural phenomena
in computer media. Such a program would be wildly interdisciplinary (by
current humanist standards) and would be taught by a variety of academics
and other specialists (traditional literature/language scholars, new-media
artists/authors, media critics, Web designers, programmers, business
people, etc.)

Perhaps Matt can correct me if I am simply reading my prejudices
into his proposed program of study.


Todd J. B. Blayone / webRhetor
todd@cyberjunkie.com / webrhetor@bitsmart.com
757 Victoria Park Ave. #1609 - Toronto, ON - Canada - M4C 5N8