11.0039 CS and the humanities

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 18 May 1997 22:56:35 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 39.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 16 May 1997 17:05:01 -0400
From: John Unsworth <jmu2m@virginia.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.0036 CS, the humanities and AI

Mary Dee Harris said:

>I would like to believe that the reasons behind CS and the humanities not
>communicating well over the years has many grand and noble reasons but
>some of it just plain shortsightedness -- largely on the part of the CS
>folks, I'm afraid. As a humanist turned computer scientist but
>maintaining a foot in each camp, I think both sides are a bit
>responsible. We as humanists do not always express our problems in the
>sort of rational, logical, and formalistic manner that the CS community
>is used to. But the CS folks often are not looking for problems to solve
>outside their labs, as well.

I'd like to put in a word for what may be an unusual instance of collaboration,
but one that needs to be documented in this context. The University of
Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities exists
because Bill Wulf and Alan Batson, of UVa's CS department, took an
opportunity with IBM and steered it in the direction of humanities
computing. This opening, and the continuing support of the Institute at
UVa and beyond, has a great deal to do with Alan's practical support (at
the time the Institute was set up, Alan was the head of UVa's Academic
Computing division, and continues as a faculty member in the Computer
Science Department, and an informal advisor to IATH), and with Bill's
conviction that the humanities will raise the most interesting CS
problems over the next decade or two. Many humanists will not be
familiar with Bill's name, so I should add that Mr. Wulf is former
Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation, a fellow of the
National Academy of Arts and Sciences, AT&T Computer Science professor at UVa, and President of the National Academy
of Engineering.

I guess the lesson would be that meaningful collaboration and
cross-disciplinary understanding is possible, but (as with all good
things) it depends more on the character and vision of individuals than
on institutional structures or formal initiatives.

John Unsworth / Director, IATH / Dept. of English