Date: Fri, 02 Apr 1999 18:48:35 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: what is this?
Now in the midst of writing a paper for the upcoming ACH/ALLC in Virginia, I
am thinking of course not just about the subject matter itself but how my
audience will receive whatever it is I end up saying. I'm wondering, that
is, how we as computing humanists communicate with each other intellectually
and so professionally -- not what might be, if we were all products of a
common curriculum, but what actually happens.
My basic question is, how do we recognise good work when we read or hear it?
A more radical form of the same question is, how do we recognise work in our
field at all? THIS IS NOT A SILLY QUESTION!
My particular subject is how one thinks with markup when tagging the making
and unmaking of persons in Ovid's Metamorphoses. I see no other alternative
than to go rather deeply into the poetry so that I can deal with processes
of thinking about personification. Providing a translation of the Latin
isn't difficult, of course. The real difficulties are two.
The first one is to communicate enough of the literary background to my
probem so that my argument makes sense to those who don't know it -- without
taking the entire time I have just setting things up. The second, much
harder one is then to find a common language in which to describe my results
so that they will be recognised as belonging to something we will all agree
is called "humanities computing". I've done the job many, many times, but
each time I worry about whether I'm actually communicating or just talking
to an imaginary audience consisting of people who know exactly what I know
(and no more than that, if you please!).
Yes, of course, this is essentially the question of how human beings
communicate at all, which certainly has me stumped, though it does happen,
and sometimes so gloriously.... BUT back to the professional realm.
Another way of putting the same matter, I suppose, is how a truly
interdisciplinary field can exist at all without itself becoming just
another piece of turf, within which people talk to each other but not very
much to those outside it. How, for example, do comparative literature types
manage without taking to the high ground of theory and ditching the
literature? Computing makes us rather different, of course, necessarily gets
us involved in other people's intellectual lives, forces us to think our way
into many fields we did not grow up in. I wonder if a useful role-model
wouldn't be the ancient Phoenician traders, who (I recall, I hope correctly)
invented the alphabet, which might be called a significant intellectual
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5081
Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>