12.0556 guidelines

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 20 Apr 1999 20:21:48 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 566.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Tue, 20 Apr 1999 20:24:32 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: guidelines

Mary Dee Harris' suggestion in Humanist 12.552, that the ACH and ALLC might
develop "guidelines for evaluation of computer-related work in language,
literature and the humanities" is a very good one, though not a simple
task. She is quite correct that "such a statement would be welcome from
those who actually do this sort of work". The question is how we go about
writing such a statement.

Before I comment on that, however, I would like to suggest that the failure
of the MLA and APA (among others) to develop anything beyond an exhortation
and request for more machines and friendly support people isn't really
surprising. How can we expect organisations with specific disciplinary
interests and perspectives to comprehend a new interdisciplinary field?
They look after their own, they want what they can get for their own. Quite
understandable. If we are to make real progress beyond the faculty-support
model, however, we need to look at the problem from the other way around.
We need to ask, what does this activity look like from the perspective of
someone who takes it seriously in the academic, scholarly sense?

We are not alone or even especially radical in the attempt to consider how
the material culture of research affects what is known and how it is known,
and to construct a coherent research agenda based on the view that this
culture defines. Historians of science and technology are getting somewhere
these days doing just that -- my favourite example being Peter Galison's
Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. We have a great deal
to learn from Galison and others like him.

The first major barrier to a genuine humanities computing is the mental
adjustment. Northrop Frye once said somewhere that every discipline is the
centre of all knowledge. True enough, but unless one realises that there
are *many* such centres, one has great difficulty understanding any other
discipline, and a truly interdisciplinary field is simply beyond one's ken
altogether. By its nature humanities computing is interdisciplinary -- not
just another piece of turf but all turf viewed in a particular way. We need
to define that way, but before we can we have to be able to see it.

The second major barrier is the social one, and that means making a very
strong case. Such a case begins with the anecdotal evidence of individual
research projects that are squarely in the intersection between the
humanities and computing. This evidence needs to be presented both in terms
of the discipline of application and humanities computing. We proceed then
by assembling as much of this evidence as we can find -- in other words, by
doing the bibliographic work. Since this is scattered and often not even
reported, the job isn't an easy one, but it can be done.

The answer to Mary Dee is that the ACH is indeed working on such a
statement -- I've been deputised to do just that. Here, on Humanist, is a
good place to hammer out some of the basic issues and to build consensus,
if we can.



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