13.0044 humanities computing discussion

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 26 May 1999 20:57:37 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 44.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 20:54:29 +0100
From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel@mcmaster.ca>
Subject: Questions

Dear Willard,

Your essay on the principles of Humanities Computing puts an interesting
problem before us; what are the interesting problems of Humanities
Computing? I would like to suggest a few (additional) questions that might
frame the problem inspired by your essay.

1. What is a computer?

This is on the surface an easy question to answer. I could point to the
object before me and say "that is a computer", but defining the computer
becomes a problem when we start asking about the computer as a cultural
object. This question triggers a series of questions about the place of
technology and technological discourse in contemporary culture. A computer
is no longer just a computer and we in the humanities have the experience
unpacking cultural artifacts to contribute to the dialogue.

2. What is the history of computing?

This question I believe we have to continue to ask in order to be honest
with ourselves. Part of doing Humanities Computing should be the doing of
it in an historically informed fashion. In particular we need to ask
ourselves about the history of Humanities Computing and whether it might be
an administrative artifact. By this I mean that the history of Humanities
Computing might have more to do with the way universities organize
disciplines for administrative purposes than any inherent virtue.

3. How does the computer inform content?

With this question I am trying to get at the relationship between the form
of computing and the content we structure in MIDI files, graphics, WWW
sites, hypertexts and TEI encoded text files. I believe this is the central
question of Humanities Computing. Is there are relationship between the
forms imposed by computer applications and the content held by them? We may
not be able to answer this question in general; it could be that we have to
look at specific areas like text encoding, hypertext, electronic music, and
multimedia for questions we can answer.

4. What possibilities for human excellence are released by the computer?

Humanities Computing is not only a critical or intellectual discipline that
comments on computing from the privileged tower. We need to invite the
creative and performative arts back into Humanities Computing by posing
questions that are not answered but acted on. The creative artist does not
always deal with a problem when they create a work, so we must leave room
in the discipline for performances and original creations made possible by
the computer.

5. How can we learn from computing?

I leave the question about learning and teaching to the last. We are all
amateurs in this area, in the best sense. Thus I see it as a question of
how we can learn together, not how those who have mastered something can
teach others. Part of this learning is sharing a sense of danger and
possibility with others. When I know what I know I will teach it.


Geoffrey Rockwell
Humanities Computing

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