13.0239 humanities computing projects

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 19 Oct 1999 06:11:22 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 239.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 06:05:44 +0100
From: Charles Faulhaber <cbf@socrates.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Re: 13.0236 humanities computing & editing &al.?

If I read Willard right, then projects such as my database of medieval
Spanish manuscripts, PhiloBiblon, do not qualify as humanities computing,
since the intent is not to study "the consequences and implications of
computational methods" but rather to provide a resource for my colleagues
in the field of medieval Spanish literature.

If this is so, then the proposition is manifestly absurd.

Charles Faulhaber Department of Spanish UC Berkeley, CA 94720-2590
(510) 642-3781 FAX (510) 642-7589 cbf@socrates.berkeley.edu

On Fri, 15 Oct 1999, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 236.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>
> <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>
> Date: Fri, 15 Oct 1999 07:55:06 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> Recently a colleague pointed out to me that in my attempts to think through
> what we call "humanities computing", computer-assisted projects that
> prepare editions, archives and other electronic resources did not seem to
> fit. I'm not an editor by trade, though my primary (traditional) scholarly
> focus for the last decade has been on preparation of a reference work, and
> this has involved me with many issues common to editing. So I feel
> qualified to reply, and I reply in public because I think the basic
> question is important.
> In my project I distinguish between two sorts of activity:
> (1) everything involved in preparing the reference work, including research
> on problems raised in its traditional scholarly field and those that occur
> in the course of using computational methods;
> (2) study of the consequences and implications of those computational
> It seems to me that (1), however scholarly and consequential to the
> traditional field in which I work, does not constitute humanities computing
> per se, only (2) does. Now the two are of course so intimately intertwined
> and grown together that in fact they cannot be separated, but they can be
> distinguished.
> Let us say for the purposes of argument that I did (1) but not (2).
> Actually this happens all the time by scholars in traditional areas who
> either don't have the time to pursue (2) while they are doing (1) or don't
> think (2) important, or perhaps don't even notice it. Would, then, my
> project properly qualify as "humanities computing"? I think not -- it would
> only be one of the many that unselfconsciously use computing on a
> humanities project. (It would also have much, much less to contribute to
> its traditional field, but that's a whole issue in itself.)
> If we were to say that all projects qualify in which the computer plays a
> significant role, then we would have more difficulty finding research that
> did not qualify than research that did. But in so enlarging the domain of
> our practice, we would in effect be declaring that it had no intellectual
> integrity, no distinguishing point of view, no definition.
> Philosophers, for example, like to say that their field includes all
> thought, historians everything that has ever happened, biologists all
> living systems, linguists all language. Works well in promotional blurbs to
> attract students and does root each field solidly in human culture. But of
> course when you enroll in a programme in one of those fields you discover
> that only some aspects of thought, happenings, life, language are of
> interest and the ways of looking at them are sharply focused. Excluding
> most happenings from history neither denigrates those happenings (such as
> being in love, or finishing one's dissertation) nor kills history. The
> limitations thus imposed make the field able to put the excluded phenomena
> into meaningful context and so inform these phenomena.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
> Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
> voice: +44 (0)171 848 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 848 5081
> <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/>
> maui gratia

Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>