13.0241 humanities computing projects

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:42:57 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 241.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Tito Orlandi <orlandi@rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it> (24)
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

[2] From: Martin Mueller <martinmueller@nwu.edu> (129)
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

[3] From: jhumphre <jhumphre@mail.xula.edu> (33)
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

[4] From: Daniel O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca> (38)
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

[5] From: Roberta Astroff <r4a@psulias.psu.edu> (130)
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

[6] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (59)
Subject: what is a humanities computing project?

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:12:06 +0100
From: "by way of Humanist <humanist@kcl.ac.uk>"
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

Charles Faulhaber Department of Spanish UC Berkeley, CA 94720-2590

> 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.

I do not think so. The issue at stake is rather: does there
exist a discipline which we may call "humanities computing",
distinct from "philology computing" -- that would be your
case -- "history computing", "archaeology computing", etc.
etc. etc.? And what would qualify that discipline? Or simply
"humanities computing" is a general way to indicate all
individual applications?

For the sake of research, this is perhaps not much relevant,
but when one tries and organize academic courses...

Tito Orlandi

Tito Orlandi orlandi@rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it
CISADU - Fac. di Lettere Tel. 39+06.4991-3936
P.zale Aldo Moro, 5 Fax 39+60.4991-3945
00185 Roma http://rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it/~orlandi

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:12:26 +0100
From: Martin Mueller <martinmueller@nwu.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

I agree with Charles Faulhaber that Willard's division probably doesn't
work. In fact, one might want to argue that "the study of the consequences
and implications of those computational methods" isn't humanities computing
either, but some subset of the sociology of knowledge.

Perhaps a subtraction model offers a practical definition. If I write a
book on a word processor but might just as well have banged it out on a
manual typewriter, I'm not doing "humanities computing," however much I say
that I could never have done it without my laptop. If I do a project that
couldn't be done without a computer or if I pay some systematic attention
to the ways in which the new tool allows me me to ask a new question, or
solve old questions more economically or address them in a more
comprehensive fashion, then I'm doing "humanities computing" even if I
couldn't tell one line of code from another.

Then there are the toolbuilders, the much smaller community of technically
minded scholars who produce software or are involved in the development of
standards. You couldn't make an argument that only what they do is
humanities computing in a strict sense. But it would seem silly to draw a
sharp line between the folks who build tools and the folks who use the tools.

Martin Mueller
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. USA

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:12:56 +0100
From: jhumphre <jhumphre@mail.xula.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

On the other hand, perhaps Willard is correct.

Is it possible that there is a need for two distinct groups or lists, namely, a
humanities list and a humanities computing list? Although I use computers, web
sites, multi-media, etc. in my teaching, I am using technology only as a
means to
an end and not as an end in itself. I am pleased that there are those who are
studying the use of computing in the humanities; if they make advances that
I can employ in my teaching, I will be happy to use their results. But my
real interest is in the humanities.

The main reason that I come to this list is that sometimes there is either
information that can be used by my students, or there are links to interesting
humanities sites. By saying this, of course, I am not suggesting that
those who are interested in humanities computing should cease their
efforts or change the orientation of their research. But would it not be
helpful to have an additional list devoted more specifically to the
humanities (content)?


Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:13:09 +0100
From: Daniel O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca>
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

Willard's distinction between humanities computing as 1) using computers
to do humanities and 2) thinking about how computers can be used to do
humanities seems to be a real one to me. I am doing an electronic
edition of a 9-line Old English poem (i.e. aspect #1) but spend what
seems to me to be an inordinate amount of time working out how to do it
(aspect #2).

At the same time, however, I wonder how useful the distinction is if it
applied in an exclusionary way. Currently the two parts of humanities
computing work symbiotically. People's decisions about what goes into
their work is still influenced by what their computers can do, and what
computers can do is still changing in response to what people want to do
with them. Our practice has not yet developed to the point that
somebody beginning a major or even a minor computer-based project can be
assured that the tools will be available to allow him or her to complete
the job without any kind of thought about basic technological
issues--something that happens with paper humanities all the time.
There really still are no--or if I've missed something, very few-- 'off
the shelf' humanities computing kits.

Just as importantly, the solutions people are developing in the response
to specific problems in their own projects are still having a general
effect on the field as a whole. I've been developing a way of encoding
a textual apparatus so that it is self-lemmatising. This is a response
to a particular problem in my edition of Caedmon's Hymn. Since
announcing that I was working on it, I've had requests from scores of
people doing nothing remotely connected to Old English for more
information. Apparently there is still room for generalising from
specific examples.

I think this will change in time. I think we will gradually come to see
a division between Willard's aspects 1 and 2. There are already people
who are expert in specific systems and languages rather than specific
projects. Some of the questions we are asking--about database theory or
building artificial intelligence into our projects--are ultimately going
to need to be addressed by experts whose principle interest lies in
these topics rather than their application to specific texts or data.
But we are still not there yet. The people who are primarily interested
in their subject and not the media are still making important
technological and theoretical contributions to the study of humanities
computing in abstract.


Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:13:24 +0100
From: Roberta Astroff <r4a@psulias.psu.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0239 humanities computing projects

McCarty suggests that humanities computing should be defined as:

> (2) study of the consequences and implications of those computational
>> >
only. But (1) any study, or field of study, that attempts to analyze
consequences and implications while excluding the production, design, and
content of that which is causing consequences is by definition incomplete.
The equivalent in media studies produced decades of research on "media
effects" that, by not taking into account producers, production, design and
content (as anything more than message delivery), isolated media use from
its contexts. (2) It also creates a pointless separation between those
scholars creating databases, critical electronic editions, electronic
archives, and hyperlinked criticism and analyses and those scholars who are
investigating the impact of these new tools and media. I don't see what we
gain by the distinction.

Roberta Astroff, Ph.D.
Humanities Librarian
Arts & Humanities Library
The University Libraries
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802

814 865-0660

Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 21:15:05 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: what is a humanities computing project?

In Humanist 13.236 I made an attempt to discriminate the aspects of a
computer-assisted project that we would call "humanities computing" from
those we wouldn't. I noted two components to my own:

>(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 methods.

commenting that I thought

>(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

Charles Faulhaber in Humanist 13.239, having read my deliberate provocation
correctly, found the criterion I offered "manifestly absurd", since it
excluded his database of medieval Spanish manuscripts, PhiloBiblon -- and
clearly many other scholarly works. Although he may be correct in his
assessment, I'd think that the attempt to figure out what we mean by a
"humanities computing project" is worth the effort. Otherwise how are we
going to evaluate, say, a student's dissertation or a colleague's work that
claims to be in whole or in part such a project? This is not a question for
the future; I have received four such projects for evaluation within the
last few months.

Let's try another approach. Let's say we have a range of projects with the
following characteristics. Irrespective of how good the projects are in the
field of application, where would you draw the line between those that are
humanities computing projects and those that are not?

1. Published papers on the project written using a word-processor;
otherwise no involvement with the computer.
2. Wordprocessing, plus a Web site describing the project, perhaps offering
online papers in which its results in the field of application are discussed.
3. The above, plus access (online and/or CD-ROM) to the data of the project
through some straightforward query mechanism, e.g. concordancer, list of
4. The above, plus a significant role for the application of standard
computational tools, such as a concordancer or image-manipulation program,
to problems in the field of application.
5. The above, plus significant scholarly contribution in metadata and/or
through specialised analytic algorithms, e.g. which allow lemmatised
searching, automatic generation of probable synonyms from an ancillary
lexical database, location of similar shapes in image data.
6. Some or all of the above, plus explicit, published analysis and
discussion of the consequences and implications of the computational
methods employed for scholarly problems in the field of application and in
other fields in the humanities.
7. The above, plus cogent discussion of how the project and others like it
affect the epistemology and sociology of knowledge.

The first is set *very* low, the last *very* high to allow the spectrum to
appear out of and disappear into the invisible, as it were.

Please note that the intent here is not to exclude in the social or
academic sense, only to be more precise about the research agenda in our field.

Comments, including a better list, most welcome.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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

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