13.0252 humanities computing

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 20:47:52 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 252.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (66)
Subject: performer/composer, merchant trader

[2] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com> (55)
Subject: Re: 13.0244 humanities computing projects

[3] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (68)
Subject: reading,writing,listening,speaking

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 20:41:06 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: performer/composer, merchant trader

In Humanist 13.244, Francois Lachance suggests that the question I am
asking might be making a distinction parallel to that commonly made between
performer and composer, which in its crudest form privileges the latter as
the creative genius, the former as mere conduit. More precisely, in
Francois' terms the distinction would be between the mere performer and the
composer-performer, or perhaps even better, the performer of explicitly
transcribed music and the improvisational jazz musician. In sitting as
judge on the scene, though, all we have are performances; in other words,
we need to ask, where is the music?

I suppose that there will never be more than a relatively small minority of
people who are directly concerned with humanities computing as such, but
there will continue to be many who use computers in research, some of these
very intelligently. Those of us specialists in the field will rejoice when
one of the intelligent applications is accompanied by an explicit concern
with the consequences and implications of computing for the research it
manifests. One hopes that more of our colleagues will make observations on
the computing -- after all, they are right there where the action is -- but
I suppose that it would be foolish to think that this would be the usual
outcome. We can hardly require it! If I am right, then usually the
specialists, such as myself, will need to continue to be observers and
interpreters of the work of others as well as researchers in our own right.
That is, a significant portion of what *we* mean by research is extraction
of consequences and implications from the research of others.
Methodological anthropologists? So, we come full-circle back to the
rootless trader in intellectual goods, the Phoenician merchant of the
settled academic world, who is the only one in any position to invent the

I quote Palladas (4th C), whose words, translated by Toni Harrison, I found
the other day as a Poem on the Underground:

Loving the rituals that keep us close,
Nature created means for friends apart:
pen, paper, ink, the alphabet,
signs for the distant and disconsolate heart.

Our job in these terms is, as William Morris said, to awaken in our
colleagues the realisation that "fellowship is life, lack of fellowship is
death" -- to make them realise how disconsolate they are :-). I agree, we
certainly won't succeed by telling them that they don't belong; resentment
is different from disconsolate longing! Better to ask the question, how do
they belong? Better to make ourselves so attractive that they'd leap an
ocean to be with us.

I am quite concerned that we do not isolate ourselves behind a bristling
wall of specialisation, that we do not construct ourselves as a "science"
in the popular sense of that term -- a kind of honorific, as Searle notes,
that we would be much better without (Minds, Brains and Science, p. 11). He
goes on: "The rival picture I want to suggest is this: what we are all
aiming at in intellectual disciplines is knowledge and understanding. There
is only knowledge and understanding, whether we have it in mathematics,
literary criticism, history, physics, or philosophy." By nature much of
our knowledge and understanding comes directly from elsewhere in the
humanities, and we get this partially by observation, partially through
collegial service. Without the years many of us have spent helping our
colleagues, where would we be? What would we know?

So, again, I recommend we begin with the image of the rootless
merchant-trader, not a slave to anyone, not denizen of yet another
fortified city, but a new kind, with a unique sort of perspective. And
again, for what it is worth, I cannot recommend strongly enough Peter
Galison's study of interdisciplinarity in microphysics, Image and Logic. He
is very, very good at demonstrating the intellectual power and excitement
that the truly interdisciplinary perspective has to offer.



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

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 20:41:37 +0100
From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
Subject: Re: 13.0244 humanities computing projects

Willard and HUMANIST:

I was struck by something interesting in Norman Hinton's coverage of your
"spectral analysis" of Humanities Computing. After nos. 4 and 5, which
successively qualify, we get:

> > 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.
>Well, the last part doesn't have much to do with computing, I think.

In other words, according to Norman, the spectrum ranges in and then out
again at both ends....

To summarize: "traditional Humanities" becomes Humanities Computing as
computing-based methods are, first, applied, and then especially when those
methods become the overt center of attention. Then, as discussion shifts
away from the methods themselves and back towards the "meta-concerns" of
discipline, society and culture that are implicated in their application
and study (and in the natural stress implicit in the first shift from
"humanity" to "computing" as subjects for our attention), it becomes less
"Humanities Computing" per se, and more "plain old" Humanities. So: the
relation of humanity to computing is a Humanities issue, but is it one in
Humanities Computing?

It may be characteristic of any academic discipline that it tends to become
its own subject. More true of some than others, I suppose. Where this is
healthy (being necessary to ground any claim to knowledge), and where
pathological (being naval-gazing) seems to be a deeper question. My sense
is that at a certain point, literary studies, history and philosophy all
seek to liberate themselves from themselves, and not just from their
methods but from their matter, to re-enter a discourse that is both larger,
and (begging some questions) more "generally relevant" than their narrow
fields of investigation. So the crisis of identity is bound up not just
with the question of what the discipline is, but also with its aspiring to
this reaching-beyond, and an anxious wondering whether, when and if the
aspiration is realized, the discipline at the foundation is necessary in
the first place. We should not forget that the question we ask about
Humanities Computing besets its parent disciplines as well.

Ironic that the wellsprings of creativity seem to lie in such impossible
endeavors, isn't it, with their reasonless passion to be at once within and

Best regards,

Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 20:41:47 +0100
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: reading,writing,listening,speaking


Since in my last missive I came very close to declaring that in a
certain cognitive fashion arithmatic is no differenct from the
language arts, I wish to treat you to some excerpts of a little report to
a colleague...

----- Forwarded message from lachance -----

>From lachance Tue Oct 26 22:17:19 1999

You asked what I'm working on these days.

I'm concluding the online learning course for continuing studies.
I've got a couple of additional pieces to add to the course
site. Namely a "translation" of the four literacy skills [reading,
writing, speaking,listening] into four multimedia skills (i.e. more than
applicable to verbal arts). I've manage to rename them thus:

reading parsing (attentive to breaks & groupings)
writing scripting (writing as a score for performance)
listening observing (careful looking too)
speaking performing (evident bit to storytellers)

Evidently there is a theatrical model at work here.

What I did discover when I presented this in class last week and moved to
the third phase of the translation was an amazing divide between machine
and human rooted in some very fundamental assumptions about the activity
of reading (i know rooting a divide ... is a mixed metaphor *smile*).

Keeping with the theme of skills, I wanted to build up the findings of
the School of Continuing Studies (University of Toronto) research into
online learning from the 1997 Carrier Pigeon Project. For that project I
had designed an evaluation instrument that summarized human-computer
interaction in terms of producing, exchanging, and finding (basically
using the computer to create files, to communicate with other file
creators and to locate creations and contact info for creators and
creations). All this seemed very machine-centred. I had taken for granted
the activity of reading (on and off screen) and with the help of a most
insightful committee the evalutation instrument was revamped.

When I introduced this in class I presented a 3:1 grouping. Three
machine-centred activities and 1 human centred. Reading was just so
different. Well upon further reflection and considering that I am
soon presenting on helping students experience searchable text databases
(TACTWeb) for the Teaching On in Higher Education conference, I want to
take up the last translation in terms of working _with_ the machine. In
retrospect, it is evident we create with the computer, we communicate with
the computer, we manage files and store information with the computer.
This is a bit different than those advertizing promises that claim
computers do things _for_ us.

So now I can complete the translations from language arts (literacy
skills) to theatre (performance/perception skills) to a networked
environment in what I might call, after Selia Karsten's work, a more
holistic fashion.

Having done this thinking in a message to you, I just might send a copy to
the course participants who somehow got me to discussing the four
language arts during a discussion of Andy Lippman's definition of
interactivity and how it is built out of contrasting conversation
with lecture. Interactivity modeled principlely as interruptable
conversation may not sufficiently value certain skills such as
listening. Of course most of the Lippman material has come to me through a
single source (Stewart Brand's _The Media Lab_) so there is a bit more
research to do here or a least some caution in any further write up of
these cognitive explorations.

Thanks for the question.
Hope you like some of the answer.


----- End of forwarded message from lachance -----
the URL for site for the oline learning course
with a splash page illustrated by graphic collectively designed and
approved by the students themselves (it was their first assignment and a
very good icebreaker)

"my peer is my student, my teacher"

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