13.0311 disciplinary/interdisciplinary problems

Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Sun, 5 Dec 1999 16:00:45 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 311.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu> (43)
Subject: Re: 13.0307 teething problems

[2] From: Darryl Whetter <whetter@nbnet.nb.ca> (134)
Subject: Re: 13.0308 disciplinary/interdisciplinary problems

[3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (33)
Subject: curriculum vitae

Date: Sun, 05 Dec 1999 20:52:16 +0000
From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0307 teething problems

Dear Willard,

I agree with your concerns about computing in the humanities but I think there
is too much focus on gatekeeping and too little on farming. By gatekeeping I
mean concerns like universities developing standards for computing in the
humanities or that poorly done (or understood) use of computers in the
humanities will get undue credit. Most disciplines have standards for academic
work but they develop as part of the academic culture and are at best
formalized (some would say fossilized) by university based standards. I think
we should discuss how to promote the development of a computing in the
humanities community. One consequence (characteristic?) of a community is the
development of commonly accepted practices and norms that answer the question
of what is in or out and what conduct is acceptable.

By farming I mean promoting computing in the humanities as a community by
example and developing materials to introduce scholars to the field. There are
examples of computing in the humanities projects in every issue of "Computers
and the Humanities" and "Literary and Linguistic Computing." Unfortunately,
these projects are not easily accessible to scholars not already conversant
with computing in the humanities. Nor is there an abundance of textbook like
materials for either young scholars or more senior ones interested in entering
computing in the humanities. We would be surprised if the physics community
decided to rely upon the "Physical Review Letters" as the only source of
materials for training young physicists. It is an important journal in physics
but it is not the starting place for a physics curriculum, even for physics

It seems to be more discussion if there is a proposal (modest or otherwise) so
I propose that:

Computing humanists should make publically available research guides and
tutorials on their areas of interest during the academic term Fall, 2000 -
Spring, 2001. Such materials should be similar to computing in the humanities
classics such as: "Snobol Programming for the Humanities" (Susan Hockey, 1986),
and "Computer Programs for Literary Analysis" (John R. Abercrombie, 1984).
Research guides should liberally illustrate techniques with actual working code
and sample data while tutorials should provide a graded introduction to both
concepts and techniques for particular topics.


(Note I will be out of my office December 4-9, 1999 for the XML '99


Patrick Durusau
Information Technology Services
Scholars Press
Manager, ITS

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sun, 05 Dec 1999 20:52:42 +0000 From: Darryl Whetter <whetter@nbnet.nb.ca> Subject: Re: 13.0308 disciplinary/interdisciplinary problems

Flair play to Willard and nice opening.

Einat Amitay's response, though, does invoke the crucial factor of exponential growth. How much has academia responded to the fact that information increases at an exponential rate? I believe a new Shakespeare article is published every 30 minutes. We have passed the point at which a single person can evaluate any claim about Shakespeare. Shakespearean criticism has become much like the law or medicine where we can no longer pose general questions. Isn't today's popular reply either "that's not my speciality" or a frustrated suggestion that whatever work is being done by an academic it will not "survive the paraphrase" (to use a phrase from lit. crit.)?

George Steiner's _Real Presences_ suggests that 90% of the total number of scientists to live in the history of the world are alive today. Perhaps Steiner--admirably a generalist--is wrong. Perhaps even by as high as 15%. Maybe even 25%. Point being, most of what we consider knowledge, like pollution incidentally, has been produced in the latter half of this century.

Coleridge and Goethe wondered if they would be the last men to have read a good fraction of what was going and they were undoubtedly being naive or self-promoting.

We've got more stuff than we can handle as individuals. I suspect bees might have the answer. The very idea of 'networks' should take us into more elliptical models (rather than the univesity fiefdom).

And yet perhaps I too am speaking from too inside my discipline. Simple factual errors are published in literary criticism. Scholars are crowned and dethroned as mysteriously (although still more slowly) than Hollywood 'actors.' Perhaps Willard is speaking with a confidence that does come from a snyoptic mastery of one's subject. For how much longer will this be possible?

Best, Darryl

Darryl Whetter Ph.D. Candidate, UNB English Dept. ph. (506) 455-7767 http://www.unb.ca/qwerte moving art

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sun, 05 Dec 1999 20:54:42 +0000 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: curriculum vitae

Many of you will know of the very fine publication series of the American Council of Learned Societies, the ACLS Occasional Papers <http://www.acls.org/pub-list.htm>, and will know about the yearly Charles Homer Haskins lecture, "A Life of Learning". The introduction to the series notes that each year "The lecturer is asked to reflect and to reminisce upon a lifetime of work as a scholar, on the motives, the chance determinations, the satisfactions and the dissatisfactions of the life of learning." I strongly recommend to your attention this year's lecture, by Clifford Geertz <http://www.acls.org/op45geer.htm>. He is disarmingly candid, often profound and in places very funny. His independence of mind in spite of the received sizes and shapes in which conventionalised knowledge comes is salutory for us as we think about where and how humanities computing fits into the academic world. He doesn't tell us everything is all right, as is so easy to do from the comfortable shelter of a long-tenured position. He's aware of how the world tends to look as if it's in eclipse when viewed by those who themselves are being overtaken by the shadows of age.

The lecture came to mind when it did because of Einat Amitay's immediate broadening of the question I asked about the specific problems of supervision and assessment in our field. Of course she's right, that truly interdisciplinary work always tends to have such problems. What I think this means is that we should be able to tap into the thinking of many others about how to solve these problems. Are there any models for multi-institutional supervision? One would think that the online medium could be used quite effectively. A number of practical problems spring immediately to mind, but none I can think of seem insoluble.


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

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