Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 489.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
 From: Patrick Durusau <email@example.com> (140)
Subject: Re: 15.485 tools
 From: "McCullers, Jeff" <JeffM@lee.k12.fl.us> (29)
Subject: RE: 15.485 tools (Just For Fun)
 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance) (45)
Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002 08:11:28 +0000
From: Patrick Durusau <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 15.485 tools
Let me see if I can illustrate the "ad hominem" nature of your prior post
and offer what I think is an alternative.
> Date: Fri, 01 Feb 2002 09:54:21 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>How my remarks in Humanist 15.477 about the 'quaint sounding sneer, that
>the computer was "just a tool"' could have been interpreted as ad hominem
>escapes me. As I understand the rhetorical term, an "ad hominem" remark or
>argument is directed, as a literal translation would suggest, at an
>individual. (Like a spear thrown, it may not reach him or her, but the
>intention is definitely to injure the person.) In other words, the attack
>is personal. We all agree, I hope, always to go after the sins we perceive
>rather than the sinners. But I would think that an important part of
>getting the development of our field right is to argue over particular
>ideas as they arise, change and resurface -- which will sometimes mean
>attacking ones we think are dead wrong.
In the post that prompted my response you said:
>My years spent as a teacher of calligraphy and occasionally
>paid lettering artist had prepared me well to spot this sneer for the child
>of ignorance that it is.
Forgive me if I think people are overly sensitive but I would interpret
that remark as a comment on the knowledge (or lack thereof) of the person
making the remark challeged.
I don't disagree that such ideas should be challenged, but consider the
following imaginary exchange:
Humanist: "I don't see any value in either using or learning markup
languages. It does not have any application to biblical criticism."
C-Humanist: "Well, ignoring the past 20 years of development in markup
languages and software I can see how you would feel that way."
C-Humanist: "What sort of things do you do with texts in biblical
criticism? (Proceeds to demonstrate collation of manuscript witnesses,
making explicit implied ideas about text structure and flow of dialogue,
comparison of varying analysis of a text, etc.)
It seems to me that the latter reply, while not as emotionally satisfying
as the first, stands a better chance of making a convert or at least being
a principled reply to the voiced objection.
It may well be the case that I was the one being overly sensitive but I
have grown weary of the sound of heavy stones being rolled to the cries of
"Why do you compute?" and "Why do you not compute?" For my part I would
rather focus on what you characterize as "good scholarly results" and let
those results speak for our efforts.
There may well be deans, chairs and other in our various environments who
cling to opinions that have no relationship to the reality of modern
scholarship. But the dispelling of those opinions requires successes such
as J.J. O'Donnell's online Augustine course (I checked, that was in 1994!)
and similar efforts. We may never change some of those opinions and at best
can hope to neutralize them with demonstrated successes in the missions of
our respective institutions.
>The conversation's the thing, isn't it? -- the moving, changing dialogue in
>which we are always challenging what we think we know, asking how we know
>it, even exaggerating something so that others are provoked to look at it.
>Indeed, this means knowingly taking the risk of being wrong so that the
>conversation may proceed. In a sense the main function of my editorial
>persona is to take such risks so that certain ideas and opinions may be
>tested, but this should not be especially notable in an intellectual
>environment where everyone understands that being right is not the point,
>rather getting it right. Which is and always will be sometime in the future.
>Patrick Durusau raises another important point by arguing that we'll be
>known by our ability to do good work -- by which I think he means get good
>scholarly results -- despite our view of ourselves or others. One function
>of Humanist is certainly to exchange news, information and techniques
>toward better results (which are never obtained on Humanist itself), but
>since the beginning another has been to reflect on the activity of
>humanities computing and what we think about it -- to make ourselves
>smarter about our professional/intellectual selves. With respect to this
>second function, we're observers and commenters on what is said and done in
>the application of computing to the humanities; we stand in relation to
>good (and bad) scholarly results obtained with the computer as the
>philosopher to the products of humankind as a whole. I'm not claiming we do
>our job especially well -- too few of us are granted the time for such
>self-reflective thinking -- but over time, the necessary critical thinking
>happens, in dribbs and drabbs, communally, in exchanges such as this one.
>All I'm saying here is, perhaps, that we should recognise what in fact is
I do not mean to imply that such critical thinking should not occur, but
consider how many Humanist subscribers has offered courses like Augustine
since 1994. We would have more grist for the critical thinking mill if
there were more activities of that sort.
>I think the point to be made about tools is that they mediate the knowledge
>we make or have through them. I'd argue then that the terms "tool" and
>"medium" are two tightly interrelated if not inseparable aspects of what we
>do when we're using computers in our work. (I recently came up with the
>formulation that the tool is an effecting medium, a medium is an affecting
>tool.) As Wendell Piez suggested some days ago, when we internalise
>tool-use the mediation becomes very difficult to see, but we need to remain
>aware of it -- esp those of us whose professional lives are chiefly in
>humanities computing. I suppose that, for example, if I search the web for
>"amoxicillin AND food" because I need information my pharmicist did not
>think to supply, I am using my computer consciously only to answer an
>urgent question, utterly unconcerned or even aware of such mediation. But
>it is another thing entirely to say that the machine thus instantiated is
>having no effect on when and how I ask questions. We are students of this
And knowledge without tools is unmediated? I think computers (and markup
languages in particular) help us explore the mediation (and assumptions)
already in place when we approach humanities topics. Mediation by the use
of computers is a worthy topic to explore but I am not sure it can be
pursued in the abstract. Perhaps so, or at least I am willing to listen to
examples of such explorations.
>There are, I suppose, two points about metaphors. One is that the metaphor
>of prosthesis, for example, is in the literature quite a popular way of
>talking about computers. This metaphor leads the mind in certain directions
>and brings with it a certain amount of intellectual baggage. Is it not
>important that we look at the metaphor for its adequacy, question whether
>these assumptions are ones we want to make? The second point is that
>metaphorical or more generally figurative language is language fully
>realised -- i.e. powerful, unavoidable, and yes, potentially misleading. If
>the computer is worth our attention, then the struggle to develop adequate
>imaginative language for it is imperative, I would think.
I acknowlege the power of metaphors but do not think that we can ever
consciously direct our language practices to a given end. We exist within
languages practices and cannot step outside them. At Willard's urging we
may become aware of the gaps, rough spots or places that don't seem to fit
just right, but even that is quite a feat.
>PS We have in fact had a mascot since 1989. It may be discovered, and the
>history of it subsequently unearthed, by starting at the Humanist homepage.
>Thoroughness and persistence are rewarded.
>Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
>Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
>Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
>+44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
-- Patrick Durusau Director of Research and Development Society of Biblical Literature email@example.com
-------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002 08:12:17 +0000 From: "McCullers, Jeff" <JeffM@lee.k12.fl.us> Subject: RE: 15.485 tools (Just For Fun)
You noted that "we have in fact had a mascot since 1989. It may be discovered, and the history of it subsequently unearthed, by starting at the Humanist homepage. Thoroughness and persistence are rewarded."
Is this the sort of thing you and Rahtz had in mind or have I once again gone too far? It turns out that Photoshop is also a fine tool.
If I haven't been clear about it yet, I must tell you that Humanist is an extraordinary accomplishment. I'm quite honored to have made your aquaintance.
So when does someone teach me the secret handshake?
Kind regards, Jeff
J. F. "JEFF" MCCULLERS Program Administrator Department of Grants and Program Development
School District of Lee County 2055 Central Avenue Fort Myers, Florida USA 33901-3988
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-------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002 08:12:37 +0000 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance) Subject: mascots
Your suggesting for the water-edge-spirit totem of snipe (I do believe that snipes are shore birds) fits in nicely with Willard's allusion to "quack.html". Willared writes in his post-scriptum:
> PS We have in fact had a mascot since 1989. It may be discovered, and the > history of it subsequently unearthed, by starting at the Humanist homepage. > Thoroughness and persistence are rewarded. > WM
The URL to the Humanist home page is http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/
where one would find (using a text-only browser) the following bit of of what appears to be non-conformant markup:
<center><a href="quack.html"><img src="humanist.gif" alt="Humanist Discussion Group" border=off></center></a>
[Aside: interesting in that water birds, snipes or mallards are boundary travellers that the markup here displaces the "center" tag off-center after a declaration regarding the border attribute (just over interpreting as usual)]
If one continues and retrieves a copy of the quack.html file ... one finds a USEMAP with the following annotation:
Sebastian Rahtz (May 1987 -- 30 March 1989) fecit
with a link to a plea http://lists.village.virginia.edu/lists_archive/Humanist/v02/0179.html
which suggests that in some universe of discourse "mallards" are connected to "Martians" and the "Oxford Concordance Program"
and some suggestion as to all this connectedness is found in the fourteenth item linked by way of the quack.html usemap: a bit of natural history ripe for the drawing of moral tales worthy of a Pliny.
The the terminal date (30 March 1989) in the date range following the name of the faber (Sebastian Rahtz) is marked up to serve as a link to http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/lists_archive/Humanist/v02/0312.html where our illustrous moderator describes Humanist as
"this arena of useful exchanges, vigorous discussion, and intellectual combat cum lovemaking"
I guess that in love and war a little magic is a useful thing.
Mascot from the French "mascotte" from the Provencal "mascot" diminutive of "masco" a sorcerer, literally, a mask
Now then the question: computer (person and tool) as mask? There is a technical meaning of mask in computing. It is a term found in the proximity of domains and proxies.
Here I retreat and entreat subscribers to while a pleasant moment away in the contemplation of mallards and masks and long-legged snipes.
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/ivt.htm per Interactivity ad Virtuality via Textuality
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