Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 492.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Thu, 07 Feb 2002 07:51:40 +0000
From: "Mary Dee Harris" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 15.489 tools & mascots
Francois has attributed a REAL animal as the snipe that I suggested.
However what I had in mind was the elusive (or is it illusive) snipe that we
hunted at camp on snipe hunts! In this hunt a group of children are given
a cloth bag and sent out into the woods to trap the snipe, which is in fact
an imaginary rodent-type animal that the adults have made up. This
deception has continued for generations. In fact I recently saw a re-run of
the adult cartoon show, King of the Hill, with a snipe hunt as part of an
initiation for the boys.
The idea behind my suggestion was that (tongue in cheek) perhaps we're
pursuing an imaginary goal -- one that we all agree on and pass down from
generation to generation! Such ephemera have the important function of
inspiring beyond what we can see in the real world! I have been chasing
this goal for several decades now, so I'm in on the game.
I also like Francois' analysis of the bird variety of snipe! I just had a
different sort of image in mind!
Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D.
----- Original Message -----
From: Humanist Discussion Group
Sent: Tuesday, February 05, 2002 2:14 AM
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 489.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>  From: Patrick Durusau <firstname.lastname@example.org> (140)
> Subject: Re: 15.485 tools
>  From: "McCullers, Jeff" <JeffM@lee.k12.fl.us> (29)
> Subject: RE: 15.485 tools (Just For Fun)
>  From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance) (45)
> Subject: mascots
> Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002 08:11:28 +0000
> From: Patrick Durusau <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> 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 <email@example.com>
> > >
> >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
> >escapes me. As I understand the rhetorical term, an "ad hominem" remark
> >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
> >is personal. We all agree, I hope, always to go after the sins we
> >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
> >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
> 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
> >which we are always challenging what we think we know, asking how we
> >it, even exaggerating something so that others are provoked to look at
> >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
> >rather getting it right. Which is and always will be sometime in the
> >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
> >scholarly results -- despite our view of ourselves or others. One
> >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
> >second function, we're observers and commenters on what is said and done
> >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
> >our job especially well -- too few of us are granted the time for such
> >self-reflective thinking -- but over time, the necessary critical
> >happens, in dribbs and drabbs, communally, in exchanges such as this
> >All I'm saying here is, perhaps, that we should recognise what in fact
> >taking place.
> 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
> >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
> >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
> >tool.) As Wendell Piez suggested some days ago, when we internalise
> >tool-use the mediation becomes very difficult to see, but we need to
> >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
> >"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.
> >it is another thing entirely to say that the machine thus instantiated
> >having no effect on when and how I ask questions. We are students of
> 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
> >of prosthesis, for example, is in the literature quite a popular way of
> >talking about computers. This metaphor leads the mind in certain
> >and brings with it a certain amount of intellectual baggage. Is it not
> >important that we look at the metaphor for its adequacy, question
> >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.
> >the computer is worth our attention, then the struggle to develop
> >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
> just right, but even that is quite a feat.
> >PS We have in fact had a mascot since 1989. It may be discovered, and
> >history of it subsequently unearthed, by starting at the Humanist
> >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/,
> >firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
> Patrick Durusau
> Director of Research and Development
> Society of Biblical Literature
> 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)
> Dear Willard,
> 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
> So when does someone teach me the secret handshake?
> Kind regards,
> J. F. "JEFF" MCCULLERS
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> Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002 08:12:37 +0000
> From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance)
> Subject: mascots
> Mary Dee,
> 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
> > history of it subsequently unearthed, by starting at the Humanist
> > Thoroughness and persistence are rewarded.
> > WM
> The URL to the Humanist home page is
> 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
> 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
> 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
> per Interactivity ad Virtuality via Textuality
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