Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 393.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org
 From: Wendell Piez <email@example.com> (48)
Subject: Re: 16.390 thinking with the technologies / XML vs.
 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance) (67)
Subject: Re: 16.387 thinking with tools
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2002 07:05:22 +0000
From: Wendell Piez <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 16.390 thinking with the technologies / XML vs. RDM
Willard and HUMANISTS --
Manfred's deeply-considered post prompted me to think of only one
qualification to add to this important thread--
05:49 AM 12/26/2002, he wrote:
>(6) Ceterum censeo: This will change only, if Humanities' practitioners
>think less about the SURFACE of an IT application - relational table v.
>XML encoding, which software product to use - and more about the
>underlying data model / data type / knowlegde representation of
>Humanities' information in a Comp.Sc. definition. Let us see first, what
>a FORMAL representation of a "Humanities Text" means, before we write a
>DTD for it or throw it at an innocent and naive RDBMS engine.
Yes, verily. This proves to be particularly difficult in practice due to
the confusion between this task -- identifying what a formal representation
of a "Humanities text" would be, building a system instantiating such a
representation in a useful way -- and a different task, which (though
closely related at many levels) is quite separable: the (further)
development of *text itself* as a technology of representation. I think one
reason markup technologies such as XML have proven so tantalizing to many
of us is that they involve us not only in the first project mentioned, but
also in the second, whereas the application of DBMS technologies or even
object technologies tend to elide the second project in favor of the first.
Both projects are deeply interesting, worth pursuing, and of the essence of
humanities computing; but it is probably also worth keeping in mind
(Manfred's and Patrick's points) that just because XML (or markup
generally) is itself "textual" in a way that (arguably) database
applications are not, does not necessarily make it the best available means
to *model* one kind of thing or another. "Build a resource that can provide
X and Y and Z", and "develop an XML-based approach to X, Y and Z" are goals
that may be in accord, or at odds, depending on the fit between XML and
XYZ; nonetheless either might be a worthy goal even if they *are* at odds.
(And it can be a research goal to determine how much in accord, or at odds,
they are, and why.)
In a way, this is merely to come full circle (though hopefully at a higher
level of understanding): the fact that markup (or a particular kind of
markup, such as XML) may be poorly suited to certain kinds of problems or
tasks, is very much of interest to the student of text and text-based
Wendell Piez mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
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Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2002 07:07:10 +0000
From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance)
Subject: Re: 16.387 thinking with tools
Would it not be fair to infer from your gloss on Michael
Sperberg-McQueen's posting (Humanist 16.384) that the shift to "domains"
implies multiple participants and/or multiple perceptions embodied
through a single participant?
> >By formulating the research problem in terms of the entities in the
> >research domain, and without reference to the entities of the tool
> I think the metaphor of "domains" here is (though conventional in
> discussing such things) seriously misleading. Thought about something is
> sometimes usefully conceptualized as a space, but not in this case.
Space can be represented as reticulinated. Representations of space do not
necessarily lead to a uniform flatness. I'm intrigued as to how the subtle
move to the plural "domains" is underwritten (undermined?) by the
suggestion that useful conceptualization is sometimes a function of
thinking of something in terms of a [single] space. Domains suggest rules.
Space too is represented by rules. A rule is a tool and hence your
suggestion that one cannot avoid the perceptual effects of technology:
> seems to me that the "entities" of research cannot always (often? ever?) be
> defined independently of the tools one has to deal with them. Tools, even
> chisels, aren't free from designed intentionality and perceptual effect;
> one "sees" wood differently, treats it differently depending on the tools
> one has and knows about.
Now then. If I may. Harp. Intentionalities. Percpetual Effects. Different
parsing. Punctuation and grain. How is a humanist and a computing humanist
to account for resistences in the reading (i.e. application of tools)?
Sometimes ax in hand the wood is to burn. Sometimes chisel in hand the
wood is to burn. There is a lore of dendrology that precedes a technology
of woodwork. Both lore and technology inhabit the spaces of conversations.
It is archeologically accurate to assume purposiveness of design in the
tools and texts one inherits. It is folly to assume that the tools and
cultural artefacts will be used in the same way by every one who inherits
them. And likewise retroactively to assume that the purposes of the past
are transparent, always, to the present.
Yes there is a mystery and because it points in several temporal
directions it may be a set of mysteries. The uniformity of the phenomenon
can not be assumed or ruled out. Just how the holders of the single
mystery approach the releasers of multiple mysteries is fascinating; the
one, a sieve separates, for the others, operates a series of
Why the chisel and the sometimes ubiquitous hammer? I suspect it is not
the mere gendered history of the certain tools and arts that leads to
certain comparisons between computing machines and hand tools of the
carpenter or mason. There is a further metaphor of building at work. What
would computing filtered througn an alchemical metaphor of distillation
and abstraction be like?
Back in 1997, a text by Katheryn Sutherland was read at the thirty-third
conference on editorial problems in Toronto. If I recall correctly, the
discussion wend its way through two metaphors (text as architecture; text
as vehicle) to reach a certain rather commonplace assertion that
both synthetic and analytic moments are necessary for thinking through a
research problematic. Perhaps that particular assertion can be inscribed
in the current context to pause and consider that the application of a
tool does not in itself lead either to synthetic or analytic moments (a
easiest to make the case with a distillation however a building can be
approached as an analysis of space as well as synthesis of a structure).
In which case, there can be little done to factor out the human element,
those mediating instances where the memory of participants reaches out not
only intertextually across domains of cultural production but also
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large, knows no "no exit" in a hypertext every cul-de-sac is an invitation to turn http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/miles/five.htm
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