18.359 writing things down

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2004 08:12:37 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 359.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Naomi Standen <naomi.standen_at_ncl.ac.uk> (36)
         Subject: Re: 18.355 writing things down (being one's own
                 recording angel)

   [2] From: Pat Galloway <galloway_at_ischool.utexas.edu> (5)
         Subject: Re: 18.355 writing things down (being one's own
                 recording angel)

   [3] From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com> (23)
         Subject: Re: [humanist] 18.355 writing things down (being one's
                 own recording angel)

         Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2004 07:55:57 +0000
         From: Naomi Standen <naomi.standen_at_ncl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Re: 18.355 writing things down (being one's own recording


I was going to lurk for a while before posting, but as it happens, the
project I am planning specifically involves project members keeping a log.
This is mostly for the substantive-research end of the project, which
involves complex language-translation processes, but since the translation
decisions are likely to intersect with technical issues (such as how to
display our results to the user) we anticipate that our logs will also
contain queries, solutions, problems, etc to do with the computing side of
the project.

This is sufficiently important (and evidently takes time) that I have built
log-keeping time into the formal scheme of work for the project, for all
participants. Log-keeping is an established translation-studies method, but
it will be interesting to see how things work out with a multi-disciplinary

There does seem to be a difference between the humanities scholar's
notebook (I carry mine at all times and I bet many others do the same) and
the more scientifically motivated notebook/lab book. The latter seems to
concern itself much more with process - "HOW did I get here", since I wish
to be able to reproduce it exactly - whereas the former seems more focused
on writing down ideas - formulations, if you like - before they disappear
into the ether again. Since the texts don't go away, it is, perhaps, much
easier to reproduce your route through them. In this case, it is the
interpretations that need to be recorded.

Having said that, I have sometimes made a chain of connections through a
set of texts/reference works/etc, reached a result, but then been unable to
reproduce the thought processes that took me from one link in the chain to
the next. If you have not merely made simple connections between texts, but
have done something with them in your head - processed them - in order to
take the next step, then it is much easier to forget how you got to your
end result.

Naomi Standen

Dr. Naomi Standen               | School of Historical Studies
Lecturer in Chinese History     | University of Newcastle
Admissions Tutor for History | Tel: +44 191 222 6490   Fax: +44 191 222 6484
                                               | Homepage:
         Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2004 07:56:50 +0000
         From: Pat Galloway <galloway_at_ischool.utexas.edu>
         Subject: Re: 18.355 writing things down (being one's own recording
It might be worth noting that scientists have the real motivation in
keeping lab notebooks of protecting intellectual property and guaranteeing
prior art for patentable stuff, plus (in the medical field) fulfilling
human subjects requirements etc. It will be more difficult to persuade
humanists to do the same!
Pat Galloway
         Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2004 07:56:30 +0000
         From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: [humanist] 18.355 writing things down (being one's
own recording angel)
Willard asks:
  > Has anyone tried to keep such a
  > notebook? Has anyone tried the idea out on students?
I've tried, and repeatedly failed.  To be honest, this is why I
started blogging; I am rather bad at keeping up handwritten notes
(to-do lists excluded).  Besides blogging, I tend to keep my notes in
an XML file, giving them idiosyncratic keywords for cross-referencing
This works only to a point:  the interface of what ends up being a
very large text file is sub-optimal.  The file branches out into many
files, and although full-text search is useful, this system can still
be visually difficult to follow.
Tinderbox, a piece of software by Eastgate Systems
(<http://eastgate.com/Tinderbox/>), has intrigued me for a while.
Alas, other things have taken financial priority.
Vika Zafrin
Director, Virtual Humanities Lab
Brown University Box 1942
Providence, RI 02912 USA
Received on Tue Nov 16 2004 - 03:19:44 EST

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