21.082 chasing themes vs finding structures

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2007 12:33:42 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 82.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 12:23:42 +0100
         From: Dr Tatjana Chorney <Tatjana.Chorney_at_SMU.CA>
         Subject: Re: 21.074 DH2007 keynote: chasing themes vs
finding structures?


I missed last night's keynote, but I find Willard's summary of the
highlight below very provocative. With the understanding that I am
responding to the message below and not the talk itself, I would have
to say that the response strikes me as valid for the reason that DH
encompasses many disciplines some of which do not rely on thematic
analyses as much as we, in literatures, do.

My own sense, reflected in my presentation (I apologise for the plug)is
is that we need to start placing greater emphasis on the processes on
which work in the various DH discipines depends, rather than contiue
the traditional emphasis on content. The emphasis on process is made
easier, I think, by the new medium, but I am using this statment inh a
convceptual, symbolic sense as well as a formal one. Making the study
processes focal to each discipline would probably reveal that most
study and research in the humanities depends on similar processes (that
is, for example, on revealing and learning how interconnectivity and
transfer among various concepts, methods, approaches, interpretation is
achieved in each discipline).

I am not entirely sure what Moretti meant by form, but thininking in
terms of process and content may roughly correspond to the suggested
division between form and theme, but with a wider application.

   I am not working with statistical analyses or markup, so I am sure
that these remarks leave many questions unanswered, such as a very
basic one, which is do we need the digital for what I am suggestiung? I
guess I believe that the computer and the activities it enables are
more capable of facilitating the shift than any other traditional
medium, and that the "how" is worth further investigation....


Tatjana Chorney
Saint Mary's University

Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 74.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 13:00:39 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
>In his keynote speech to the Digital Humanities conference, Franco
>Moretti (English & Comparative Literature, Stanford) said in passing
>that until humanities computing can get beyond a preoccupation with
>chasing themes in literary works to developing the ability to deal
>with their formal properties, it will have very little influence on
>literary studies. He did qualify his remark by saying that his
>knowledge of humanities computing is limited, but the challenge
>stands nevertheless.
>My reply to him was twofold: first, that chasing themes is so much
>easier than dealing with formal properties in literature that one is
>bound to find at this stage in our development much more of it;
>second, that people who take an interest in computing from the
>various disciplinary heartlands, like him but perhaps not him, tend
>to reach for what serves their conventional ways of work without
>disturbing these ways. So the actual impediment to greater influence
>is not merely that we yet to grow up but that our colleagues in other
>disciplines are stuck in their old ways. Is this a fair reply?
>Moretti's own use of computing, insofar as this was visible in the
>lecture, was confined to the use of spreadsheet graphing to
>illustrate formal trends in the novel. But how does computing itself
>become concerned with formal properties in literature (or in any
>other cultural mode of expression)? Markup can *describe* static
>formal properties that we perceive. So can a relational database
>design. But isn't this like approaching the study of living systems
>(past or present) only by describing their anatomy, their skeletal
>structures, their fossilized remains? And since for literary
>questions at least this involves significant interpretation every
>step of the way, what good is it for anyone other than the person
>describing the artefact in question?
>Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
>Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Wed Jun 06 2007 - 07:44:23 EDT

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