21.120 ideal readers for a database

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 08:23:32 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 120.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 08:19:06 +0100
         From: Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic_at_ffzg.hr>
         Subject: Re: 21.110 ideal readers for a database?

John Keating has shown how thinking about readers / users and the database
/ corpus fits well into "Coding and composing" theme we had recently on
Humanist. But, I think, John's insight also implies that designing a
database interface is more alike to staging a play, or making a movie, or
performing an opera --- than to writing a novel.

If, let us say, Umberto Eco writes a novel, he has, supposedly, an "ideal
reader" of his novel in mind. His notion of such a reader may be foggy or
unclear --- but he will stick to it throughout the novel; if the notion
changes, chances are Eco will rewrite the whole text. There is no "third
man" between Eco and reader (editors...?).

But, if I want to produce a database of Latin texts, I will go and hire
somebody to program an interface according to my needs (as John so clearly
described). Here --- as with a play, a movie, an opera --- the result of
performing together may be unexpected; the motives and interpretations may
clash, or go their own separate ways.

But the question --- the responsibility --- of the author, the prime
mover, remains. Will the author --- the client --- first sit down and
meditate on what does he want the database to be used for? Or will he
simply go to the programmers and say, "well, here are all those classical
Latin texts, I want to make them searchable" (remember Willard's fable)?

Here we come to what Patrick Rourke has written about the TLG. Some
things were not imaginable at the time the Thesaurus linguae Graecae was
first designed and produced; immense practical difficulties (coding the
alphabet, getting texts into the computer) had to be solved --- and were
solved; questions of copyright were at the horizon (who owns the rights to
apparatus criticus). It looks like people behind the TLG asked
themselves, "What is the most time- and energy-consuming task in classical
philology that the computers can be used for?" And the reply was,

But what can we do now, what is to be done today? At least two roads seem
possible. We can look at the discipline --- in my case, the Classics ---
and ask, what do we do today? And how can we enable people to do more of
it, and better? Or, we can look at the corpus, and ask: what is *not*
being done in the discipline today? How can we enable people to do

This is why I am interested in what *other* disciplines are doing with
their corpora and databases.



Neven Jovanovic
Zagreb, Hrvatska / Croatia
Received on Sat Jun 23 2007 - 03:40:36 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Sat Jun 23 2007 - 03:40:36 EDT