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Humanist Archives: March 11, 2019, 6:48 a.m. Humanist 32.533 - the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 533.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

    [1]    From: Dr. Herbert Wender 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge (52)

    [2]    From: Elisa Beshero-Bondar 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge (150)

    [3]    From: desmond.allan.schmidt@gmail.com
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge (48)

    [4]    From: Jeffrey Savoye 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge (51)

    [5]    From: Willard McCarty 
           Subject: historical disciplines (36)

        Date: 2019-03-10 23:48:28+00:00
        From: Dr. Herbert Wender 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge

Dear Digital HUMANISTs

while hoping not to disturb neither the well-feelings nor the bothered-feelings
in yoour community which I observe with some reservations, I cannot resist to
ignore Meisters resp. van Zunderts plea for forward-thinking (BTW: someone here
who has considered to use fuzzy set formalisms to model fuzzy textcritical
situations ?), at least for today. My interest here is to see what's in the
field of digital editin the state of the art practically (how we get what we
want, in my case: reliable transmission of historical text forms of literary
works) and which - rivaoizing, complementary - theoretical positions determine
the conceptualizations in actual DSE. Maybe there will be some X for which holds
what Alexander Hamilton has stated in quite other conrns (advocating 1790 for a
national bank of the US ;-) in variant formulations:
"Theorists and men of busicness unite in the acknowlegment of it."
Draft versions:
"Speculatists and men of busicness .."
"The speculative theorist & the practical man of business &c."

In my personally feeling I find it most puzzling to distinguish between
questions of effectiveness, or of usability, or of utility ..., or just of taste
or what I would call the beuaty resp. elegance of a computational solution, and
theoretical concerns with respect to the adequacy of the transmission compared
with the observale phenomena in a given tetual tradition. (Not to speak here
about the political concerns, questions of power and social distinctions, which
I would like to separate from my actual concern.)

Maybe you wonder about the Hamilton citation? Following the path of Francois
Lachance's mention of Sileni boxes (meaning behind meaning behind ... expression
behind expression of expression ...) I found in the depths of my mailbox -
marked as 'unread' - a posting by Lou Burnard in the TEI-L list commenting a
"monkey wrench" (= dirty trick?) in the context of a SUBST discussion about a
Hamilton ms. situation very similar to the Frankenstein example mentioned by
myself last week. If you estimate my questions asked there as annoying please
say it aloud and I will leave this discussion. If not, pleae clarify what was
going on in the ROTIMDA encoding for founders.org.

With kindly regards,

[span class="subst"]Theorists[ins title="insertion in manuscript"][del
title="deleted in manuscript"]Speculatists[/del][/ins][/span] and men of
business [ins title="insertion in manuscript"]unite in [del title="deleted in
manuscript"]an unqualified[/del] the[/ins] are agreed in the acknowlegment of
[ins title="insertion in manuscript"]it.[/ins] [del title="deleted in
manuscript"]their value.[/del][a class="ptr"
id="ARHN-01-07-02-0229-0002-fn-0126-ptr" href="#ARHN-01-07-02-0229-0002-fn-0126"
title="jump to note 126"]126[/a][/p]

        Date: 2019-03-10 18:17:52+00:00
        From: Elisa Beshero-Bondar 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge

Dear Joris,

Perhaps this post was written in fatigue and ennui, but I was sorry to see
that it feeds one of the persistent problems of dogmatic points of view,
and that is the perpetuation of a falsely simplistic binary opposition.
Here the problem is our notions that hierarchy and dimension are on
opposits poles, with one singular and limited and the other multiple and

One reason a debate continues is that the debaters have reduced their
positions to the illusion that each is in entirely the opposite camp. I
agree with you that dogma is reductive and tiresome, and will add that it
is needlessly polarizing and does damage to the extent that, as you say, it
stilts the way we form communities and whom we think we can respect.

Let's consider the position that hierarchy and structure are inherently
limiting and singular, and by implication are not to be found in
multi-dimensional models. Dashed off in a such a way, we confuse data
models with culture and text and fail to perceive anything more than a
polarized position--and it's so compelling that we turn people away from
bothering to find out what they could do with XML to express hierachy and
connect to other hierarchies in multi-dimensional ways. Having no use for
hierarchy seems a little self-limiting in real life, and I'd assert that
eventually hierarchy must and will assert itself in non-XML models (yes, as
soon as you need to nest something in JSON). Describing semantic
relationships requires expressing dependencies regardless of the format we
apply. A dogmatically polarized view, however, will abruptly dismiss XML
and pretend it doesn't matter in HTML or in anything we decide to describe
as "simple" and also "multidimensional". I suppose that's how we talk to
each other when dogma asserts itself, but in real life, modeling texts and
data is more complicated than convenient polarities permit us to express in

In practice, we learn how to express our ideas and perspectives in
different formats. We become multi-lingual. We write code that maps across
data models. We write XML and map to JSON. We write multiple formats of XML
to mediate across hierarchies. And we respect the intellectual work of
modeling and structure. Topographies and nestings are part of modeling, and
we work, really, in intermediary ways--that can be the fun of it. Or so
I've found. You can read more about our intermediating work (via the
Frankenstein Variorum project), and our views of interchange and
interoperation in our Balisage paper that Raff cited earlier, and I hope
you will hear us speak about these things at Utrecht. Maybe we can be
moving beyond tiresomely dogmatic debates into the real world where we work
together on mediating in between data models.

Joris, I do believe we're on the same page by the end of your post. I agree
with you, whole-heartedly, in asking this question: "And why are we so bad
at skilling scholars to choose a technology, data structure, or algorithm
based on reasoning its applicability for purpose instead of community based
or individual dogma?" I shake hands with you there, but I must dissent with
your dismissal of "technical hype" and the rough treatment of hierarchy and
structure. I have heard such rapid-fire dismissals from several
quarters--not just from this post, but in conversations at DH conferences
about what's supposedly wrong about markup. If we do want to honor the
history of DH and we want to sustain an informed and respectful connection
with each other's work, perhaps less debunking and more bridge-building
would be helpful. When do we recognize that hierarchies can be plural and
address multiple dimensions? And haven't we been aware of this all along?


Beshero-Bondar, Elisa E., and Raffaele Viglianti. “Stand-off Bridges in the
Frankenstein Variorum Project: Interchange and Interoperability within TEI
Markup Ecosystems.” Presented at Balisage: The Markup Conference 2018,
Washington, DC, July 31 - August 3, 2018. In *Proceedings of Balisage: The
Markup Conference 2018*. Balisage Series on Markup Technologies, vol. 21
(2018). https://doi.org/10.4242/BalisageVol21.Beshero-Bondar01.
Elisa Beshero-Bondar, PhD
Associate Professor of English
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg
Humanities Division
150 Finoli Drive
Greensburg, PA  15601  USA
E-mail: ebb8@pitt.edu

On Sat, Mar 9, 2019 at 2:17 AM Humanist  wrote:

>         Date: 2019-03-08 09:52:55+00:00
>         From: Joris van Zundert 
>         Subject: The illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge
> Dear Willard,
> Something has been bothering me ever since Michael Sperberg-McQueen
> first questioned the value and validity of hares.
> (https://dhhumanist.org/volume/32/173/ [7])
> You were quick to identify part of what was bugging me:
> "Once upon a time I thought that I could blame the Web's great deluge
> for obliterating nearly everyone's memory of what was going on for the
> ca 35 years prior to its impact, to say nothing of the two decades
> between von Neumann's architectural sketch and Joe Raben's founding of
> Computers and the Humanities in 1966. But the Web's not the real
> problem, as the current debate indicates. The real problem is the
> thoughtless and thought-depriving hype of continual progress -- even
> when we think we're 'progressing' toward something we'd rather not think
> about." (https://dhhumanist.org/volume/32/436/ [1])
> I wholeheartedly agree with Domenico Fiormonte:
> "I've been following this and the previous McGann et al thread and I
> feel like this was a gigantic *déjà vu*... People I've been knowing for
> a long time, and for whom I've the greatest respect and affection, were
> rehearsing the same ideas and arguments I've been listening to for...
> may be thirty years?" (https://dhhumanist.org/volume/32/510/ [3])
> And it is good to see that Jan Christoph Meister points to Dino's 2002
> brilliant but much neglected article:
> "And there's more to this approach than merely being able to handle
> nested / overlapping / discontinuous structures (which imho is really a
> problem of the past, as is the Renear-McGann debate which, as far as I'm
> concerned, Buzzetti 2002 "Digital Representation and the Text Model",
> NewLiterary History, Vol. 33, No. 1 had already pretty much superseded).
> (https://dhhumanist.org/volume/32/520/ [2])
> For all that matters Dino Buzzetti's argument might have ended the
> debate already in 2003 so we would have moved on to more interesting
> challenges. But it didn't. Domenico points out some detrimental
> mechanisms that may have caused the persistence of hierarchical
> perspectives on text. You blame the hype of continual progress. I think
> you are too easily discarding the influence of technical hype (XML was,
> oh boy). It is all of these things of course. The deeply inherent social
> fabrication of who's anyone in our community, the technological fads,
> and the institutional hypes.
> I am not sure whether either the hierarchical perspective or the
> multidimensional understanding of text signifies any progress at all. I
> have no use for hierarchies or XML, but so far the multidimensional
> approach has not produced much of anything either. I'll advocate the
> latter because it at least made me think about text instead of
> structure. But in general we seem not to be able to transcend a debate
> that looks suspiciously like a  boring format war to me.
> However, all that really looks like an aside to me. The major worry
> remains and no one seems really to have addressed it. Why are we (as a
> community? as individuals?) so excruciatingly terrible at transferring
> the knowledge of the field's past? And why are we so bad at skilling
> scholars to choose a technology, data structure, or algorithm based on
> reasoning its applicability for purpose instead of community based or
> individual dogma? Wasn't ours supposed to be a historically informed and
> critical field of investigation?
> All best
> --Joris

        Date: 2019-03-09 20:30:09+00:00
        From: desmond.allan.schmidt@gmail.com
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge


I'm not sure that dismissing the entire argument as "deja vu" or
"format wars" is really very constructive. A closer reading of what
has been proposed in the now previous threads, beyond the subject
lines, might reveal SOME progress to an attentive reader.

In talking of all things standoff there are actually two very
different ideas often confused. One is "standoff markup", which is the
removal of the tags forming a rigid hierarchical structure to a
separate file for later recombination with the residual text. This is
indeed an old idea first propounded by computational linguists in
around 1993. The format was the subject of a court-case between
Microsoft and i4i, who patented the idea in 1994, and won compensation
of 294 million dollars. So we are talking about something that has
commercial value. It's not a storm in a teacup, as you seem to imply.

The other idea is standoff properties, which capture the properties of
text via a set of overlapping external attributes with no formal
hierarchies in evidence. Conversion of the properties into standard
hierarchical forms of markup such as HTML can be achieved by splitting
them when they overlap. This idea is even older and goes back to Ted
Nelson (1970), to Thaller's 'extended string' model, Dino Buzzetti's
'weakly embedded markup', the eLaborate editor, LMNL and CATMA. In
fact annotation systems also follow this model. What was interesting
in the argument that just happened is that standoff properties appear
to be gaining ground and practical systems beyond those already
mentioned like Iian Neil's SPEEDy editor and - dare I plug it - my own
implementation in the Harpur edition are becoming more common.

So I don't think that we haven't progressed at all. The whole reason
why I picked up on Francois Lachance's original posting was to test
exactly how far attitudes have changed on these old issues. And they
have. I sense a distinct weakening in the status quo who have put all
their eggs in the basket of hierarchical markup and now are beginning
to suspect that it may not long retain the privilege of being
something that CAN be deja vu-ed.

Desmond Schmidt
Queensland University of Technology

Dr Desmond Schmidt
Mobile: 0481915868 Work: +61-7-31384036

        Date: 2019-03-09 14:31:51+00:00
        From: Jeffrey Savoye 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.532: the illusion of 'progress' and transfer of knowledge

I am not precisely sure what we mean by "making progress" or "not making
progress," or of the context in which such an evaluation is intended to
take place. From my own experience, electronic presentation does solve
some problems (mostly in terms of space, access and searching) and
brings others with it (technical issues, and questions of formatting and
presentation, many of which are actually old ones). I don't know if TEI
can reasonably be considered "progress" (mostly because I have yet to
see an application that justifies the amount of effort it requires, and
the limitations it imposes), but certainly some of what is being done
online can be considered progress. (I am also willing to grant that TEI
may have manifest virtues that are simply as yet unknown to me. If I
incorporate TEI versions at some point, the XML will be yet another
addition to my website, building on work I have had to do anyway.)

On my own website, I give every historical text of Edgar Allan Poe's
poetry, prose fiction, essays and most of the critical/editorial
material (much of which is complicated by the fact that it is not
signed). I give complex bibliographies for each work (which I am still
refining) to separate authorized printings from reprints, and to show
the relationship between authorized printings. I also give comparative
and study texts that emphasize the changes made between versions of
text, with special attention to trying to follow Poe's own sequence and
method of revision. (My approach may necessarily be peculiar to Poe.) No
print edition is likely to be capable of such a presentation, and I
think that is progress in some sense, even if it is well beyond the
interests of most casual readers.

Beyond the text of his works, my website gives many books and articles
about Poe and his writings. (I have been very fortunate that many of
these works predate the copyright boundary of 1925, or have since fallen
out of copyright for various reasons. I have also been able to secure
permission for several newer works still under copyright, such as the
Mabbott edition, The Poe Log and G. R. Thompson's groundbreaking work on
Poe's Fiction, with its emphasis on romantic irony.) Although I am still
in the process of providing these texts and making these links, I can
often supplement the reference in a footnote or internal citation by
linking directly to the original material. Where that material
references still earlier material, I provide that link as well. In so
doing, I have consciously intended to try to not only make material
available for students, but to more tangibly demonstrate the complex web
of thought and revision that is the essence of scholarship. Trying to
gather together and jump between these references in any form other than
electronic would be utterly impractical. How one might choose to follow
a thread of thought or break from one path to follow another, is
certainly interesting, if not actually progress.

Jeffrey A. Savoye
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

        Date: 2019-03-09 07:53:25+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: historical disciplines

Thanks to Joris can Zundert for asking why we as a putative community
and as individuals are "so excruciatingly terrible at transferring the
knowledge of the field's past?" A simple answer is that we are riveted
to the compulsive fascination with the next new thing, and so profess
that 'DH' -- let us use the acronym for its badge-like qualities -- is
it. Many of our colleagues are eager or at least willing to go along
with this doctrine, I'd suppose, because they've lost the faith in the
face of a society that no longer privileges the scholarly life. Riveted
as we seem to be on the near-term future of the next release and the
politics of now, history quickly slips away from us and with it much
else. Inter alia, non-digital ways of doing things vanish under the
conviction that digital tools and methods replace rather than, in some
cases justifiably, supplement; the technology comes to define most

But all that is a small part of the bigger problem. There is very good
reason to think of the humanities as 'the historical disciplines', for
without an historical sense and historical knowledge there's really
nothing left to study. If DH is ever to become a discipline *of* the
humanities rather than so often merely a presence within them, we 
need not only to get to know our own past and closely related
pasts -- which go back much further than the machine we celebrate -- but
also to sit at the feet of the historical disciplines and learn from them.


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist

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