[Humanist] 22.426 thing knowledge

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jan 7 07:33:14 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 426.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2009 15:44:50 -0500
        From: "Alan Galey" <galey.lists at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.417 thing knowledge
        In-Reply-To: <20090103061619.BE7652A0B0 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard and all,

I'd like to echo Luis Arata's comment that this is a fascinating
thread. The formula "every X is a theory" shows up now and again, and
perhaps it would be useful to compare "every prototype is a theory"
with a similar statement that Bernhard Cerquiglini makes in his small
but rich book, _In Praise of the Variant: A Critical History of
Philology_ (Johns Hopkins, 1999). He asserts that "every edition is a
theory" in a discussion of conservative approaches to editing medieval
texts (whose primary characteristic he takes to be textual variance
between copies): "Tempted by diplomatic copy, these editions have been
drawn into the fantasy of the facsimile, of honestly providing in the
most complete form all the intact data, which will become the wealth
of the reader. Because a loyal magnanimity was their only choice, they
forgot that every edition is a theory: though one must show what is
there, one must above all make it understood" (78-9). (This leads into
a discussion of digital editions as a viable alternative for
representing the complexity of mss traditions.)

What I take from Cerquiglini is another way of reading "every
prototype is a theory"  -- not that "theory" is some ineffable quality
that redeems prototypes from rude mechanical status, but that theory
is a responsibility to consider how the objects we build (incl.
editions) function discursively, even epistemologically. In other
words, it's an admonishment against hiding behind value-neutrality in
editing and design philosophies. Perhaps this is a way of suggesting
that that prototypes are bound to embody values and theories no matter
what, so we'd better make them good ones.

This might also be an example of how a number of good digital
humanities debates have  precursors -- or at least parallels -- in
fields such as book history and scholarly editing. The latter has its
own curious history of prototypes that predate electronic computing.

All the best,

Alan Galey
Faculty of Information
Book History and Print Culture Program
University of Toronto

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