[Humanist] 22.485 taming reality or ignoring it?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jan 27 13:38:33 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 485.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2009 12:27:40 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: taming reality

In his long article on computerization and numerical methods in 
archaeology, "Modernizing the recovery of the past", in the Thinking by 
Numbers series, TLS 29 October 1971, J. B. Ward-Perkins considers as an 
example of a seemingly ideal find the pottery in the Athenian Agora. The 
question he considers is how in practice to classify "a vast middle 
range of humanan artifacts whose individual idiosyncracies can be 
exasperatingly resistant to the sort of Yes/No classification which the 
computer demands." He concludes:

> The theoretical answer is a rigid standardization of descriptive
> terminology, rigidly applied; but as anybody knows who has ever tried
> to achieve this outside the relatively narrow circle of inquiry which
> he and his immediate associates can control, the results are rarely
> commensurate with the effort involved. Quot homines, tot
 > sententiae may be scientifically regrettable, but it is the only
 > realistic assessment of a great many aspects of the contemporary
 > archaeological scene.

-- in 1971. But how familiar this sounds now. In our struggles with 
textual encoding, at the depths of interpretation rather than simply 
formatting for publication, have we done any better?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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