[Humanist] 23.192 making a difference

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jul 28 06:00:54 GMT 2009


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 192.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (55)
        Subject: prying apart the differences made and possible

  [2]   From:    renata lemos <renata.lemoz at eletrocooperativa.org>          (6)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference

  [3]   From:    "Holly C. Shulman" <hcs8n at virginia.edu>                   (30)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference

  [4]   From:    Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>                    (57)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.186 what difference? digital editions?

  [5]   From:    John Walsh <john.a.walsh at gmail.com>                       (29)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference

  [6]   From:    "Mark LeBlanc" <mleblanc at wheatoncollege.edu>              (31)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference

  [7]   From:    Melissa Terras <m.terras at UCL.AC.UK>                       (72)
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?

  [8]   From:    OKELL E.R. <e.r.okell at DURHAM.AC.UK>                       (26)
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?

  [9]   From:    Hugh Cayless <philomousos at GMAIL.COM>                      (85)
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 09:48:13 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: prying apart the differences made and possible


Sterling Fluharty, in the last Humanist, has kindly brought tools to bear on
my last note, asking some questions and offering other possibilities on
which I'd like to comment. I'll do so in the order given.

I called investment banking unproblematically utilitarian actually meaning
that in broad strokes we as a society do not question the usefulness of the
profession when it is done as it is supposed to be done. The world needs
banks and investments, no question. I mentioned it, of course, in contrast
to the academic professions, at least those in the humanities, the
usefulness of which isn't at all clear to a majority of our fellow citizens,
or indeed to many of us. My ironical intent was I suppose painfully obvious;
it was meant to suggest that public judgements about what is truly useful,
for the good of all, can be quite mistaken.

I did use "utilitarian" negatively. Perhaps I should more accurately have
avoided the looser adjective for the more philosophically or doctrinally
specific noun, utilitarianism. I was intending to suggest that once one
drops into the opposition of useful to useless our game is lost. Unless you
have the wit of Oscar Wilde, which I don't, alas. Of course one wants one's
work to have effects in the world, to be appreciated and used by others. But
as a formalized criterion, usefulness runs afoul of misunderstandings,
fashions, ignorance and fear.

Again I ask, with tongue somewhat in cheek, of what USE is classics, or
history, or whatever? We all are asked to come up with explanations these
days, prose for the undergraduate prospectus etc. An important exercise, I
think. But the task of such prose is in my view to seize the question of
usefulness and make it into a much better question, e.g. what are we that we
find certain things useful, others useless? How might we find more of the
world relevant to our humane uses -- by becoming more magnanimous, more
imaginative?

I didn't really mean to suggest that we need a foot in politics. I, for one,
would make a very poor politician, as some of my colleagues here know quite
well. Rather I meant to suggest that our job as intellectuals makes much
more sense if we can hook into the world and/or see what we do as having
long-term positive consequences for what's happening beyond our specialisms.
(I really do think we can make a profound difference, as the history of
educational reform suggests.) Like many here, I suppose, I wouldn't want the
public (e.g. my neighbours or anyone else, for that matter) telling me what
to do. I'm hired to educate as the skilled joiner is hired to make a window;
if the window won't open or rattles in its frame, then governor should
intervene, but not otherwise.

As for metrics, I do recommend Thomas Kuhn's paper, "The function of
measurement in modern physical science", in The Essential Tension (1977) as
a tool with which to pry into our all too easy acceptance of the notion that
measuring provides a theoretically unladen way of arriving at The Truth. I
have great respect for the skills with numbers that are sometimes manifested
in statistically based studies, e.g. in sociology. But it's a very, very
tricky business.

So, I ask my old question in a new way: if our usefulness is measured by our
paymasters, how should it be done, if at all?

Yours,WM

--
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.




--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 09:22:37 -0300
        From: renata lemos <renata.lemoz at eletrocooperativa.org>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference
        In-Reply-To: <20090727075400.1F2F332779 at woodward.joyent.us>


>        Date: Sun, 26 Jul 2009 11:20:48 -0500
>        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.190 making a difference
>        In-Reply-To: <20090726073451.2ABD124757 at woodward.joyent.us>
>
> The "What have we accomplished" question could be approached by asking
> what would happen if the humanities had to stop using computers. What
> would be lost?
>
> The answer I reach is that apart from dropping out of the current
> world of communications and information retireval and dissemination
> technologies, not much.

I´m sorry, but I couldn´t disagree more. What seems to be "not much" to you
in fact is your own capability of spreading and discussing your ideas and
getting live feedback from all over the world and the impact that has on the
evolution of your own IDEAS - just like what is happening right now... This
is definitely a MAJOR loss, if you took computers out of the equation.
However this wouldn´t even be the true difference made by technology... this
would be only a slight one.

the real, important difference made by technology in the digital humanities
field is that a technological society operates according to a technological
logic, one that has infiltrated each and every social practice and milieu -
particularly ours.

so in fact, it is not a question of technological applications, which are
(or may seem to be) indeed limited - but of technological IMPLICATIONS,
which have and will continue to change our field of intellectual tecniques,
just in the same way technology changes itself: fast, exponentially,
convergently, pervasively.

the reason why some of us have been complaining about how dull and boring a
lot of the work being presented is lies in the fact that unfortunately 99%
of the work has been focused on dry applications of technology, while very
little work is focused on the wider implications of technology: the real
interesting and fascinating stuff - but also the difficult, complicated
stuff...

to answer questions about what technologies are useful and how to make
technologies useful to the field is easy. to answer questions about WHY
technologies are or are not completely reshaping the field is something else
entirely.

renata lemos
eletrocooperativa - são paulo, brazil
puc sp, brazil


--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 09:36:18 -0400
        From: "Holly C. Shulman" <hcs8n at virginia.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference
        In-Reply-To: <20090727075400.1F2F332779 at woodward.joyent.us>


To weigh in on this subject, the previous remark from amsler: "The fancy
computational techniques for text analysis could still be done by
hand, but would just be much slower."

This question of degree, it seems to me, can become large enough to verge on
a question of kind.  That is to say, the much slower could remain largely
undone because it is so hard.  Even before concordances, great Talmudic
scholars could basically recite the basic tractates.  And easily say what
the most important 10 or 20 or 50 scholars had to say on any matter.  So?
Looking at this issue from the standpoint of a historian whose major digital
humanities work has been done in the U.S. Early Republic, you have probably
more than 300 volumes of paper editions of the founding fathers alone, not
to mention other founders suc as John Jay.  Then perhaps mix in women.  At a
certain point, if you want to know what they were all saying on a certain
topic over a wide range of time the effort becomes intense.  If you want to
mix that in with insights that have been made in journal articles over the
past  100 years, it becomes an even more difficult task.  If you want to
work in the 20th century, where evidence extends to sound and moving images,
even more so.

It seems to this scholar that the question of linking texts etc.(that have
beeen well marked up etc.) lies at the heart of what digital can do for
Humanities.    

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 12:43:13 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.186 what difference? digital editions?
        In-Reply-To: <20090725082137.DA4DE31F84 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

At 04:21 AM 7/25/2009, Martin Mueller writes, about digital classical 
scholarship (standing in for the inevitable wider question):

>What difference has it made? What kinds of inquiry are possible now
>that were not practicable then? How do books and articles benefit from
>changed modes of access to the documentary base of classical
>philology? (I am not talking here about changed modes of access to
>secondary literature, because that is a phenomenon that applies with
>more or less equal force to all disciplines).
>
>I am inclined to believe that it has made a difference. But does
>anybody have evidence good enough to persuade my hard-nosed colleague
>that my belief is well grounded?

I agree that this is an important question to be asking. But I doubt 
we should know the answer, at least not yet.

In order to clarify the question being asked, we need to consider 
what difference would count as a difference. The inevitable and 
well-worn comparison to the advent of print 500 years ago comes to 
mind. What difference did that make? How was that important? The 
answers to these questions may themselves be illuminating. Can we be 
sure that the 30 years Martin cites since the beginning of the TLG is 
an adequate time frame? Should we not be considering developments 
that will take much longer? One can certainly argue that the European 
Renaissance could only happen once. Yet just as its shape and 
direction were unimaginable to those in the midst of it, would we 
know what kind of renaissance was happening among us?

That being said, any number of digital projects in the Classics show 
how deeply we are into a first phase. The outlines of the next one, I 
think, may become visible once we get the texts onto handheld 
devices, annotated with dynamic support for translation and 
morphological analysis (on the word, phrase and text level) that 
significantly changes the affordances for casual learning and reading 
of Greek and Latin in the original. On the other hand, even then I'm 
not sure we will see changes that are outwardly so dramatic, at least 
not in our lifetimes. Nor are the real changes necessarily going to 
be among the specialists. Audiences, one might hope, will both widen 
(as work becomes more accessible) and narrow (as niches become newly 
viable). Then too, the development of these resources may ultimately 
have more impact on the culture at large than within the Classics 
themselves, as technologies for Classical philology are then applied 
to other languages and literatures. Which is just what happened, 
arguably, the last time around.

In other words, I think Martin's friendly interlocutor is looking in 
the wrong direction. It wasn't so much Philology that was changed by 
the Renaissance, although that happened, slowly but surely; it was 
also Philology -- amidst much, much more -- that changed everything else.

Cheers,
Wendell

=========================================================
Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street                    Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207                                          Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD  20850                                 Fax: 301/315-8285
----------------------------------------------------------------------
   Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML


--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 12:58:37 -0400
        From: John Walsh <john.a.walsh at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference
        In-Reply-To: <20090727075400.1F2F332779 at woodward.joyent.us>

amsler at cs.utexas.edu wrote:

>
> The "What have we accomplished" question could be approached by asking
> what would happen if the humanities had to stop using computers. What
> would be lost?
>
> The answer I reach is that apart from dropping out of the current
> world of communications and information retireval and dissemination
> technologies, not much.

I think the "what would be lost?" approach is an interesting way of
looking at the problem, but I disagree with the conclusion "not much."
 Dropping out of the current communications and information
dissemination infrastructure would result in an incalculable loss and
not only remove practical tools from our tool set but also separate
the humanities from a vast swath of our culture. The question could
have been posed similarly a few hundred years ago: "what would happen
if the humanities had to stop using printed books?" Certainly in
retrospect few of us would say, "not much." As communications
technologies and media change, it is important for the humanities not
just to keep up but to help lead the way and take a critical look at
how the changes will impact past, present, and future literature,
classics, art, etc.

John

-- 
| John A. Walsh
| Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science
| Indiana University, 1320 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405
| www:  http://www.slis.indiana.edu/faculty/jawalsh/ 
| Voice:812-856-0707 Fax:812-856-2062 <mailto:jawalsh at indiana.edu>



--[6]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 20:43:44 -0400
        From: "Mark LeBlanc" <mleblanc at wheatoncollege.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.191 making a difference
        In-Reply-To: <20090727075400.1F2F332779 at woodward.joyent.us>

>>The real question is 'so what'?

[well, please interpret my reply as from someone
from outside your discipline]

so what?

well, for one, as a computer scientist, i would
not be listening in on this interesting thread;
second, i would not be typing this from Newfoundland
at the ISAS (International Society of Anglo-Saxonists)
conference ... hanging out, sharing drinks and
stories with scholars of ancient texts; they would
not be listening to our research group share how
as programmers and statisticians, we are amazed at
the open questions asked of this corpus ... and how
we can (in a modest way), do what John Burrows calls
"playing the middle game" where (i) lots of scholarship
occurs; (ii) we run experiments (the middle-game);
and (iii) lots of scholarship must occur after;

in short, without computers, we would miss these
exciting multidisciplinary collaborations

wandering in a sea of texts,
mark      

--[7]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 13:05:33 +0100
        From: Melissa Terras <m.terras at UCL.AC.UK>
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?


Hi everyone,

I'd just like to chip in and say this is what the funding councils are 
calling "Evidence of Value" - and are asking us to show evidence for the 
value of digital humanities research.  Its important, as funding cuts in 
this area (such as the withdrawal of funds for the AHDS) are based on 
the perceived lack of evidence of value. Unless we can articulate, as a 
community, the better/faster/more nature of digital, we will struggle 
even harder for funding in years to come. And no, I am not aware of any 
real quantitative research into the matter (save log analysis 
techniques, which are themselves not entirely transparent).  It would be 
interesting to hear of anyone who knew of relevant research.

Melissa Terras

Martin Mueller wrote:
> The other day I had a conversation with a colleague who in a friendly, 
> but skeptical and pointed way asked whether all this digital stuff made 
> an important difference.  It is still a good question. In the domain of 
> text-based scholarship, classical philology (broadly construed) is an 
> important test case. It is the only discipline of substantial generic, 
> linguistic, and diachronic scope of which it can be said that all or 
> most of the relevant documents exist in fairly good and moderately 
> interoperable form. There is no TLG or anything like it for English, 
> German, or any other language. There is All of Old English and All of 
> Old Norse, but those are boutique operations.
> 
> Thus Classical philology on the face of it is a discipline where you 
> could no longer blame the absence of a good enough cyber infrastructure 
> for the lack of scholarly 'progress' (always a problematical word) or at 
> least significant  difference. If it has not mattered much in Classics, 
> it is unlikely to matter much elsewhere. If there is good evidence about 
> significant and worthwhile change in Classics, it has deep implications 
> for other disciplines where the digital documentary infrastructure is 
> still much more fragmentary.
> 
> Where is that difference and what do we know about it? I don't think 
> that significant change is necessarily measured in dramatic 
> breakthroughs. It is more likely to happen in slow, subtle, and 
> pervasive ways. But it ought to be measurable in some fashion.  The TLG 
> has now been around almost 30 years and for close to 20 years access to 
> it has been within technical and financial reach of anybody who care.
> 
> What difference has it made? What kinds of inquiry are possible now that 
> were not practicable then? How do books and articles benefit from 
> changed modes of access to the documentary base of classical philology? 
> (I am not talking here about changed modes of access to secondary 
> literature, because that is a phenomenon that applies with more or less 
> equal force to all disciplines).
> 
> I am inclined to believe that it has made a difference. But does anybody 
> have evidence good enough to persuade my hard-nosed colleague that my 
> belief is well grounded?
> 

-- 

Melissa M. Terras MA MSc DPhil CLTHE CITP FHEA
Senior Lecturer in Electronic Communication
Department of Information Studies
Henry Morley Building
University College London
Gower Street
WC1E 6BT

Tel: 020-7679-7206 (direct), 020-7679-7204 (dept), 020-7383-0557 (fax)
Email: m.terras at ucl.ac.uk
Web: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/melissa-terras/
Blog: http://melissaterras.blogspot.com/

General Editor, Digital Humanities Quarterly: 
http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/

Digital Images for the Information Professional. Available now through 
all good bookshops, or from Ashgate at 
http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&pageSubject=324&title_id=8986&edition_id=9780

--[8]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 13:45:04 +0100
        From: OKELL E.R. <e.r.okell at DURHAM.AC.UK>
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?
        In-Reply-To: A<4A6D953D.5070305 at ucl.ac.uk>

While this is perhaps not exactly what you are looking for, the HCA
Subject Centre conducted a survey of digital resource use in teaching in
2005-06. 71% of respondents thought that their teaching practice had
altered as a result of having access to digital resources, which they
defined as things like e-journals, email and websites (inc. Perseus and
spin offs like Diogenes but also Diotima and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri as
well as online bibliographies), but also included things like the
TLG/PHI. So the availability of reliable digital resources affects a)
the materials used in teaching and b) the methods used to deliver
teaching materials. As teaching is increasingly closely linked to
research the use of digital resources for research is itself creeping
into teaching, especially on research methods/skills modules. Cary
MacMahon's report on "Using and Sharing Online Resources in History,
Classics and Archaeology" is available to download from the page
http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/hca/themes/e-learning/resources (it's the
link at the bottom of the top paragraph). The attitudes of classicists
and multidisciplinary scholars (predominantly classics +
history/archaeology or + both) towards such resources and to using such
resources were very positive.
Best,
Eleanor


--[9]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Tue, 28 Jul 2009 03:45:32 +0100
        From: Hugh Cayless <philomousos at GMAIL.COM>
        Subject: Re: What difference does digital make?

I'd say the jury is still out.  While digital corpora have been widely  
available for a couple of decades, and they have made a difference,  
I'm not sure it's an overwhelming one.  Before there were the TLG and  
PHI, there had been print concordances for many authors available for  
a very long time.  Digital concordances are much faster, but they  
aren't necessarily qualitatively different than their predecessors.   
Classics made a lot of progress by brute force and discipline before  
digital, so perhaps it was less of a revolution than it might have been.

I've been on the periphery of classical philology for a decade  
(building digital tools and datasets), so I can't speak with any  
authority about how it may have changed recently, and I began grad  
school in the age of the CD-ROM and left in the age of the web, so I  
don't have much to contrast it with.  I can say that the PHI and TLG  
got a great deal of use in my day, while the hefty concordance of Ovid  
(for example) was rarely taken off the shelf.

But searching and concordance-generation are only first steps.  When I  
was writing my dissertation (on rhetorical tropes in Hellenistic  
through Augustan praise poetry), the digital tools didn't really help  
me all that much (though the ability to grab digital copies of texts  
was a great boon and saved me a lot of typing).  If I were undertaking  
the same project today, I would probably be attempting to use text- 
mining and automated classification techniques, but back then I didn't  
have the skills—and to be honest, I don't know whether anyone in the  
department would have been capable of evaluating it.

I expect there will be a point at which text mining and statistical  
methods really take off in popularity, especially in dealing with  
corpora like inscriptions and papyri that are large enough to warrant  
that kind of technique, and this will mark a real change in the  
character of (some) classical scholarship, but to this point, I think  
a lot of what has been done simply makes aspects of the old kinds of  
investigation easier.  What I would *hope* to see change due to  
digital sources, but can't really distinguish from my limited  
perspective, is more cross-disciplinary studies, since it's far easier  
to find evidence outside a narrow area of focus now.  I would also  
hope to see less naïveté, such as (to give an egregious example)  
discussions of the cultures of the ancient Black Sea region that rely  
heavily on Ovid and exclude the evidence of inscriptions and  
archaeology.

Best,
Hugh


More information about the Humanist mailing list