[Humanist] 23.54 world-making and markup

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat May 30 08:39:26 CEST 2009

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 54.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 29 May 2009 13:04:59 +0100
        From: "Lopez, Tamara" <tamara.lopez at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: world-making and markup

Dear Willard,

I don't think Dupuy's argument is quite as dire as you suggest.  Scholars need to have ways of talking about the texts, around the texts, and through them in the context of digital methods, and markup serves this purpose. 

The best terms in which I can state why I think this are in my notes to you of last week - namely that:

In the introduction to "By whose standards? Standardization, stability and uniformity in the history of information and electrical technologies". Vol. 28, History of Technology, (Sumner and Gooday eds.), the editors note that standards are interesting because they help mediate the boundaries between humans and technologies (p.1), and they also contend that their highest value is in replacing "some process of negotiation, formerly ongoing and mutable, with a settled understanding." (p.3). 

The way these historians speak of standards, they sound quite different than your models: "temporary states in  a process of coming to know rather than fixed structures of knowledge" (your piece in the Blackwell companion). However, in the quote above, the editors are describing something of an ideal, because as they note some standards described in other essays 'succeed', while others, "undergo so much conceptual change that the question [of success] becomes...meaningless" (p.3).  These standards, like your models, have arcs, in which there are moments of stability, but also moments of mutability.  

In the work to which you refer, Goodman suggests that this stasis, this settling on a World is necessary, because while "readiness to recognize alternative worlds may be liberating, and suggestive of new avenues of exploration, a willingness to welcome all worlds builds none.... provides us with no map of the motions of heavenly bodies...produces no scientific theory or philosophical system... paints no pictures." (I.6)

Humanities scholars need handles, reifications, shared models- flawed and incomplete as they are.  They will be wrong in how they characterise the significance of what they are achieving sometimes, but isn't that (part of) scholarship? 

I do wonder however, and maybe this is what you are getting at- do we know what world is being built?  Is it the world that the scholars  and digital humanists think we are building with markup, or is it something else?  Do we know where the world we are building resides?  Is it in the tags or is it in the software that processes the tags, or is it in the discussions about the tags that surround the texts around which our world is ostensibly centred?

Goodman begins his text with: "This book does not run a straight course from beginning to end.  It hunts; and in the hunting, it sometimes worries the same raccoon in different trees, or different raccoons in the same tree, or even what turns out to be no raccoon in any tree." (Foreward)



Tamara Lopez
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
26-29 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5RL (UK), t: +44 (0)20 78481237

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