[Humanist] 24.263 getting involved, but how?
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Aug 19 22:35:33 CEST 2010
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 263.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2010 06:34:10 +1000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: getting involved
At one time a number of us spent time arguing that computer-using
scholars should become computer-programming scholars, and a few of us
wrote books on programming languages designed to make that easier. The
thinking was, as I recall, that if only "algorithmic thinking" were to
become habitual, great strides could be made in humanities computing.
This argument was related to the ongoing attempt to devise better, more
humanly expressive programming languages -- better than FORTRAN and
COBOL, higher-level than C++. Once upon a time I thought that assembler
language was about as high as one should go, that to twiddle bits was
not just thrilling but also was to understand what computing was all
about. But then I never got much done, following yards of printout,
spread out on the floor, trying to reconstruct the intricate path of a
flawed micro-algorithmic thought I once had (but had lost) in order to
find the flaw.
Economics and technological improvements made that sort of indulgence a
thing of the past, I would suppose, except in very specialised
applications. But where now do we say that the ideal hybrid scholar's
mind should be?
In the circumstances I observe many scholars, though persuaded that
digital methods and tools are Good, have only the vaguest notion of what
they *are* -- in the way that a painter understands his or her
paintbrush. I think this is a problem, the sort of one we should be
trying to solve.
The argument that you don't have to understand the workings of an
internal combustion engine in order to drive, and all arguments I know
of that take this form, really don't apply. Computing isn't mechanical
in the same sense that an internal combustion engine is mechanical, and
our objectives in using it aren't limited by getting from A to B. We
want both the "B" and the "getting" to be dynamical, evolving processes.
But many of our colleagues are still thinking of a simple drive from one
place they know to another place they know in a vehicle they can trust
to remain the same.
The solution to the problem seems to be to involve educating the
imaginations of these colleagues. And it seems to me that the way to do
this is somehow to involve them in hands-on making of digital things. I
see far too much standing back and talking about static results
engineered by someone else, too little engagement, too little scholarly
Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.
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