[Humanist] 24.270 getting involved

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Aug 21 23:06:01 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 270.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Elijah Meeks <emeeks at stanford.edu>                         (9)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.265 getting involved

  [2]   From:    Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>                     (55)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.263 getting involved, but how?

  [3]   From:    Paolo Rocchi <PAOLOROCCHI at it.ibm.com>                     (42)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.263 getting involved, but how?

        Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2010 15:07:37 -0700 (PDT)
        From: Elijah Meeks <emeeks at stanford.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.265 getting involved
        In-Reply-To: <20100820213957.ED71069D3B at woodward.joyent.us>

It seems that every time coding is brought up among digital humanities scholars that there are a thousand and one reasons why it is completely superfluous to the use and study of algorithmic media.  The comparison, for instance, with production of other media, wherein a creator didn't need to be conversant with the technology, whether it's a printing press or a radio wave, ignores that the creation of software (and here we must distinguish dynamic programs from old-fashioned multimedia created using new-fangled tools) is performed by building logical structures with language.  I think a better, and especially more academic, analogy would be with the study of a particular historical area and the requirement that one must be able to read the language or languages of that area and of the scholars who have most contributed to the study of that area.  Imagine if an applicant to a PhD program wanted to study French literature but declared no need to learn French?  Would you be able to take that person seriously?  The analogy holds in a further manner: there is no requirement that one be fluent, merely capable of understanding the arguments and structures relayed by the text.

And that's just the study of the subject.  If one wants to create innovative digital humanities works, then how can you expect to achieve any level of success in expressing complex humanities concepts via digital means when you don't understand how the software represents your ideas internally and your programming collaborator doesn't understand complex humanities concepts?  I've seen too much history written by scientists (evolutionary, computer and mechanical--they all secretly wanted to study history when they were pursuing their practical degrees) that's simplistic and lacking in nuance.  I think there's a similar trend among history represented in digital humanities projects, for the same reason.

I think, rather than envisioning some program or initiative to spur the development of code literacy among humanists, or the creation of an amazing and intuitive new programming language that makes semantic sense to humanists, that the only real way to change this situation is for scholars to think that understanding data structures and code is necessary for the study and use of digital scholarly media.

Elijah Meeks
Digital Humanities Specialist
Academic Computing Services
Stanford University
emeeks at stanford.edu

        Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2010 21:13:37 -0400
        From: Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.263 getting involved, but how?
        In-Reply-To: <20100819203533.9FEF062618 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

On Thu, 2010-08-19 at 20:35 +0000, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:


> 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.

Hmmm, ok, let's say I have concordance software that equals the usual
printed output that I would see in a bound and printed concordance.

I might not "know" the means used to assemble either concordance but the
utility for some purposes, such as studying the use of a particular term
in a text corpus *is immediately apparent.*

Your "objectives in using it aren't limited to getting from A to B. We
want both the "B" and "getting" to be dynamical, evolving processes."
doesn't provide any basis for demonstrating relevance to any humanities

As a group we are going to have to do better than that to interest our
colleagues in tools or learning new techniques.

> 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 
> craftsmanship.

I disagree with locating the problem with our colleagues. 

That is too easy and convenient an answer.

How about educating *our* imaginations to show the relevance of digital
methods to current scholarly tasks/goals or that digital techniques
uncover things relevant to those goals? 

End of the day, if our efforts are not demonstrably relevant to their
tasks, why should they bother? 

Hope you are looking forward to a great weekend!


PS: Obviously I have a great deal of sympathy for "digital" techniques
but I think traditional scholarship is wide and deep enough that such
techniques are additions to and not alternatives for the traditional
scholar's toolbox. 

Patrick Durusau
patrick at durusau.net
Chair, V1 - US TAG to JTC 1/SC 34
Convener, JTC 1/SC 34/WG 3 (Topic Maps)
Editor, OpenDocument Format TC (OASIS), Project Editor ISO/IEC 26300
Co-Editor, ISO/IEC 13250-1, 13250-5 (Topic Maps)
Another Word For It (blog): http://tm.durusau.net
Homepage: http://www.durusau.net
Twitter: patrickDurusau

        Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2010 11:27:47 +0200
        From: Paolo Rocchi <PAOLOROCCHI at it.ibm.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.263 getting involved, but how?
        In-Reply-To: <20100819203533.9FEF062618 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard 

The principles of internal combustion engines are unnecessary to drive a 
car, but if a learner driver wants to be acquainted with those principles 
he can. I put forward the following naive question: Why can a not-major 
driver grasp the structure of his motor car without difficulties? Why can 
laymen become aware of the secrets of genetics, of nuclear physics and of 
other advance fields?

The answer seems obvious to me. If a man of the street will, he can share 
the deep significance of innovative solutions because the principles of 
thermodynamics, of genetic and of other cutting-edge areas of research are 
clearly established. The logic of those disciplines is easily seen 
through, the order of topics and arguments are firmly established. Can one 
say the same for computer science?

I restrict myself to three quotations. Computer theorists sustain the 
value of Shannon's interpretation. They take the Shannon concept of 
information as a fundamental Bible, but after fifty years we find more 
than twenty-five theories of information in literature. Perhaps the 
presumed cultural cornerstone is not so solid. 

Sometimes Turing's works are considered as the texts of a prophet but the 
Turing machine - which offers a static vision of computers - cannot 
explicate crucial technical aspects such as the software evolution and the 
program maintenance. The von Neumann concept of algorithm is oriented to 
solve mathematical problems and is largely surpassed by the present 
communicative needs of the Internet. 

Theoretical notions and interpretations are unable to sustain the 
activities of computer experts. From my modest viewpoint informatics is 
far away from being grounded upon unified and significant concepts; hence 
I mean to close: How can a digital-humanities expert improve his 
scholarship if the raw-material of his work turns out to be inadequate, 
lacking and often leading to nonsense conclusions?

Paolo Rocchi

SWG  Research and Development
via Shanghai 53,    00144 ROMA
phone: 39-6-5966-5213
fax  : 39-6-5966-3618
url  : http://www.edscuola.com/archivio/software/bit/eauthor.html

Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
19/08/2010 22.42

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