[Humanist] 27.112 cfp for LLC on computational models of narrative

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 10 22:56:29 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 112.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 09 Jun 2013 23:23:40 -0400
        From: Mark Finlayson <markaf at MIT.EDU>
        Subject: Re: 27.100 on the cfp for LLC, computational models of narrative

Thanks, Martin and Chris, for starting a discussion on this.

The hope of the Computational Models of Narrative venues is that 
computationalists and humanists (and many others besides) can engage, 
not as enemies, but as colleagues both focused on the same goal: 
advancing our understanding of narrative.  Narrative is a complex, 
multifaceted phenomenon, touching diverse disciplines.  There are many 
computationalists who work on narrative, desperate for engagement and 
guidance from humanists.  Unfortunately, the computationalists all too 
often find their pleas rebuffed.  Us computationalists, being a somewhat 
stubborn species, and refusing to be dissuaded, then muddle along as 
best we can.  This produces work that is interesting to 
computationalists but often inadequate for humanists, leading to more 
disengagement between the two fields--a vicious cycle.

I believe that both computationalists and humanists have something 
unique and important to bring to the study of narrative, and together we 
can accomplish something that neither discipline could accomplish alone.

As with most interdisciplinary work, one major challenge is to find 
problems that are interesting to both parties.  Because of the nascent 
state of our tools and understanding, computationalists often work at a 
level that holds little interest to humanists; humanists, on the other 
hand, work on problems that are often far too complex to model 
computationally anytime soon.  What we need are humanists who can see 
the long-term potential of this collaboration, who are confident that we 
can find problems that are valuable to both sides, and are willing to 
engage with the computationalists to find those problems and tackle them.

Regarding the statement that has raised some hackles: it is my own, not 
Simon's, but I did paraphrase Simon in its construction.  My intention 
was to justify attention to computation viz-a-viz narrative, and to do 
it in a somewhat grandiose way that would stimulate thought.  The 
intention was not to be polemic, narrow, aggressive, imperialistic, 
possessive, or exclusionary.  I happen to believe the statement I made, 
and believe it should not be seen as a threat by humanists; but I 
understand others disagree, or partially agree but would like to 
clarify, qualify, or reformulate it.  This is a valuable discussion that 
I think is important to have.  I believe, with engagement from 
humanists, that the Computational Models of Narrative venues (workshop 
and LLC issue) are opportune places to have this discussion.

Mark Finlayson
markaf at mit.edu

> Date: Sat, 08 Jun 2013 11:20:39 +0200
> From: Jan Christoph Meister <jan-c-meister at uni-hamburg.de>
> Subject: Re: 27.100 on the cfp for LLC, computational models of
> narrative
> As a literary scholar and narratologist I sympathize with Martin
> Mueller's criticism: sweeping statements such as Herbert Simon's
> proclamation that "without computational modeling, the science of a
> complex human phenomenon such as narrative will never be successful,
> and that computational models are the proper lingua franca of the
> scientific study of narrative" smack of disciplinary imperialism. As
> a Humanist one can only marvel at the simplistic notion of 'success'
> or at the unreflected notion of 'science' which the quote seems to
> portray. The fact that legions of Humanists make similarly
> uninformed (if not worse) statements about CS or "computers" cannot
> count as a valid excuse.
> But let us take a step back and consider three points. One, this is
> just a quote and we don't have the original context. Two, the
> context that we do have is a CfP that tries to highlight the
> orientation and impetus of an interdisciplinary exchange that might
> otherwise go unnoticed. This CfP expressly invites Humanists to
> respond to the claim; so a bit of polemic is rhetorically apt. Three,
> on a conceptual and methodological level Simon's claim (if indeed he
> made this claim) that "computational models are the proper lingua
> franca of the scientific study of narrative" is definitely worth
> discussing, particularly in our community.
> If this discussion takes place in LLC, and if indeed it turns out to
> become a philosophical discussion that foregrounds the conceptual
> and not just the technological potential of CS/DH approaches in
> traditional Humanities' themes, then the perceived (or real?)
> polemic will have served its purpose. The special edition of LLC
> which the CfP announces is in part a spin-off from a series of
> workshops on "Computational Modeling of Narrative" which Mark
> Finlayson and colleagues have been organizing twice; this year's
> third workshop will take place at Hamburg University 4-6 August. The
> workshop is co-hosted by Hamburg's Interdisciplinary Centre for
> Narratology, considered by many literary scholars as something of a
> 'lion's den' in (mostly non-computational) formalist and
> structuralist narrative study and theory. It would be great if the
> spirit of open minded interdisciplinary exchange between the
> Humanities and AI/CS that informs these workshops could also prevail
> and be communicated by an LLC special issue on the topic.
> Chris Meister
>> Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2013 22:09:23 +0000 From: Martin Mueller
>> <martinmueller at northwestern.edu> Subject: Re:  27.96 cfp for LLC:
>> computational models of narrative
>> I read the below announcement with a mixture of amusement and
>> annoyance. The study of narrative is a major concern of the
>> discipline of Literary Studies (if it is a discipline). I am
>> confident in predicting that few, if any, literary scholars will
>> read any essay in this promised issue. But then, as Patrick Juola
>> pointed out some time ago, practically nobody in the humanities at
>> large reads anything in LLC.The literary scholars are partly at
>> fault here. But what about the astonishing arrogance of a
>> statement like "without computational modeling, the science of a
>> complex human phenomenon such as narrative will never be
>> successful"? If LLC aims at being "The Journal of Digital
>> Scholarship in the Humanities" will it help the conversation
>> between "digital humanists" (a term I abhor) and plain old
>> humanists if a special issue on so fundamental topic as narrative
>> takes such a narrow and aggressively possessive approach towards its
>> topic?
>> I am far from hostile to quantitative or computational approaches
>> to the study of literature or other disciplines in the humanities.
>> And I could understand a special issue of LLC that concerned
>> itself with in a more modest note with the question how far
>> computational approaches can take us towards a better understanding
>> of narrative.
>> But this is not the way to go for LLC, at least not if it wants to
>> reach out to a wider audience.

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