[Humanist] 27.432 disciplinary contradictions & radical demythologization

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Oct 16 07:31:03 CEST 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 432.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Rob Myers <rob at robmyers.org>                              (25)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.430 disciplinary contradictions & radical
                demythologization?

  [2]   From:    Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>    (122)
        Subject: 27.430 disciplinary contradictions & radical
                demythologization?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2013 11:36:19 -0700
        From: Rob Myers <rob at robmyers.org>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.430 disciplinary contradictions & radical demythologization?
        In-Reply-To: <20131015055515.0FF493B66 at digitalhumanities.org>

On 14/10/13 10:55 PM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>
> there seems to be a deep contradiction
> at the heart of their endeavors, insofar as often the only way these
> projects can only be realised is by using a series of obscure computer
> programs and/or programming languages that only they and their colleagues
> understand. Do you see what I am getting at here? Those claims of radical
> openness appear to be undermined by the very methods being used.

Most academia is similarly opaque to the uninitiated. I've just had to
explain to a family member how to format up citations...

Increasing access to the canonical texts of (e.g.) Theory would not be a
moral failure to do something else. Dumbing down the language used
(rather than explaining it in effective terms) might increase the
popularity of access but not the worth of it.

Accessibility of results and tools is sufficient to make them
accessible. Having accessed them they are resources that require
particular competences to exploit, like any other body of knowledge.

There are MOOCs, mailing lists, hacker spaces, Meetup groups, etc. by
which people can access the social and educational resources required to
do so. But these all have their own implications, as do
bricks-and-mortar colleges.

So I don't think that there isn't a uniquely destructive contradiction
at the heart of this. DH is novel enough that the contradictions of
academia and open access in general are visible to people who do not see
them in their own endeavors, but these are not specific to DH.



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2013 00:02:40 +0200
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>
        Subject: 27.430 disciplinary contradictions & radical demythologization?
        In-Reply-To: <20131015055515.0FF493B66 at digitalhumanities.org>


Dear Victoria,

I do tend to think that two aims you are pointing to indeed are by and
large shared goals of the DH community:

- Openess of scientific information and practice through open data and free
software/open source software.
- The ability to use these means by humanities researchers through raising
awareness and computer literacy.

What struck me was your wording of "the only way these projects can be
realised is by using a series of obscure computer programs and/or
programming languages that only they and their colleagues understand."

To me it seems that saying that computer languages obscure the potential of
the digital medium and of computation, is similar to saying that Dutch
obscures your ability to communicate with the people of my country because
your native tongue is English.

As far as I can tell nobody ever constructed a 'general purpose' computer
language to be purposely obfuscating –with the noted exception of pranks
resulting from computer language design exercises and experiments (cf. e.g.
esolangs.org/wiki/Hello_world_program_in_esoteric_languages). That I am
somewhat of a computer polyglot may stand as proof for this. Once you
master one language in a computer language paradigm, the learning curve for
others is very gentle. This is completely congruent to the effect that
mastering Latin makes it easier to understand other languages in that
family like Spanish and French: it is not too hard to master JavaScript
next to Java, Python next to Ruby, etc.

There is no intrinsic aspect of on purpose excluding, hiding, fencing off,
etc. in the technologies that we are using. Of course these technologies
can and may be used by less philanthropic people to create obfuscating
products, like any technology can be directed at wrongful purposes. In any
case I would argue that like painting computer literacy comes in levels of
skill. Anyone can paint a blot, it takes some practice and knowledge though
to create more intricate works. You want a blog? Go to Google Blogspot, be
done. Want a domain specific computer language to model narrative
structures? Hm.. that will take some actual effort.

Now, whether we like it or not, increasingly the technologies you speak of
are used to create the artifacts, processes, and interactions we as
humanists study. Computers, computer languages, software applications
written in those languages, and the Internet as a platform for all these
things to be purposefully interacting—it is all part of our culture
meanwhile. Like having to know French to be able to study in some depth the
Literature in that language, do we not need to at least study, if not teach
ourselves, the languages in use in this digital cultural world? Trying to
understand some of these languages as an increasing part of what creates
human expression and interaction, culture, ethics etc. seems to me almost
an obligation to our profession.

Whether we offer enough possibilities for future humanists to get
acquainted with these languages is in my view not so much dependent on a
lack of motivation within the community to provide and be open about.
Rather it depends on faculties and establishment to providing room and
credits in the curricula to transfer the knowledge.

As for Morozov. I think he has a point. There was way too much naive Brave
New World and Cockaigne hype around the Internet. And yes, I think we could
use some more engagement with the ethical issues in our community too. But
no, I do not have the impression that DH suffers from a deep contradiction
in its practicing and preaching: we can not redesign the Internet and
digital technology as a community, thus we need to thoroughly understand
and engage deeply with the innards of these technologies to study there
humanistic effects and potential.

Hope these thoughts may be of some use.

All the best
--Joris

On Tuesday, October 15, 2013, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 430.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>         Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2013 10:18:15 +0200
>         From: Victoria Scott <victoriahfscott at gmail.com>
>         Subject: The disciplinary contradictions of DH and the radical
> demythologization of computer programming
>
>
> Hello,
>
> I had a question about how digital humanists see the broad aims of their
> ever-evolving discipline in relation to a point raised by Evgeny Morozov in
> a recent article "Es ist lächerlich, das Internet erklären zu wollen!" (see
> link below).
>
> He identifies a self-proclaimed priest class that has formed to explain the
> Internet to the lay people, and he thinks--if I understand correctly--that
> it has to be challenged.
>
> What I am wondering is how this insight relates to digital humanists, if at
> all. Please correct me if I am wrong (I am very new here), but digital
> humanists often defend the radical democratic potential or open access
> nature of their projects...and yet, there seems to be a deep contradiction
> at the heart of their endeavors, insofar as often the only way these
> projects can only be realised is by using a series of obscure computer
> programs and/or programming languages that only they and their colleagues
> understand. Do you see what I am getting at here? Those claims of radical
> openness appear to be undermined by the very methods being used. If it
> isn't already the case (I think I mentioned I am *really* new here...),
> wouldn't it be more effective for digital humanists be campaigning,
> nationally and internationally, for the expansion of computer programming
> classes at every level of education?...Not just in awesome summer schools
> that a few of us happen to be lucky enough to attend? I guess what I am
> calling for is a wholesale and comprehensive demythologization of computer
> programming...or something.
>
> I am probably just repeating things others have already written about. If
> so, please accept my sincerest apologies and direct me to the key readings.
>
> Thank you for your patience.
>
> Forza!
> Victoria H.F. Scott
>
> *Evgeny Morozov* @*evgenymorozov* <https://twitter.com/evgenymorozov> 11
> Oct <https://twitter.com/evgenymorozov/status/388964498075176961>
>
> I talk about the emergence of preemptive governance in my FAZ interview (in
> German) today http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuill
>
> eton/evgeny-morozov-im-gespraech-es-ist-laecherlich-das-internet-erklaeren-zu-wollen-12614255.html
>http://t.co/D0u84rDYLd
>
> --
> ***The Art History Guild <thearthistoryguild<https://sites.google.com/site/thearthistoryguild/>






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