[Humanist] 29.231 contexts or subtexts?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Aug 21 10:06:42 CEST 2015


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 231.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Prof. David Anderson" <cdpa at btinternet.com>             (114)
        Subject: Re:  29.224 unforeseen contexts

  [2]   From:    Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>     (35)
        Subject: Re:  29.227 contexts or subtexts?

  [3]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (76)
        Subject: Re:  Is Unix racist?

  [4]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (28)
        Subject: Re:  Is Unix racist?

[Messages 3 and 4 are forwarded from SIGCIS, as was the original 
provocation. I think both greatly help to draw our attention to the 
underlying problem of the historiography of technology. Again I'd 
draw your attention to David Mindell's fine book, Between Human 
and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before 
Cybernetics (2002) and Michael Mahoney's collected essays, 
Histories of Computing (2011) as rare examples of how to do it 
right. --WM]


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:14:09 +0000 (UTC)
        From: "Prof. David Anderson" <cdpa at btinternet.com>
        Subject: Re:  29.224 unforeseen contexts
        In-Reply-To: <20150819051144.905DB6888 at digitalhumanities.org>


Dear Joris,

Some of the responses to McPherson's piece which appeared on the SIGCIS list were undoubtedly intemperate in tone.  This is regrettable, but hardly surprising given the intentionally provactive and polemical character of the original peice.  McPherson asks an interesting enough question but I do not find her position persuasive.  Her essay is under-developed, and fails to consider many other explanations for the single technical feature of Unix onto which she latches.  As it stands, she offers no more reason to believe Unix is racist, than it is sexist, and while either or both of these claims may have merit, she does nowhere near enough to convince, but more than enough to provoke.  

We do not advance the cause of interdisciplinarity or collegiality very far by pouring scorn on each other or using inflamatory language.   In discussing responses to an essay that asks if Unix, and perhaps by extension the whole of IT, is "racist", I would personally shy aware from talking of the "misogynistic character" of IT, or any other "deplorable trait" of that discipline. If we are to criticise the IT community for "almost unanimously knee-jerk and face palm" reactions, failing to be self-reflective, or being humanistically uninformed, it is important to ensure that Humanities output directed at the IT community is respectful, fully-considered, temperately expressed, and IT literate. 

Best wishes,

David

David P. Anderson B.A.Hons Ph.D.
Professor of Digital Humanities
Editor-in-Chief: New Review of Information NetworkingSecretary & Treasurer: DLM Forum Foundation

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--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Aug 2015 20:34:50 +0000
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>
        Subject: Re:  29.227 contexts or subtexts?
        In-Reply-To: <20150820060156.A407F6AAE at digitalhumanities.org>


Dear Patricia,

Thank you for the valuable reference. And also for in passing pointing out
a beam in my eye :) Much appreciated.

All the best
--Joris

On Thu, Aug 20, 2015 at 8:02 AM Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 227.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>         Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2015 10:56:05 -0400
>         From: "Patricia O'Neill" <poneill at hamilton.edu>
>         Subject: contexts or subtexts?
>
>
> Dear Joris,
>
> I agree that some of the negative reaction to Tara Mcpherson's essay (which
> is quite dated by now) is, as you say, perhaps reflective of  "an immature
> ability of IT as a (sub)culture to self-reflect on strongly held particular
> beliefs and norms." For a more current view, also presented within the
> context of the humanities and the Modern Language Association in
> particular,
> see BARNETT, FIONA M. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies.
> Spring2014, Vol. 25 Issue 1, p64-78. The title is "The Brave Side of DH".
>
> I would send you all the link but this journal explicitly prohibits
> postingarticles to listserv.
>
> Pat O'Neill




--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 21 Aug 2015 06:23:18 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Re:  Is Unix racist?
        In-Reply-To: <55D644AD.2080807 at hu-berlin.de>



-------- Forwarded Message --------
> Subject: 	Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Is Unix racist?
> Date: 	Thu, 20 Aug 2015 23:20:45 +0200
> From: 	Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan <bernard.geoghegan at hu-berlin.de>
> Organization: 	Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
> To: 	Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com>, Thomas Haigh
<thaigh at computer.org>
> CC: 	members at sigcis.org <members at sigcis.org>

Hi All,

After Matthew threw in his two bits tom Tom's comments, I feel compelled
to add something too. Tom wrote:

>     . . .  I'm trained in history, rather than English or media
>     studies. There's a difference between the kind of arguments that
>     are allowed in the two fields, specifically with respect to
>     evidence and claims about causation. Scholarship in English tends
>     to be more self-consciously performative, and more concerned with
>     joining up apparently unconnected things in a provocative or
>     original way. I'm reminded of a workshop at Penn where Rob Kohler
>     asked a visiting English professor "“How would you know if an
>     argument of this kind had gone off the rails and fallen off the
>     cliff?”" His suggestion was that you couldn't, that the aesthetic
>     standards at work meant that almost any connection of conclusion
>     to evidence would be equally valid.

I'd put it a little differently, by saying that a stricter code of what
can be considered causality governs much (though not all) academic
historiography. The world is full of interrelations that are quite
important but slip through the grid of standard academic historiography,
which often favors certain kinds of narrative causality, and in
anglophone contexts especially, certain kinds of intentionality or human
agency, and so on. So I'd agree with Tom that it's about different
notions of evidence and causation. However, because academic
historiographic it's so bound up with matching a certain set of
professional codes, it's not actually about "history" in the very first
instance, but rather about shared standards that we can work around to
"write history." In this regard, I think that sometimes adjacent fields
-- sociology, media studies, literary studies, philosophy, even
literature -- can in certain instances get closer to the messy
interrelations that "make history" or "are history," even though they
are not the stuff of "historiography" in its disciplinary, academic
iteration.

To take an example relevant to the UNIX case: I did an oral history with
an engineer who worked at Bell Labs from the 1950s through the 1970s,
and he told me that working there was great, it was like a sleepover
camp, they frequently worked all night and over the weekends. Then, he
claimed, it all changed in the 1970s when they started "hiring womens
and foreigners." In his account, the social life (I think Tom called it
a "bromance" broke down. Not too long after, UNIX started becoming a big
deal in the Labs. What does this mean? How do we map these
interrelatedness of gender, race, and communication engineering that is
suggested here? It's damn hard. Folks on this list such as Light,
Medina, and Ensmenger have helped us start mapping out those relations
historiographically. And yet, so much there will forever escape rigorous
historiographic method. Does that mean those relations cannot be
considered? Or that they cannot be considered empirically? Not at all,
it seems to me.   It is probably helpful that some folks from English or
media studies can investigate these interrelations without worrying
about the models of causality that govern mainstream disciplinary
approaches to History. That's why so many of the major historiographic
innovations don't originate in academic history, but instead migrate
from other fields.

In that regard, and like J. Abbate, I think the McPherson piece is a
wonderful provocation, an occasion to think further, and think
historiographically, about problems are difficult to think about with
established historiographic methods. (That's also why I like this list
so much --- its grab-bag methodological character!).

Best,
Bernard


-- 
Dr. Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan
Institut für Kulturwissenschaft
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

www.bernardg.com



--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 21 Aug 2015 06:29:12 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: Re:  Is Unix racist?
        In-Reply-To: <57F1AD2B-F524-48E3-86E3-99A05693FAAD at gmail.com>



-------- Forwarded Message --------
> Subject: 	Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Is Unix racist?
> Date: 	Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:59:09 -0700
> From: 	Clarence Townsend <clarence1234 at gmail.com>
> To: 	Henry E Lowood <lowood at stanford.edu>
> CC: 	members at sigcis.org <members at sigcis.org>, Thomas Haigh
<thaigh at computer.org>

The discussion of the various modes of academic discourse & validity is
interesting. From my perception of the disciplines what is lacking in
the human sciences is a  vigorous process of specificity for describing
mistakes when using broad language like modularity & racism. There is
little to no peer examples or reinforcement for publishing examples
where one says I thought this was an example of modularity or racism
then I discovered I was wrong & these are the reasons I was wrong. This
then creates an academic culture that is stuck in narrow groves. From my
view the "hard sciences" do a whole lot better at this. I am a semi
retired human services administrator who was bored with academic culture
that published "results" that were really more like "results minus the
mistakes I don't want to talk about and my peers don't talk about either".
An interesting character from this period of computer history was
Charles West Churchman who got bored editing the journal Philosophy of
Science & became a professor of business administration at UC Berkeley &
dealt with training managers who were interacting with the business IT
departments to ask for & use computer data. He was the editor of the
journal Management Science for a few decades.

Clarence Townsend Eugene Oregon
Sent from my iPhone




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