[Humanist] 30.210 tools

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jul 28 09:19:49 CEST 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 210.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2016 12:30:16 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: tooling revised

Thanks to Andrew Taylor's harmonica my 'tooling' must expand, from devising
tools to the phenomenology of their use. My favourite examples are the
calligrapher's edged pen and the wood-carver's chisel, but I suppose we
could just as well cite the statements in a programming language, each of
which is a tool the programmer is unlikely to modify but which can be used
to do many things. So we're talking about a significant degree of
inventiveness with a tool and what that signifies?

And then there's the whole discussion centred on making things. In a
significant foregrounding, The New Companion to Digital Humanities makes its
opening chapter "Between bits and atoms: Physical computing and desktop
fabrication in the humanities". Jentery Sayers, Devon Elliott, Kari Kraus,
Bethany Nowviskie and William Turkel write that,

> Humanities scholars now live in a moment where it is rapidly becoming
> possible... for 'regular people [to] rip, mix, and burn physical
> objects as effortlessly as they edit a digital photograph'....
> Manifesting what Neil Gerschenfeld calls 'the programmability of the
> digital worlds we've invented' applied 'to the physical world we
> inhabit... these new kinds of objects move easily, back and forth, in
> the space between bits and atoms.... Thanks to the development of
> embedded electronics, artifacts that are fabricated using desktop
> machines can also sense and respond to their environments, go online,
> communicate with other objects, log data, and interact with
> people.... Following Richard Stennett's dictum that 'making is
> thinking'... we not that these 'thinking', 'sensing', and 'talking'
> things offer us new ways to understand ourselves and our assumptions,
>  as do the processes through which we make them.

Anyone who has been reading Evelyn Fox Keller on computational biology and
biological computing as well as the embracing literature on the human in our
computationally affected world can see in part where this is going -- the
part, hugely significant, that tends to surface as scare-stories in the
popular press. But the emphasis here is otherwise, on "the importance of
transduction, haptics, prototyping, and surprise when conducting research
with new media...." Sayers et al continue:

> [M]aking things between bits and atoms thus becomes a practice deeply
> enmeshed in emerging technologies that intricately blend human- and
> machine-based manufacturing. For the humanities, such making is
> important precisely because it encourages creative speculation and
> critical conjecture, which... entail the production of fuzzy
> scenarios, counterfactual histories, possible worlds, and other
> fabrications. Indeed, the space between bits and atoms is very much 
> the space of 'what if'...

Keller asks, with her eye on the scary (and thrilling) side, "how close to
the edge of 'as if' are we prepared to go?" (2003: 213). John Wall, with his
meticulous-cautious-adventurous simulation of John Donne preaching from
Paul's Cross in the early 17C, supplies an Early Modernist scholar's example
of how this edging into the unknown is done. (For more see his essay in the
forthcoming Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, ed. Gold and Klein.) He 
reminds us of what research ought always to be.

But back to the New Companion. What a good way to show from the get-go 
that it is new.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney

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