[Humanist] 22.534 cost and labour of doing good

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Feb 16 13:06:23 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 534.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2009 11:49:21 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: cost and labour of doing good?

In the first decade of the 20th Century, Lane Cooper, a professor of 
English at Cornell, produced his Concordance to Wordsworth. With the 
help of a superbly organized editorial team of 46 people, 210,994 slips 
were prepared for the printer in less than 7 months -- quite remarkable 
given that, as he says, Mary Cowden Clark's concordance to Shakespeare 
cost her 16-18 years, Bonitz's Index Aristotelicus 25 years and so 
forth. The cost of compilation and printing was approximately $10,000 
(1919 dollars, ca $120,000 in today's money). Cooper describes all this 
in "Making and Use of a Verbal Concordance", Swanee Review (1919).

While it is true that much has to be adjusted before one can 
meaningfully compare an interactive concordance to Cooper's work, 
nevertheless his description does lead immediately to some ironic 
reflections on the difference between his day and ours. Preparation of 
the text aside, we can have such things, and in many respects better 
(without stop-words etc), at little or no cost to the individual. But 
some of our colleagues, and I dare say most of our students of 
literature, have never used a concordance, and many of those do not know 
what one is. In 1919 Cooper wrote that by compiling a concordance the 
lover of Wordsworth "could render a more vital service to English 
literature by the unambitious toil of indexing the works of that poet 
than by writing enthusiastic essays upon their merits. In reality, to 
form a concordance of Wordsworth is almost the same thing as making the
poet write literary essays about himself -- an object well worth
the zeal of any scholar or learned organization" (pp. 5-6).

It's easy to be glib about the differences between then and now that 
render this statement so foreign to us. One can point for example to the 
movement away from scholar as harmless accumulator of knowledge to the 
scholar as cultural critic, and then as theoritician of everything. But 
surely a better story can be told of what happened, and why it is that 
having now the means cheaply and easily to do what Cooper regarded as so 
much good we no longer care to do it.


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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