[Humanist] 23.377 who sustains what for whom, and how?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Oct 17 10:06:13 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 377.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 17 Oct 2009 08:56:13 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: who sustains for whom?

Francois Lachance has written asking me to excavate an old posting and 
try out the question I asked in it, five years ago, once again with a 
somewhat different emphasis. The old posting is Humanist 17.759, on the 
sustainability of digital academic resources. Then I asked,

>> To the extent I hear what urban planners are talking about these days, I've
>> noticed the term "sustainability". This, it seems to me, bespeaks more
>> wisdom than "innovation". Sustainability concerns should also be high on
>> the agenda of those who deal with electronic resources. Beyond the
>> technical questions (which are hard ones, to be sure) is the one I'd like
>> to raise here: how do we keep things such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of
>> Philosophy going financially and editorially?

Francois writes,

> I am asking for the reposting because it touches upon a theme which has run through the recent 
> explorations of the early discourse and reception of cybernetics: for whom does the scientist/scholar work? 
> (it's a corollary of with whom...) 

Another way of asking this question is to ask the epistemological 
question: what is knowledge in relation to these resources? Much of the 
talk that happens in relation to their construction implies that 
knowledge is like bricks, cumulative and stable, and that to know 
something is to possess one or more of these representative objects, or 
share its possession. The metaphor doesn't work very well of course, not 
least because to know something does not diminish the knowledge of 
someone else who also knows it. Much of our disciplinary/departmental 
organization seems to orbit this bad metaphor.

Since knowledge cannot be possessed like a brick or even shared like 
one, then do we say that knowing is the point? If so, then what do we 
work to sustain, and how do we sustain it? What does this say about that 
which we call the digital library?

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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