[Humanist] 24.304 designing an academic DH department

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Sep 1 22:22:29 CEST 2010

                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 304.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

[1]   From:    Claire Clivaz <claire.clivaz at unil.ch>                     (69)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.303 designing an academic DH department

[2]   From:    James Cronin <jgrcronin at gmail.com>                        (83)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.303 designing an academic DH department

[3]   From:    amsler at cs.utexas.edu                                      (75)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.303 designing an academic DH department

Date: Wed, 1 Sep 2010 09:20:35 +0200
From: Claire Clivaz <claire.clivaz at unil.ch>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.303 designing an academic DH department
In-Reply-To: <20100901002353.1769165C07 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

A lot has already be done, it is clear, but the situation changes drastically depending on the fields in Humanities. In my own field - early Christianity -, some parts are really alive - New Testament manuscripts, for example -, other parts of the field are really not convinced about the present challenges. So when one tries to get money of fundraising about a «digital humanities» project, everything depends on the global appreciation of the situation by the advanced scholar who stands in front of you. This period of «transition» is not always easy, notably in the discussion with our usual editors who have difficulties to imagine to abandon the papers editions, but the young generation of PhD students is really waiting for changes, and it is nice to try working for them. I know perfectly that I belong to a quite conservative field in Humanities regarding these questions: the challenge is huge for all the sciences of Antiquity, and particularly for the editions of ancient manuscripts.

PS My name is «Clivaz», not Chavez :-)

Claire Clivaz
Prof. of New Testament and Early Christian Literature
University of Lausanne (CH)

Date: Wed, 1 Sep 2010 14:45:13 +0100
From: James Cronin <jgrcronin at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.303 designing an academic DH department
In-Reply-To: <20100901002353.1769165C07 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

I am following, with interest, your conversation thread. Suggestions,
so far, propose a model along the lines of established disciplinary
and departmental structures. While it is understandable to want to
reproduce structures institutions are familiar with, nevertheless, no
matter what structure institutions may adopt, it is essential, I feel,
to foster collaborative cultures between all participants be they
academic, technical, or academic-related post-holders. Forming such
cultures requires leadership, institutional support and a willingness
on the part of all participants, irrespective of their individual
disciplinary backgrounds, to engage in dialogue and dissemination. All
this will inevitably take time and ideally begins at the recruitment
phase. As your initial speculative question is an invitation to
imagine an ideal scenario, is there value in speculating on the
potential merits of different models of group affiliations and
organisational structures or is this a step too far?


James Cronin,
University College Cork

Date: Wed, 01 Sep 2010 10:49:38 -0500
From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.303 designing an academic DH department
In-Reply-To: <20100901002353.1769165C07 at woodward.joyent.us>

Interesting. Two questions:
(1) What does the (digital) humanities owe society?
(2) What does society owe the (digital) humanities?

"digital" is in parentheses because the answers in both cases will tend
toward answering the same question without 'digital'. That is, when funding
comes up, society will not merely accept that "because you fund the
humanities, you should fund the digital humanities" It's a matter of why the
humanities itself is relevant in the digital age. Society probably accepts
the argument that the humanities would evolve to adopt digital methods;
society would expect every pursuit of knowledge to so adapt. (One could ask,
horror be the question, why should non-digital humanities continue? -- It's
akin to asking why should society pay for public care for horses now that we
have automobiles. The answer of course is that there are still many places
you can't reach except on horseback and that horses have some advantages in
the management of crowds of people, etc. Rememeber this is 'public' funds
for horses; not private funding because rich or commercial interests
appreciate horses.)

I think fundamentally, the digital humanities (DH) needs to offer society
the comfort of knowing that non-digital humanities will be transitioned into
the digital age preserving its essential qualities; preserving the things
that society valued in the non-digital humanities. Second, that the DH needs
to offer society satisfaction that the humanities will benefit from the
addition of digital methods. That digital humanists will chart a safe course
through the iceberg-filled waters of the digital realm preserving what the
humanities has meant to civilization until now. The challenges of the
digital realm are many. There is the creation and hence transformation of
all artifacts to have digital replicas. There is the consequences of
unlimited storage of and immediate access to, vastly more digital
information than was possible in a physical world. It makes a difference if
the amount of immediately available information on a subject exceeds the
amount any one person can read or if that access comes without any
accompanying context to explain it. New tools are needed to cope with those
problems. It matters if software can abstract from the collected works of an
author their style sufficiently well to replicate it independent of their
works--which might soon be possible, as it is now possible for computer
software processing music or other arts. We must anticipate computers being
able to imitate any human skill that can be adquately described. (Exceeding
that skill is a wholly different matter, since we have little evidence that
computers can be programmed to be that creative).

The digital humanities will also have to offer society a prioritization
schedule for the preservation of non-digital artifacts and its assessment of
the benefits of evolving digital preservation methods. Institutions, such as
the Library of Congress, seem to be working quite actively on some aspects
of this. Text Encoding methods need to be sharply critiqued to be certain
the results are better than access to the original data; and that nothing
that could be done before has been lost. (The discussion of how to reference
location in e-text is an excellent example of what can go wrong here. It
isn't just being able to find the location for a new reader--it's how to
'sync' the new location to references in past literaure based on older
methods. When all copies of an obscure early edition have disappeared, how
will "page 42" be uniquely identified in the future? When one uses a Project
Gutenberg text, what can one say about 'edition' when that information
wasn't uniquely preserved.)

What does society owe the digital humanities?... Well, for one thing it owes
DH the funds to perform the digitization of artifacts. This is, of course, a
pitched battle between DH and other fields that also want computer

The DH argument to support its case should be twofold, (a) preserve what is
in danger of being lost without preservation (b) transform that which will
yield the most new results ("bang for the buck") based on the new abilities
of digital processing. The DH has the same goal as the humanities itself,
offer the public results which will enrich their ability to understand
themseves and the world, to appreciate and understand the past, to interpret
the future.

Once upon a time someone from the classical humanities said to me,
"Computers are going to destroy everything!". I replied, "No, they are
simply going to transform it beyond recognition". The digital humanities has
to oversee that transformation so that 'beyond recognition' doesn't mean

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