[Humanist] 24.709 making impact interesting

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Feb 13 10:44:33 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 709.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2011 09:40:17 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: making impact interesting

In "The Impact of Research on the Development of Middleware Technology", 
ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology 17.4 (2008), 
Wolfgang Emmerich, Mikio Aoyama and Joe Sventek, as part of their ACM 
SIGSOFT Impact Project, undertake a study of how research influenced 
products and industrial best practices. Using citations, standard 
implementations, borrowed concepts, movement of people and inclusion of 
source code, they develop "impact traces" from individuals and research 
groups to others to show the research origins of these products and 
practices. Plotting traces with respect to time on directed graphs, they 
produce their "impact graphs". Looking at them one can see the 
astonishing complexity in the coming together and divergence of ideas 
through time.

According to Thomas Haigh, editor of a forthcoming volume of historian 
Michael S. Mahoney's papers, Histories of Computing (Harvard, 2011), 
Mahoney served as consultant to the Impact Project. "He convinced 
project members that historical influence was a complex process in which 
seminal work had its impact indirectly and in combination with other 
streams. In turn he benefited from refinements and formalisation of this 
graphical technique" ("Unexpected Connections, Powerful Precedents, and 
Big Questions: The Work of Michael Sean Mahoney on the History of 
Computing", in this volume). Mahoney used the same technique, for 
example, in "Software as Science -- Science as Software", in History of 
Computing: Software Issues, ed. Hashagen, Keil-Slawik and Norberg 
(Springer, 2002) to work out the interrelations of agendas in research 
on automata and formal languages, semantics -- and von Neumann's various 
interests. Behind all this, as Haigh explains using the persistent 
metaphor of geomorphological drainage systems -- streams of development 
combining and parting -- is an idea of historical interrelation I find 
enormously compelling.

Among other things it turns the simple-minded, billiard-ball view of 
history usually implicit in talk of reserch impact into a powerful 
historiography I think any researcher in the humanities or elsewhere 
could stand by. An impact graph does not, of course, account for why 
research turns in a particular direction, but it does map the places 
where it has been.



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, www.mccarty.org.uk;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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