[Humanist] 26.64 when the subject enters in

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jun 6 22:38:23 CEST 2012

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 64.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 4 Jun 2012 22:53:22 +0100
        From: Henry Francis Lynam <lynamhf at tcd.ie>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.63 when does the subject enter in?
        In-Reply-To: <20120604201931.65438282BAD at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

As a programmer looking in on the world of digital humanities, the
popularity of certain models has often struck me as noteworthy. I wonder is
this because the class of problems are very similar and hence the same
formal methods have great applicability? But I suspect it is more because
of the training followed by digital humanists who tend to be humanists
firsts and programmers second. A good programmer approaches each problem as
essentially unique and applies known methodologies as appropriate. But
there is a tendency in digital humanities to employ formal (learned)
methods too early in the process, potentially robbing the problem of its
uniqueness. Rather than seeing the application of the same formal methods
as a strength of digital humanities, I might suggest that it hinders
innovation, by prematurely categorizing problems into known methodologies.

So, in answer to your question, I think the subject-specific knowledge is
often the bit that remains after the problem has been artificially
determined to be of type X, suitable for method Y. If a different designer
were to solve the problem (perhaps with different formal training) they
might decide that there is more subject-specific knowledge contained in the
problem. So, I think it is quite subjective.

Henry Lynam.

On 4 June 2012 21:19, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 63.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2012 20:53:11 +1000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: computational models
> Paul Humphreys, in "Computational models", Philosophy of Science 69.S3
> (September 2002): S1-S11, proposes that we look at the organization of
> the sciences not by the usual mereological (parts and wholes) structure,
> proceeding from the smallest physical units to the largest ones, but by
> the models they use. He points out the often noticed fact that certain
> models apply seemingly across the board to many quite different
> phenomena, e.g. from enzyme reactions to predatory behaviour. He
> describes a structure for models beginning with a "computational
> template", then its construction assumptions, correction set,
> interpretation, initial justification and last, output representation.
> The template is the basis of the portability of the model, its syntax,
> the other elements constraints on it that make it application specific.
> He argues that although the template is often very portable, it is never
> interpretation-free -- hence the construction assumptions. But it is
> often remarkably portable.
> You can follow his argument at leisure, but here I want to highlight the
> interesting question he raises at the end:
> > at what points in the process of the construction and evaluation of
> > computational models does subject-specific knowledge enter?  (S10)
> We have all doubtless noticed the same kind of thing happening in the
> digital humanities; we tend to identify the portable,
> non-subject-specific aspect of what we do as method, or if we're feeling
> the need for being scientific, formal methods. But more specifically in
> terms of what we do, it is the orientation to modelling that makes the
> digital humanities interdisciplinary in a way that other fields, I would
> suppose, cannot be. So let me raise Humphreys' question in our context:
> at what point does the subject-specific knowledge enter in?
> Take, for example, the simplest sort of text-analysis, a.k.a.
> interactive concording. This applies across the board to all subjects in
> which a focus on how something is said matters: literary studies,
> linguistics, history, sociology and others. Is there anything systematic
> that can be said about when and how it matters what discipline is asking
> the questions? Or, to put the question the other way around, is there
> anything systematic we can say (other than remarks about a rigorous
> focus on the verbal data etc) about how the computational template at
> work here affects the discipline asking the questions?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
> the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
> University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
> (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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