[Humanist] 26.398 disciplines of resistance

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 19 16:35:52 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 398.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>              (117)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.396 disciplines of resistance?

  [2]   From:    Daniel Allington <daniel.allington at open.ac.uk>            (22)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.396 disciplines of resistance?

        Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2012 09:42:25 +0100
        From: Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.396 disciplines of resistance?
        In-Reply-To: <20121018061731.AAE18F9B at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard

It is quite old now, but I was very struck by the volume published by 
the British Academy in 1999 and edited by Terry Coppock 'Information 
Technology and Scholarship: Applications in the Humanities and Social 
Scienes', which reviewed the achievements and difficulties of the use of 
computing across a range of disciplines. Robert Morris's discussion of 
computing in history there is very interesting - he points to whole 
areas of historical sources, such as poll books, which were first opened 
up by the use of computers. Particularly interesting from the point of 
view of your question is Stephen Shennan's discuission of archeology, 
whee Shennan posits explicit resistance. Here's the abstract:

"The first use of computers in archaeology occurred in the 1960s and 
involved the application of statistical methods. It was associated with 
the emergence of new theoretical approaches to the study of prehistoric 
societies. From the early 1980s interest in the use of computer-based 
methods for academic archaeological research declined. This was the 
result of a growing disillusionment with the results achieved and of 
changing theoretical orientations within the discipline, which led to a 
rejection of what were perceived to be 'scientific' approaches. At the 
same time, the appearance of microcomputers made information technology 
(IT) techniques widely available for the first time to field 
archaeologists and other outside academic institutions. This led to a 
growth in the importance of mundane computer applications for recording 
excavations and post-excavation analysis. More recently there have been 
developments which have led to IT methods once again having a more 
central role in academic research. Geographic Information Systems 
provide new and more powerful way of performing traditional 
archaeological tasks, as well as new means of analysing spatial data. 
The use of multimedia techniques over the Internet has the potential to 
solve current major problems of research access to raw archaeological 
data. The creation of virtual reality reconstructions can offer new 
insights into experiencing the past. The renewed interest in 
computer-based modelling has begun to provide a rigorous way of looking 
at how micro-scale social and ecological processes give rise to complex 
and counter-intuitive outcomes".

I think what is interesting here is the way in which computers were 
first exclusively associated with a quantitative approach and became 
discredited when the limitations of such an approach were exposed. The 
resistance is not a Luddite resistance to technology as such, but rather 
an assumpton that computing was linked to only one approach. When the 
plasticity of the computer becomes more widely appreciated, interest in 
the potential of computing revives.

Which raises the question as to whether the resistance was to computing 
at all, but rather to its association with demands for a more 
'scientific' approach to the humanities. After all, Lucien Febvre argued 
the need for history to be conducted in laboratories by historians in 
white coats in the 1930s. Perhaps it was this type of outlook which was 
the real focus of resistance, and the computer simply a shorthand for 
this approach.


Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS
Head of Department
Department of Digital Humanities
King's College London
26-29 Drury Lane
London WC2B 5RL
+44 (0)20 7848 2651

On 18/10/2012 07:17, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 396.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>          Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2012 06:56:49 +0100
>          From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>          Subject: resistance
> It is curious to observe what battles were fought, or not fought, over
> the incursion of computing into various disciplines of the humanities. I
> have investigated so far two disciplines for their uptake of computing
> in the first three decades of activity (essentially the 1960s-1980s):
> literary studies and history. One might think that both these
> text-centred disciplines would have had a relatively easy time of it, at
> least with English-language materials. But they didn't.
> As far as I can tell, mainstream literary criticism simply ignored
> computing, despite the heroic efforts of people such as Joe Raben, as
> Rosanne Potter said was happening in 1989. As many have observed,
> critics simply headed for the high-ground of literary theory, leaving
> their digital colleagues (as we would now call them) with their
> concordances, despite declarations of a "quasi-scientific revolution" --
> Stephen Parrish's words, citing C. P. Snow, in 1964. In history,
> however, as one can see from Jacques Barzun's Clio and the Doctors:
> Psycho-History, Quanto-History and History (1974), computing was met
> with explicit and open resistance. Sometimes this was noisy, quite
> over-the-top, as in the Oxford Professor of Modern History Richard
> Cobb's "Historians in white coats", number 12 in the Times Literary
> Supplement series, Thinking by Numbers, for 3 December 1971. Cobb saw a
> dark apocalypse ushered in by the end of history as he knew it. Quite
> disturbingly sexual imagery was sometimes used.
> Among other things the different reactions teach us unsurprisingly that
> different disciplines saw computing differently. Superficially, at
> least, it is not all that difficult to find an explanation for why
> literary critics went one way and historians another. The former were at
> the tail end of a by then positivistic style of criticism; critical
> theory provided an attractive new way of thinking about literature. For
> the latter computing had strong allies in the economic historians, who
> had numbers to crunch and much experience doing this by hand.
> What interests me, however, is what the literary critics and historians
> had in common in their quite different reactions. I would be *very*
> interested in recommendations for other disciplines that reacted in
> quite specific ways to computing ca 1960-1990. Many thanks in
> advance.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM

        Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2012 10:37:59 +0100
        From: Daniel Allington <daniel.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.396 disciplines of resistance?
        In-Reply-To: <20121018061731.AAE18F9B at digitalhumanities.org>

It's a rather obvious thing to say, but my 'home' discipline of linguistics would be a good example. Some sections of it embraced computing, others didn't - and the embrace of computing took a very different form in the UK and in the US because of the different schools of linguistics that were dominant in the two countries. The way that linguistics has been constituted in the US provides more scope for collaboration between it and core computer science research areas: there's an obvious affinity between generative linguistics, artificial intelligence, and natural language generation, for example. On the other hand, UK linguistics has more of a historical association with lexicography and language teaching, so the initial interest was in using statistical analysis of language data to inform the design of dictionaries and ELT syllabi.

I'm talking about the 1980s mostly, but the effects of this are still visible.

best wishes


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