[Humanist] 27.369 great works of scholarship

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Sep 23 09:39:45 CEST 2013


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 369.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Daniel Rianno <danielrianno at gmail.com>                   (176)
        Subject: Re:  27.363 great works of scholarship

  [2]   From:    Tara Andrews <taralee at alum.mit.edu>                       (50)
        Subject: Re:  27.363 great works of scholarship

  [3]   From:    "Fishwick, Paul" <Paul.Fishwick at utdallas.edu>             (75)
        Subject: Resources as Scholarship ?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2013 10:35:01 +0200
        From: Daniel Rianno <danielrianno at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.363 great works of scholarship
        In-Reply-To: <20130922081405.8E84D3052 at digitalhumanities.org>


I think an item clearly missing from the list of "works arising from
DH with high cultural prestige" is http://insaph.kcl.ac.uk/index.html

2013/9/22 Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>:
>
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 363.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>   [1]   From:    AMELIA DEL ROSARIO SANZ CABRERIZO <amsanz at filol.ucm.es>  (170)
>         Subject: Re:  27.358 great works of scholarship
>
>   [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (50)
>         Subject: resources as scholarship
>
>   [3]   From:    "Jim O'Donnell" <cassiodorus at gmail.com>                   (13)
>         Subject: DH again
>
>
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2013 09:11:56 +0200
>         From: AMELIA DEL ROSARIO SANZ CABRERIZO <amsanz at filol.ucm.es>
>         Subject: Re:  27.358 great works of scholarship
>         In-Reply-To: <20130920070258.3393330A9 at digitalhumanities.org>
>
>
> Dear Andrew,
>
> Could you please give me more precisions  about "The Canterbury Tales
> project has achieved its objective of revolutionising our understanding
> early Chaucer manuscripts, but it did not achieve it in the way it stated
> at the beginning of the project."?
> This is a core question!
> Thank you!
>
> Amelia Sanz
> Complutense University of Madrid
>
>> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>         Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2013 09:16:51 +0000
>>         From: "Prescott, Andrew" <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
>>         Subject: Re:  27.357 great works of scholarship?
>>         In-Reply-To: <20130919080537.64CCB3088 at digitalhumanities.org>
>>
>> Dear Willard,
>>
>> I think we already have great works of scholarship in the Digital
>> Humanities. I was closely involved in it, but the scholarly aspects of it
>> were really the work of Kevin Kiernan, so I would unhesitatingly point to
>> Electronic Beowulf as a great work of scholarship. I would also argue that
>> the Calendar of Fine Rolls of Henry III and such prosoprographical works
>> produced here in King's as the Prosoprography of Anglo-Saxo England are
>> works of great scholarship. They are fundamental for the study of their
>> respective subject areas, embody profound learning, and have changed the
>> way in which we view our subject areas. They are of course in digital form,
>> which mean that the way in which they have expressed their scholarship is
>> different to what I was brought up with, but surely that it is to be
>> expected.
>>
>> More complicated is where digital work has fed great scholarship. For
>> example, The Canterbury Tales project has achieved its objective of
>> revolutionising our understanding early Chaucer manuscripts, but it did not
>> achieve it in the way it stated at the beginning of the project. The
>> process of structured reading of the manuscripts involved in transcribing
>> them encouraged a complete rethinking of their contents, and paved the way
>> for Linne Mooney's identification of the Hengwrt scribe. The various
>> published works of such members of the Canterbury Tales project team such
>> as Estelle Stubbs, Simon Horobin, Orietta da Rold  and Michael Pidd
>> represent collectively a major contribution not only to Chaucer studies but
>> to our understanding of medieval English literature. It isn't a
>> straightforward monograph publication, but a more complex process.
>>
>> Andrew
>>
>> Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS
>> Head of Department
>> Department of Digital Humanities
>> King's College London
>> 26-29 Drury Lane
>> London WC2B 5RL
>> @ajprescott
>> www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh
>> digitalriffs.blogspot.com
>> +44 (0)20 7848 2651


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2013 11:32:48 +0200
        From: Tara Andrews <taralee at alum.mit.edu>
        Subject: Re:  27.363 great works of scholarship
        In-Reply-To: <20130922081405.8E84D3052 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

I was a little surprised to read what seems like a self-contradictory
assertion: that software source code, unlike mathematics, cannot be
understood by humans. On the one hand you state:

On Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 10:14 AM, Humanist Discussion Group
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> I recall a mathematics dissertation at my undergraduate institution,
> Reed, the substance of which consisted of ca 1/2 page -- a few lines of
> equations ending with the word "behold!" Laconic, it's true, but
> everything was there to be read and understood.

On the other hand:

> Digital machines, and the software written for them, are otherwise.
> Software is a kind of text (a very strange kind of text), but in a
> complex system you cannot know what it will do by reading the code. It's
> effectively a black box. Can a black box be a great work of scholarship?
> How can we *know* a complex resource for humanities scholarship, a black
> box containing numerous black boxes, is itself a great work of
> scholarship? From the testimony of many users? From their
> unsubstantiated opinions? How is the critical thought that went into it
> legible? How do we know what choices were made?

What puzzles me is how we can accuse software of being a black box
whose actions we cannot predict, while accepting that mathematics is
not. Everything is indeed there to be read and understood, in both
cases! It is simply that software is also there to be set into motion.
Complex software systems can indeed have surprising side effects that
are not at first glance obvious, but then again, so can mathematical
systems—there are some wonderful examples from the work on set theory
in the 19th century and the great questions of the very internal
consistency of mathematics in the 20th that, appropriately enough,
could be said to have given rise to computing. It's this very
fact—that there are things about mathematics that we have not yet
discovered or realized—that gives the field reason to continue its
research, after all.

I admit that I have been a little mystified for some time now about
this resolve among some humanists that code cannot be understood, that
it must be taken on faith (or rejected in principle). To me it
suggests a deliberate and almost belligerent helplessness, as if these
elements of the humanities are saying "We will acknowledge that
mathematics is not to be argued with, whether or not we are competent
to follow the equations. But set those equations into motion—write
code—and we will cry foul!"

Best wishes,
-tara

--
Tara L Andrews
Assistenzprofessorin in Digital Humanities
Universität Bern, Institut für Klassische Philologie
Länggassstrasse 49, CH-3000 Bern 9
Büro: Gesellschaftsstrasse 2, 237C
tel +41 31 631 34 49 / fax +41 31 631 44 86



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2013 18:18:10 +0000
        From: "Fishwick, Paul" <Paul.Fishwick at utdallas.edu>
        Subject: Resources as Scholarship ?
        In-Reply-To: <20130922081405.8E84D3052 at digitalhumanities.org>


Willard:

  I enjoyed your post, which I include below for reference. Collectively, we need to
be careful about referring to computing only as a "resource." If it is seen purely
as a resource, then presumably Computer Science is then viewed as "programming,"
and one hires programmers in DH to "create tools."

  Computing does indeed provide resources for humanities scholarship,
but likewise, the humanities provide cultural, historical, artistic, and philosophical
resources for computer science. Computing consists of a rich cultural history stemming
from early physical automata, to Bush's Analyzer, to discrete mathematics where,
discrete automata are covered (the continuous variety generally has a home in
systems science/engineering where Bush's mechanical marvel lives on with theoretical
continuity). Learning how to think in terms of computing provides a wealth of information
for humanities scholarship. I do not see this wealth being celebrated in DH, likewise,
I do not see enough cultural and historical exploration in Computer Science. So, this
is a two-way street and we have a serious two-way problem. But discussions such as this
one represent excellent places to house the discussion and the debates.

  If humanists see key hurdles to jump in making the two-way street a possibility, I'd
like to hear them. Perhaps, this is a good start.

-paul

Paul Fishwick, PhD
Chair, ACM SIGSIM
Distinguished Chair of Arts & Technology
   and Professor of Computer Science
Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
The University of Texas at Dallas
Arts & Technology
800 West Campbell Road, AT10
Richardson, TX 75080-3021
Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick http://utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
Blog: creative-automata.com http://creative-automata.com

.........

In his reply to my deliberately provocative note on Jim O'Donnell's
question of great works, Andrew Prescott cited a number of major
resources that have been created in the last few years. I want now to
bring into question whether, or more accurately, in what sense resources
can be works of scholarship.

Textual editors will be among the very first to grab their swords and
rush out into the field to challenge such a provocative call. Among the
authorities they are likely to cite, or Goliaths they are likely to
bring with them, will be, I'd suppose, Jerome McGann, who in Radiant
Textuality describes the Kane-Donaldson Piers Plowman as a primary
theoretical statement, i.e. something that communicates the work which
went into it, which reveals enough of that work to be judged a "great
work of scholarship". Looking at the edition, or any traditional printed
edition, one can understand how the work could be judged. Everything,
or enough, is laid bare.

I recall a mathematics dissertation at my undergraduate institution,
Reed, the substance of which consisted of ca 1/2 page -- a few lines of
equations ending with the word "behold!" Laconic, it's true, but
everything was there to be read and understood.

In Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext (read it tonight!),
Belinda Barnet describes Vannevar Bush's analogue computing devices,
principally the Differential Analyzer. Famously Bush preferred analogue
devices because what they did was entirely open to view. One could learn
the calculus directly from the machine that did it with gears and
wheels. "Watching the Analyzer work did more than just teach people the
calculus. It also taught people what might be possible for mechanical
calculation -- for analogue computers" (p. 16). Watch and learn!

Digital machines, and the software written for them, are otherwise.
Software is a kind of text (a very strange kind of text), but in a
complex system you cannot know what it will do by reading the code. It's
effectively a black box. Can a black box be a great work of scholarship?
How can we *know* a complex resource for humanities scholarship, a black
box containing numerous black boxes, is itself a great work of
scholarship? From the testimony of many users? From their
unsubstantiated opinions? How is the critical thought that went into it
legible? How do we know what choices were made?

In discussing Douglas Englebart's work, Barnett describes the great demo
at which he finally was able to persuade the community of engineers and
computer scientists that his ideas were worth the candle. (It's on
YouTube, I think.) To replace the formula "publish or perish" with "demo
or die" suggests a shift from one kind of intellectual culture to
another. But in digital humanities we try to have both in one. Again, as
Natalia Cecire said, the "plus" in "humanities plus computing" is where
the really interesting problems lie.





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