[Humanist] 27.834 Busa and Cage -- and Gardin, and Barcelo

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Mar 2 09:44:30 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 834.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2014 08:46:23 +0100
        From: Manfred Thaller <manfred.thaller at uni-koeln.de>
        Subject: Re:  27.817 Busa and Cage: more work not less
        In-Reply-To: <20140222084224.6F99462E9 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

while I am unfortunately not able to find the precise quotation, I'd 
like to point to an author and his intellectual inheritance, which I 
still consider to be too easily overlooked. (Possibly, because most of 
his texts have been in French; admittedly for me, too, not really all 
that easily accesible.)

I am talking about Jean Claude Gardin 
(http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Claude_Gardin). He started off as a 
specialist on archaeological documentation, where he used computers at 
least as early as 1958/59, possibly already conceptualizing their use in 
56 - this early stuff has not really been published. (He and Busa met 
for the first time in '62 at Wartenstein. He was a honored guest at at 
least one of the DBHSS series of conferences, with which Joe Raben tried 
for some time to resist what he considered an illegitimate reduction of 
Humanities Computing to textual applications by the ACH mainstream in 
the eighties.)

The quotation I cannot find at the moment comes from these eighties, 
when Gardin had been converted completely into a theorist and wrote 
something like: "The point of using computers in archaeology is not to 
produce results, but to clarify archaeological thinking sufficiently 
much, that we actually could use computers to support it". (Despite the 
quotes, me paraphrasing from memory, not to be taken literally.)

I always have been a bit ambivalent about his work, but that reflects 
more my position towards Artificial Intelligence (to which he has been 
particularly close at the time of the expert systems), than to his ideas 
directly. I definitely think that "saving labour", which ocasionally 
amounts to an apotheosis of something which is just clever text 
processing (DH as Microsoft Word++ ?),  is not all that rewarding 
intellectually. Nevertheless I am usually doubtful about "computational" 
concepts which cannot be converted into software which is doing 
something concrete. And I have to admit, that Gardin can be read as 
saying that for the time being, we are unable to produce significant 
usable results by computers - a position I do NOT support.

Having said so, one of the most impressive books in DH (my 
interpretation of it, at least) I have read in the last ten years, has 
been Juan A. Barcelo's Computational Intelligence in Archaeology, 2009 
(incidentally including a foreword by J.C. Gardin and directly based on 
his thinking). I doubt that much labour will be saved by this book. I 
have even doubts, whether we will see anything practical coming out of 
it within the next ten years, at least.

But it IS a consistent and systematic attempt at analyzing a discipline 
of the Humanities with the goal of showing, how it could be "automated" 
on various levels. Leaving the archaeologist to focus on the residue of 
things which could NOT be automated; an argument possibly reminding you 
of something.

I would be very glad, if we could have similar "useless" books for other 
provinces of the Humanities as well ...

Kind regards,

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