[Humanist] 27.1026 social structures & experience?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue May 6 21:10:32 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 1026.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 07 May 2014 04:55:51 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: social structures & experience

In "The early progress of scientific simulation", in Gabriele 
Gramelsberger, ed., From Science to Computational Sciences (2011), David 
Alan Grier argues for a mid 18C beginning to the mathematical simulation 
of physical phenomena. By the end of the 18C, he writes, the social 
structure of "any large computing group" comprised three levels: the 
scientist/mathematician at the top; then the planner, who translated the 
scientist's mathematical analysis into a computational plan; and finally 
the human computers, who carried out the actual computations. The 
digital machine has eliminated the last of these jobs for humans to do, 
but we still have the division between the first and second levels. As a 
matter of curiosity I wonder what is happening to this division as DIY 
computing becomes easier to take on and so more important -- if it is, 
that is. Text encoders, for example, know that scholarship happens in 
the act of implementation, in essentially the same struggle that Grier's 
planner enacted at the end of the 18C.

Those who actually build the great resources we have now and will have 
more of may sputter at the thought of DIY. They may want to expand that 
acronym (as chippies and other builders sometimes do) as "Destroy It 
Yourself". But I suspect that the boundary between scholar and technical 
builder is moving. Collaborative groups that are truly collaborative 
must blur that boundary all the time -- and that sort of blurring also 
is not new. While I would not want to deny the value of the person, like 
me, for whom being a digital humanist means sitting alone, reading, 
thinking, writing, corresponding with others and publishing, it seems to 
me that much of the noise and nonsense which comes with popularity would 
diminish if more of those who make such noise actually had some hands-on 
experience with computing -- including what Adafruit (www.adafruit.com) 
calls "physical computing".


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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