[Humanist] 28.1 sunshine and darkness, or sometimes not a happy birthday

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed May 7 22:18:33 CEST 2014

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 1.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Mark LeBlanc <leblanc_mark at wheatoncollege.edu>           (117)
        Subject: Re:  27.1028 Happy birthday Humanist

  [2]   From:    Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>    (210)
        Subject: Re:  27.1026 social structures & experience?

        Date: Wed, 7 May 2014 05:48:05 -0400
        From: Mark LeBlanc <leblanc_mark at wheatoncollege.edu>
        Subject: Re:  27.1028 Happy birthday Humanist
        In-Reply-To: <20140507011238.B17B96358 at digitalhumanities.org>

>Enjoy the birthday, which is all of ours.

but you get to blow out the candles; thanks for all your work

On Tue, May 6, 2014 at 9:12 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 1028.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Wed, 07 May 2014 10:25:00 +1000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: Humanist's 28th year begins
> Because the clock that tells the time sits elsewhere in the world from
> where I am (in Sydney, Australia), the completion of Humanist's 27th year has 
> as of this moment not yet been marked by the automatic change-over in volume
> and issue numbering. But here it is 7 May, and so time to celebrate. Happy
> birthday Humanist!
> We edge on 30 years of operation. Some of us, a dwindling number, have seen
> all of them pass. But melancholy be gone! Before that 30th turn, shortly
> after Humanist turns 29, we here will be holding the 2015 Digital Humanities
> conference at the University of Western Sydney. Plans and arrangements for
> that event are, I am reliably informed, well underway in the capable hands
> of Paul Arthur, Harold Short, Jason Ensor and some others. The Parramatta
> campus of UWS, where the conference will be held, is a beautiful site and
> offers inter alia an hour's ferry ride down the Parramatta River, then under
> the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House to Circular Quay, from which
> other ferries go to many beautiful spots. When I was in a Sydney camera
> shop last year a clerk asked me, so obviously a foreigner, if I were planning to
> take some photos of the Bridge. My reply then remains true now: I am weary
> of taking photos of that Bridge, I said, but I never get tired of looking at
> it. Some Sydneysiders call it the Coat Hanger. If only we lived in a world
> so well designed that our coat hangers had such beauteous engineering in
> them! Anyhow, the ferry ride is a treat, the campus beautiful -- and of
> course the intellectual programme will be among the very best. For those
> fortunate enough to come here and travel afterwards I am compiling an
> annotated list of destinations -- some around Sydney, others a bit further
> away (e.g. the Blue Mountains) and then those astonishing places to which
> most of us fly. Google for Uluru, the Olgas, King's Canyon, Karijini,
> Broome, the Kimberley (esp Windjana Gorge), Kakadu, Arnhem Land. Read Robyn
> Davidson's Tracks, then watch John Curran's fine movie based on it and
> filmed in location.
> This morning, however, to celebrate Humanist properly, my nose was stuck
> in a book, G.E.R. Lloyd's The Ideals of Inquiry: An Ancient History
> (Oxford, 2014). You may recall from a previous posting David Gooding's
> argument about the human interpretative expansion which follows the
> increasingly effective reduction brought about by our digital instruments.
> Thus Lloyd in his final chapter:
> > We can, of course, see immeasurably more with the tools that are now
> > available, optical and radio telescopes, microscopes and the like,
> > where analysing the data with computers adds enormously to their
> > usefulness. But what we observe always has to be processed and
> > interpreted in the light of assumptions, hypotheses, conjectures,
> > even when we use computer modelling again to help in that work. We
> > cannot escape our assumptions, though we can be critical of them,
> > just as our predecessors did not escape theirs -- and yet many of
> > them too saw the need to be self-critical.
> >
> > In today's science we do not bring into existence a new faculty, even
> > when we develop a new style of reasoning. The same underlying
> > capacity, more or less aware of its fallibilities, more or less
> > trained, more or less 'domesticated', is in play throughout.  (p. 135)
> What I cannot do here without quoting the entire book (not a long one)
> is give an adequate sense of Lloyd's meticulous care in weaving back and
> forth between the alternatives of continuity and innovation across the
> four cultures of Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, India and China. What I
> can do to honour all that has made Humanist possible and sustained it
> for these last unbelievably many years is to pick up his suggestion that
> the task we have before us is to develop computer modelling, which Ian
> Hacking "now rightly stresses should be added to the distinctively
> modern 'styles of thinking & doing'" (p. 131). So, no new faculty
> (continuity) but a new way of deploying it (innovation), with massively
> important consequences to be explored.
> What a birthday present that is!
> Enjoy the birthday, which is all of ours.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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
Mark D. LeBlanc, Ph.D.
Meneely Professor of Computer Science
Wheaton College, Norton, MA 02766


        Date: Wed, 7 May 2014 18:15:44 +0200
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>
        Subject: Re:  27.1026 social structures & experience?
        In-Reply-To: <20140506191032.93A0660F7 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

I sincerely doubted sending this in, and at several moments hovered with my
finger above the trash can icon. But I guess Humanist should be the judge
on this. I'm truly sorry but your subject, excerpt, and comment totally
pushed my rant-button. However subjective, this is an account of true
experience with an edge on social structure… handle with care I guess.


No, I don't think that boundary is moving at all. Let me explain that by
telling a story. This is not my story. This is a story about a man who is a
builder. He is a builder of software. In the true fashion of computer
science he regards himself as a problem solver. But he is working in a
humanities environment. This makes for some uncomfortable feelings of
mismatch, as it turns out after a while that humanities has no problems to
really solve. Our protagonist finds that humanities studies problems,
offers perspectives, articulates possible meanings, paints a multitude of
critical perceptions. Some arguments seem more valid than others, depending
strongly on context, but all are seemingly valuable. But the harder our
hero looks the fewer concrete problems of the type "How do we make water
run uphill?" crop up.

But then he discovers that at the bottom of the scientific building of
humanities, in the trenches where information is gathered, structured, and
offered for higher scrutiny, some problems-one-could-say emerge from
repetitive, mind numbing, error prone, yet highly valuable tasks: churning
out the primitives and primary data that humanities scholars need for their
synthetic analysis. This is the realm of data entry and curation, of
documentary and scholarly editing tasks that prepare the raw data to be
refined through the hands of academic scholars. Here our hero finds a first
application ground for his merit. Here's repetition. Here he can scale.
Here he can help the humanities benefit from computing power.

But the researchers do not quite see the scientific merit of that. If it is
hard to value the labor involved with curating information as a scientific
task, it is even harder for them to see how automation of such basic tasks
would constitute research. Yes, it is important it should happen, no it is
not research that we recognize. These judgements are not spoken. They are
lingering and latent, maybe even unconscious within the scholars. Yet it is
there, being covertly salient, this strong stratification of academic labor
and value. The efforts of the minions in the basement of data curation are
lip serviced with many verbal endowments of the importance of that fruitful
laborious craft for the higher scientific goals of the humanities.

This state of precarious virtual mutual respect makes for another
inconvenient truth. Our hero sees a concrete problem in the scientific
workflow of the scholars. His experience and expertise tell him he can
solve it. The solving will involve true research to guarantee the
sophistication and validity of the solution. But the scholars will not fund
this, for this is not recognizable scholarship. The tiny few that do see
the paramount nature of the work, assure the man of the validity of his
endeavor. So our man starts solving the problem on his own accord. Not so
much in a DIY fashion as a IYOT fashion: In Your Own Time. But valuing by
training and instinct the collaborative aspect he communicates his steps
conscientiously with the few that understand his work and ambition. He
iterates his solution towards ever better performance. He lends methods and
techniques from other scientific domains. Translates these into forms
suitable for the humanities context he is working in and for. Adds his own
thinking-through-the-keyboard algorithm.

Two, three, four years of self investment, free labor, scholarly as well as
scientific thinking, and formally unrecognized research pass by. After this
period a working solution is presented that not just solves the problem,
but also identifies some aspects of the problem that clearly demarcate the
boundaries between what a solvable problem of this type in humanities is
and what remains as grounds for interpretation, yielding scholars much
information about the current limits of formalization of their epistemics.
A concrete problem is solved, effort for a labor-intensive task can be
decimated. What used to take weeks, months, can be put forth in mere
milliseconds. Only the willfully blind would not recognize the thus created
potential to reallocate resources to scholarly research by eradicating an
error prone and dull, yet scholarly skilled task.

So, we expect our hero to be celebrated, respected, recognized for his
scientific interdisciplinary achievement. Alas, no. Our respectful scholars
are not able to recognize the scholarly merit and quality of the software
that our protagonist puts forward. Yes the great effort needed for a
scholarly task is sincerely reduced. We see that, they say. But we can not
see the work this man has done. We can not establish its scholarly
correctness. And besides, this is a primitive task in the greater scholarly
work. This man has not given us any synthesis, no broader scholarly
perspective, no reasoning and argument on paper in a humanities journal.
Show us his produce we can judge to be humanities work and we will honor
him! His work to us is a magical black box, and we do not have an account
of what he put in.

The agony of non recognition goes a little deeper a little further even. As
our undaunted man puts his software out there for the wider community to
judge, he meets two, three kind souls who truly try to understand him. But
mostly computer illiterate scholars test drive his software using input
formats that are clearly indicated to be not of the right make up. The
software chokes. And many mails follow stating the software is faulty, ill
conceived, useless, clearly uninformed of any scholarly needs and

Yet bravely our man battles on, believing in his cause.

This by all means is not my story. My story—well one of them—is similar
though in experience. Having developed a digital edition environment, based
on good software development practices, keen thinking on human-computer
interaction, and well rehearsed and read in editorial theory, the comment I
got was (somewhat liberally translated) "You're a cook without training and
decent recipes".

So, no. I do not see that boundary shifting. The digital humanities
community is growing. Hence it may be that we see understanding people
around us more often that warrants this impression of moving disciplinary
borders. But in the reality of projects I see the traditional scholar
battling his turf to the bitter end. Anything as long as he does not have
to seriously look at new technologies and methodologies.

Collaboration sounds like a great plan. But the collaboration you speak of
and that I would cherish is utterly scarce. That is because collaboration
is also trade. Mutual benefits need to flow in either direction to make the
collaboration worthwhile. The most important commodities in this trade are
knowledge, respect, and academic credit. But I find almost without
exception that what to me looks like fine research activities by developers
and computer scientists that do have scholarly implications and merit, is
relegated by humanists to the level of support service or the level of
outsourcing of non scholarly tasks. But there is hardly any respectful
interrogation of or dialogue on the methodological knowledge that might be
embedded and created within software and computation. No such dialogue
beyond the community of a tiny few. Developers with a humanities interest
and humanities scholars who dare to err from the true scholarly path by
being able to code alike meet with disrespect, disinterest, and not seldom
outright academic arrogance. It is to me no less than a miracle that some
of these people want to stay involved. Their motivation must in many cases
be very personal and very deeply felt indeed. Sadly but true methodological
innovation in this field is born in frustration rather than out of mutual

And now those tiny few are presented with a new threat. Words like
collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and computational approach are
becoming mere rhetoric material in the hand of computer illiterate but
money and status sensitive scholars. For meanwhile digital humanities has
become such a proverbial 'Next Big Thing' that it attracts half wits like
beetles are being attracted to a dung heap. Next to ignorance and being
ignored the computer literate that not seldom sacrificed academic career
opportunity to genuine computational curiosity now face competition with
people having bigger and larger academic titles, because the sure dumbness
multiplier got involved: funding. And the game becomes more about the
credit you have that allows you to generate mo-money, than about the actual
dynamic between computer science and humanities. In that the computer
illiterate have the highest stakes to keep the boundaries exactly where
they are. For letting these boundaries be permeated by computation and
digitallity would force them to trade academic space for new methodologies
and the people that tag along with that. Window dressing your application
with buzz words and keeping the academic spoils to yourself however is for
them a far better deal.


PS I'll go silently sit in that corner over there now, letting of steam,
hissing. [Insert scholars annoying 'wink' here].

On Tue, May 6, 2014 at 9:10 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 1026.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 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".
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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

Drs. Joris J. van Zundert

*Researcher & Developer Digital and Computational Humanities*
Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands

*Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences*


*Jack Sparrow: I thought you were supposed to keep to the code.Mr. Gibbs:
We figured they were more actual guidelines.*

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