[Humanist] 29.392 a middle ground?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 16 07:32:05 CEST 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 392.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (63)
        Subject: Finding middle ground: method v. tool

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (62)
        Subject: differing sensibilities

        Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2015 10:32:26 -0500
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Finding middle ground: method v. tool
        In-Reply-To: <20151015062124.3EE9A6BA5 at digitalhumanities.org>

On Plato’s dialogues, this got me thinking about what may be considered
“middle ground” between the extremes of normal (close) reading and
analysis of text vs. almost-completely-automated tool analysis (topic
modeling, SNA, etc). My interest is in communicating the concepts behind
computer science (CS) within the context of art and humanities. Let’s
consider the example of teaching a student about semantic networks— the
task may be to read a text (e.g., one of Plato’s dialogues) and, by hand,
create concept maps and semantic networks of part of that text. Of course,
tools are still useful but this is more hands-on and interactive. In doing
so, the student learns about computer science (networks, nodes, the idea of
“relation”, abstraction) but also reads Plato's dialogues and reasons
about them. Both CS and humanities learning objectives are satisfied. I
don’t think this is true when using massive corpus based tools — where
the software does everything for you.

When I browse digital humanities repositories in the web, most of what I see
is a list of tools and how to use them, rather than a more methodological

I am working closely with a local art museum to surface diagrammatic
interpretations (think concept maps and flowcharts) of processes and
technique present re: an artwork. Some of this work involves analysis of the
written word (e.g., al Jazari’s “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious
Mechanical Devices”). The end goal is to allow the museum visitor to
informally learn CS concepts and have a meaningful cultural experience,
simultaneously. See this concept map experience example:

http://artnc.org/conceptMap/560  http://artnc.org/conceptMap/560

This manual, hands-on, approach is of significant interest to me as I am
less interested in automated tools "for a million books”. If any of you
share this interest or can point me in a DH direction where this middle
ground is covered in classes, or via humanist scholars, let me know.


>  On Oct 15, 2015, at 1:21 AM, Humanist Discussion Group
> <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:>
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 386.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>  [1]   From:    Marten_Düring <m.duering at zoho.com>                       (65)
>        Subject: Re:  29.383 network analysis on Plato's dialogues
>  [2]   From:    "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>            (206)
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.364 losing the humanities
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Wed, 14 Oct 2015 10:30:32 +0200
>        From: Marten_Düring <m.duering at zoho.com>
>        Subject: Re:  29.383 network analysis on Plato's dialogues
>        In-Reply-To: <20151014045437.A39CB6B64 at digitalhumanities.org>
> Hi Dave,
> you will find a summary of commonly used tools here: http://historicalnetworkresearch.org/resources/external-resources/#3  http://historicalnetworkresearch.org/resources/external-resources/#3 . For Linux take a look at Gephi, Visone, Palladio, Cytoscape, Nodegoat or Vennmaker. They all serve different needs and people tend to pick their personal favourites after trying a lot of them out.
> Best,
> Marten
> PS: Please keep me posted if you should pursue your idea with Plato´s dialogues

        Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2015 13:28:50 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: differing sensibilities

In thinking about making connections across disciplines, James Clerk 
Maxwell's characterization of kinds of scientists is suggestive. I quote 
from an address he gave to the Mathematical and Physical Sections of the 
British Association for the Advancement of Science, Liverpool, 15 
September 1870 (Scientific Papers II. 215ff, in the Internet Archive). 
He makes it quite clear which kind he is:

 > There are, as I have said, some minds which can go on contemplating
 > with satisfaction pure quantities presented to the eye by symbols,
 > and to the mind in a form which none but mathematicians can
 > conceive.
 > There are others who feel more enjoyment in following geometrical
 > forms, which they draw on paper, or build in the empty space before
 > them.
 > Others, again, are not content unless they can project their whole
 > physical energies into the scene which they conjure up. They learn
 > at what rate the planets rush through space, and they experience a
 > delightful feeling of exhilaration. They calculate the forces with
 > which the heavenly bodies pull at one another, and they feel their
 > own muscles straining with the effort.
 > To such men momentum, energy, mass are not mere abstract expressions
 > of the results of scientific inquiry. They are words of power, which
 > stir their souls like memories of childhood.
 > For the sake of persons of these different types, scientific truth
 > should be presented in different forms, and should be regarded as
 > equally scientific, whether it appears in the robust form and the
 > vivid colouring of a physical illustration, or in the tenuity and
 > paleness of a symbolical expression.

Within digital humanities, some of us may look on those with digitally 
dirty hands as too absorbed in grubby work to see the big picture. Those 
who write code may look on the theorizers as too far from the objects of 
study to have anything useful to say, or too dependent on how others use 
tools to have any grip on what's coming. But stepping back from all 
that, could it be that the drawing apart of those who flourish in 
abstraction, those who depict and those who know by hands-on and in 
felt experience marks a stage of disciplinary maturity in which basic 
human inclinations are sorting us out?

I confess a strong sense of identification with Maxwell. Forgive, if you 
will, more 19C words from him, from an "Introductory Lecture on 
Experimental Physics" (Scientific Papers II.242):

> When we shall be able to employ in scientific education, not only the
> trained attention of the student, and his familiarity with symbols,
> but the keenness of his eye, the quickness of his ear, the delicacy
> of his touch, and the adroitness of his fingers, we shall not only
> extend our influence over a class of men who are not fond of cold
> abstractions, but, by opening at once all the gateways of knowledge,
> we shall ensure the association of the doctrines of science with
> those elementary sensations which form the obscure background of all
> our conscious thoughts, and which lend a vividness and relief to
> ideas, which, when presented as mere abstract terms, are apt to fade
> entirely from the memory.

I am tempted to observe that here lies the deepest sort of bond between 
those who have a physical, embodied relationship with their objects of 
study, subvocalizing as they read and write, moving as they listen, feeling 
as they look, and those who program, or once did, and so have been 
changed forever.



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

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