[Humanist] 30.450 mapping digital humanities historically?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Oct 31 09:59:38 CET 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 450.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 31 Oct 2016 08:47:41 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: mapping digital humanities historically

Recent questions on Humanist and responses to them betray an interest on 
my part and others' in (relatively) long-ago books on the computer, its 
applications and effects. I now have a large enough collection to be 
driven to categorise these books, and by doing it have found that the 
categories suggest a broad but definite view of digital humanities. I'm 
not suggesting it is the one true view, rather that sorting the 
historical record of publications is a good way to make the sorter's 
own view clearer. For now I choose to do this mostly with books 
(monographs and edited collections), allowing for a few exceptions, 
because they tend to a broader, more comprehensive scope of interest.

The following is my current list of categories:

1. Disciplinary

This includes with a few exceptions items specifically focused on the 
computer in particular disciplines rather than on the machine or its 
software. Examples are:

Dell Hymes, The Use of Computers in Anthropology (1965)
Robert Oakman, Computer Methods for Literary Research (1980)
Evan Mawdsley and Thomas Munck, Computing for Historians (1993)

2. Industrial

This one focuses on the computer manufacturing industry itself rather 
than the application of computing in automation, which I put elsewhere. 
I have few examples so far; these seem to require quite a bit of sifting 
to yield items of interest to me; others' mileage may differ. But I'd be 
glad to know about more. The sort of thing I have come across:

Computer Industry Annual 1967-1968
Computers and Automation (a monthly, 1954-1978)

3. Social

Here I put the social commentary and speculations of public 
intellectuals and others, e.g.

Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future (1963)
Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (1964/1954)
Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine (1967)
Albert Teich, ed., Technology and Man's Future (1981)

4. Explanatory and exploratory

This is the broadest and most complex category, and the one most 
affected by my own interests. But it is, I think, also of most relevance 
to us, as I will suggest. It includes so far 6 sub-categories, as follows.

4.1 Analgesic. Here I put books that whatever their explicit aim (which 
merits their placement elsewhere as well) seem intent on reassurance, on 
turning away from the most philosophically challenging and so to me most 
interesting aspects of computing. Examples are:

Edward Shorter, The Historian and the Computer: A Practical Guide (1962)
Ben Ross Schneider, Travels in Computerland (1974)
Dennie Van Tassel, The Compleat Computer (1976)
Daniel Hillis, The Pattern on the Stone (1998)

4.2 Biographical. Self-explanatory, e.g.

Steve Heims, John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener (1980)
Marguerite Zientara, The History of Computing (1981)
Robert Slater, Portraits in Silicon (1987)

4.3 Definitional. These are primarily quite early attempts to answer the 
question, What is it?

R. R. Rathbone, Whirlwind I (1951)
William Corliss, Computers (1968)
IBM, What is a Computer? (1969)

4.4 Philosophical-historical. My most densely populated category, 
perhaps unsurprisingly. It includes everything focused on the 
intellectual questions and potentials of digital computing. Examples are:

B. V. Boden, ed. Faster than Thought (1953)
Irene Taviss, ed., The Computer Impact (1970)
Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think (1979)
Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine (1997)

In the above, it seems to me, the primary trajectory of digital 
humanities is indicated most by category 4 but also including 3 and 1; 
that part of cultural studies interested in the digital, by category 3; 
and those who specialise in computing within a particular discipline, by 
category 1. Category 2 should probably be absorbed into the others. But 
again this is to suggest an exercise, not anything like a definitive result.



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney

More information about the Humanist mailing list