[Humanist] 30.759 hands on

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Feb 19 09:11:16 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 759.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 07:55:22 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: doing-learning-thinking-writing

A bit more on hands on.

Commenting on Richard Hamming's great essay, "We would know what they 
thought when they did it" (in A History of Computing in the Twentieth 
Century, ed. Metropolis, Howlett and Rota), Mike Mahoney commented that 
on two counts his emphasis on doing has special force in the history of 

> First, whatever the theoretical content of the subject, the main
> object of computing has been to do something, or rather to make the
> computer do something. Successful practice has been the prime measure
> of effective theory. Second, the computer embodies a historically
> unique relation of thinking and doing. It is the first machine for
> doing thinking. (Histories of Computing, p. 87)

Note that last sentence.

In Making (2013) Tim Ingold takes up Michael Polanyi's notion of "tacit 
knowledge" but makes a distinction between 'knowing' and 'telling' to 
argue for the expressiveness of work with the hands, for "telling by 
hand" (p. 109). He is one among a number of anthropologists who have 
taken up things made by hand as key for understanding and communicating 
with others, e.g. Henare, Holbraad and Westel, Thinking through things 
(2009), Lave, Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in 
everyday life (1988), Chaiklin and Lave, ed., Understanding practice: 
Perspectives on activity and context (1996). Studies in the 
technosciences sciences also come to mind, e.g. Daston, ed., Things that 
talk (2004).

Summed up, these writings suggest that computational things in the 
making and use are a (or the?) primary mode by which digital 
humanities communicates (or communes), hands on. But, again, here we are 
in that lift/elevator, or taxicab, or corridor buttonholed by a curious 
or frustrated colleague -- many circumstances where only words are 
possible, to say nothing of the great majority of those whom we will 
never meet. To say nothing of ourselves requiring language to bring 
insight from the tool ready-at-hand into consciousness (if that's the 
right way of putting it). Simply "behold!" won't do.

Again to paraphrase Alan Liu, where is the artefactual criticism to go 
along with the exemplary projects we cite? What, exactly, will we say in
that lift? (The ghost of Jonathan Swift is there with his heavy load to 
remind us there is a problem.)


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

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