where do we sit in the bus? (124)

Fri, 14 Apr 89 22:49:16 EDT

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 841. Friday, 14 Apr 1989.

(1) Date: Fri, 14 Apr 89 16:57:26 EDT (17 lines)
From: Stephen Clausing <SCLAUS@YALEVM>
Subject: electronic journals and tenure(18 lines)

(2) Date: 14 April 1989 (87 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: distinguished, undistinguished, or tainted?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 14 Apr 89 16:57:26 EDT
From: Stephen Clausing <SCLAUS@YALEVM>
Subject: electronic journals and tenure(18 lines)

I am glad to hear that Joseph Raben's 1981 survey determined that a
majority of chairs and deans would be willing to count publications in
electronic journals towards tenure. I would be more interested to know how
people have actually gotten tenure since then because of (or perhaps in spite
of) this work. And what about computer applications? Did the survey ask
deans whether these would count as well in the Humanities? At a recent
conference I heard about a survey done in English departments. Faculty were
asked to rank appropriate tasks for an English professor. Out of 50 topics
listed, the writing of computer applications came in dead last. My impression
is that universities are very interested in acquiring computer applications
and in administering their use, along with the necessary hardware, but these
same universities do not consider the development of such applications an
appropriate activity for true scholars, and only scholars get tenure.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 14 April 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: distinguished, undistinguished, or tainted?

I suspect there will be not a few amongst us who suspect (who can know
for certain?) that association with computing has not done their
academic careers any good. Stephen Clausing's report that computing
finished dead last in a list of many professionally valued activities is
not the first I've heard, and my own experience during the last many
years has been that computing tends to taint humanists, not
distinguish them. Computing in the humanities is a practical pursuit,
something having to do with experiments carried on in laboratories, not
in libraries until quite recently. (Would anyone be surprised to hear
that a theoritician or critic fears putting his or her work to the
test?) Even today, when otherwise academically distinguished novices
approach computing, they not infrequently speak as if from a very high
horse to the technological servant down below, as if (if not actually)
to give commands. Such scorn may be born of fear, prejudice, and rank
ignorance, but it is nevertheless damaging to the recipient.

Dismissing all such things for the moment, one is left with the fact
that work in computing inevitably takes time away from work elsewhere.
Even if it is true that in principle computers increase "productivity",
we are still of the generation that must invest heavily of our time in
the hope or belief that such increases will be realized someday. (I
don't think that an increase in productivity, as this phrase is usually
meant, is what humanities computing is about, but never mind.) Since we
seem to have fallen rather crudely to measuring academic worth by
quantity and rapidity of publication, involvement with computing would
seem not to be the path to academic success. In many cases, I suspect,
the committee that does not devalue the candidate-who-computes
charitably overlooks his or her waywardness and proceeds to measure this
person against those who have meanwhile been busy grinding out the
articles and books in the conventional mode. "A second string to your
bow" is a often used phrase, but it is based on a sadly inaccurate
metaphor. Rarely, if ever, does any string count but the first.
"Pardon me, onrishing tiger, while I restring my bow with this second
string, assuredly a great asset."

Can such a committee be blamed, however, for not valuing experience and
achievements that clearly lie outside the job description it is
attempting to satisfy? Isn't the real problem, then, with the rather ill
defined nature of humanities computing? Aren't we still at the stage of
trying to figure out what precisely this activity or bundle of
activities is?

For me, a literary critic, such questions always turn into other
questions concerning the nature of my craft and how I practice it. Use
of the computer, that is, raises for me tough and interesting questions
about methodology. If humanities computing were as professionally
rewarding as many of us wish it were, there might be people to pursue
these questions, but perhaps recognition must wait on clear and abundant
evidence that computing humanists produce good scholarship unobtainable
by other means, or otherwise not as good.

In 1981, I suspect, deans could feel quite safe about electronic
publications. My experience with Humanist suggests, however, that a
great deal of hard work and clear thinking are still required before we
understand what we've got here and what place it has in our world.
McLuhan repeated to a large crowd what students of poetry have always
known, that style and content are utterly inseparable aspects of each
other. The electronicity of this medium has a great influence on the
message it carries, but it doesn't seem to me at all obvious what is
given and what can be made of it.

I would very much like to know if in the history of technology any
generalizations can be made about what happens when new technologies
arise. In the case of the electronic medium, I suspect that it will
augment printed texts, and that we will gradually come to understand
much better what printing is especially good for. Hypertext, for
example, seems especially good as a reference mechanism for collections
of information, and not nearly as effective as an ordinary book for
reading or writing literature. Humanist seems very good for arguing
about issues like this one, very good for exchanging timely information,
but not as good, say, as CHum, LLC, or any other respected journal for
distributing the less ephemeral results of our work. Am I wrong about

In sum, I agree with Clausing that optimism about our place in the world
doesn't hold up in the face of experience, especially untenured
experience, but I say that we must look to ourselves for the answer. No
one else knows enough; we hardly do. As far as electronic
publication goes, I also say that we have here, in Humanist, an excellent
means of exploring some of what is possible. So, again, let us look to

Yours, Willard McCarty