3.82 scholarly microcomputing, cont. (163)

Thu, 1 Jun 89 08:13:24 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 82. Thursday, 1 Jun 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 31 May 89 07:03:09 EDT (21 lines)
From: David Megginson <MEGGIN@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 3.76 scholarly microcomputing (110)

(2) Date: 31 May 1989 (43 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: professors and computers

(3) Date: Wed, 31 May 89 10:04:08 BST (32 lines)
From: Donald Spaeth (0532) 33 3573 <ECL6DAS@CMS1.UCS.LEEDS.AC.UK>
Subject: Micro applications for scholars

(4) Date: Wed, 31 May 89 12:41:43 EDT (37 lines)
From: cbf%faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU@jade.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 3.76 scholarly microcomputing (110)

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 31 May 89 07:03:09 EDT
From: David Megginson <MEGGIN@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 3.76 scholarly microcomputing (110)

In response to Ellen Germain's discussion on professors and micro-
computers, I would like to make a caution. The folk wisdom which goes
'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' applies especially to moving tasks
over onto a computer. Many businesses buy computers just for the sake
of buying them, then spend thousands or tens of thousands more trying
to figure out what to do with them. Personally, I love word-processors,
but I nearly always write my first draft by hand, even when I am
writing a computer program! Small databases like book indexes or
recipe files may fit more naturally in a card file than in a complex
computer database -- despite over 10 years of computer experience, I
am keeping the bibliography for my Ph.D. on index cards.

The basic rule is as follows: If you will spend more time figuring out
how to use computer programs than you save using them, go back to
your old habits.

David Megginson
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 31 May 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: professors and computers

There are, I suppose, several possible reasons for the pushing of
professors into using computers, and for the sluggishness of their
response. Those of us with experience know that some tasks are better
done with a machine than without, but perhaps we also know that the real
issue isn't "productivity", because the computer does not so much save
labour as transform it. Those of us who are pleased with this
transformation want to share our enthusiasms, being culturally
evangelical as well as tending to be reassured by the similar actions of
others. Joy, as well as misery, loves company, and certain anxieties are
soothed by it. We are frustrated by the sluggishness I mentioned also
because our common concerns will be furthered by greater numbers of
participants, the money they bring, and so forth.

Perhaps the sluggish responders may be excused not because they are
technophobes or are possessed by tenured somnolence but because they are
not getting answers from us to important questions. Are we capable of
presenting the case for the scholarly use of computers to those who are
utterly uncommitted? Preaching to the converted is enjoyable, but it
doesn't require as much of many things as being an apostle to the
heathen. One essential function of services such as Humanist, it seems
to me, is to provide the forum where all us doctors of the church can
debate amongst ourselves about fundamental matters, so that when we are
asked the what-is-the-meaning-of-life questions we will have some
convincing answers.

On the other hand, an interesting cause of sluggishness may also be the
challenge that computers give us to understand in a precise way what it
is that we do, or more accurately, to see what happens when the
algorithmic mind attempts to analyze our methodologies. There are many
reasons why someone would not want to face such a challenge.

So, perhaps the best way to get professors to use computers is to
understand much better what it is that we are professing, or want to

Willard McCarty
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------35----
Date: Wed, 31 May 89 10:04:08 BST
From: Donald Spaeth (0532) 33 3573 <ECL6DAS@CMS1.UCS.LEEDS.AC.UK>
Subject: Micro applications for scholars

I read Ellen Germain's query with interest since I'm paid to attempt
to answer it! It is no longer difficult to convince lecturers of
the benefits of word-processing. More problematic is answering
the question, "where do I go next?". As other respondents have
suggested, there is no one answer to this question. But the application
likely to be of benefit to most humanists is the textbase, of which
Wordcruncher is perhaps the best known, because it comes closest to the
"tool" which we all use already, namely the cardbox/file. One further
advantage of a textbase is that it requires very little advance
preparation to be useful and is easy to use. Texts can be indexed with
no markup at all if all that is required is quick direct access to
voluminous material. For demonstration purposes, this means that you
can quickly demonstrate the benefits of a textbase with the user's own
word-processed document.

The textbase is not a revolutionary application, in that enables
researchers simply to replicate their current research techniques
on computer. But that makes it especially likely to be attractive
to humanists looking for applications beyond the word-processor.
Nor does it exhaust the range of applications of use. But, as with
the textbase, lecturers are most likely to benefit from the imaginative
use as research tools of applications written for other markets.

Donald Spaeth
Arts Computing Development Officer
University of Leeds
email: from Bitnet: d.a.spaeth at cms1.leeds.ac.uk
from Janet: d.a.spaeth at uk.ac.leeds.cms1
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------48----
Date: Wed, 31 May 89 12:41:43 EDT
From: cbf%faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU@jade.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 3.76 scholarly microcomputing (110)

We are on the very edge of the massive use of computers in
humanities scholarship. For people interested primarily in
texts the big stumbling block right now is the lack of primary
materials in machine-readable form. Where such materials have
become available, they have caused a revolution in the way
scholars work in the discipline. The primary example is the
TLG. Having these materials available does not change the
sorts of things scholars want to do. It will not convert
everyone into stylometricians (stylomeretricians?), but it
will allow them to explore hunches, to follow up leads that
would have been literally impossible before.

Take Willard's question about ivory and marble in classical
Latin poetry. If we had a machine-readable corpus of Latin
texts that question could be solved in an hour. Without such
a corpus it becomes an enormously tedious and time-consuming
exercise with, ultimately, less than satisfactory results.

Besides the texts we also need suitable tools for text analysis.
These include not only the standard sorts of searching tools
(boolean and contextual) but also thesauri. To take up Willard's
problem again, one would like to be able to search on a semantic
field which includes the concepts of ivory and marble, regardless
of the specific words used to convey those concepts. That is why
the text-encoding initiative is so important, so that search
software can be standardized in terms of the SGML tags.

In this sense I disagree with Bob Kraft. I don't think that the
humanities scholar should have to become a computing specialist
to do this kind of work, any more than he has had one in order
to use a computer for word processing.

Charles Faulhaber