3.185 humanities computing (117)

Wed, 28 Jun 89 20:59:36 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 185. Wednesday, 28 Jun 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 27 Jun 89 21:15:25 EDT (30 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Humanities computing

(2) Date: Wed, 28 Jun 89 08:40:01 EDT (20 lines)
From: David Megginson <MEGGIN@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 3.179 new things under the sun? German Humanists? (86)

(3) Date: Tue, 27 Jun 89 21:53 EST (42 lines)
Subject: re 3.179 humanities computing

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 89 21:15:25 EDT
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Humanities computing

Interestingly enough, people have held the same view about
computer science itself. That is, that computer science isn't
a discipline itself, but a collection of things taken from
mathematics, logic, electrical engineering and the like which
will eventually all reclaim their territories.

I don't think this will happen. Invariably, something new
develops in the center of a new field and remains when all
else is subtracted away. For computer science it may have been
formal specification of programming languages, proving programs
correct, etc. For humanities computing it may be some theorems
which have yet to be discovered about things such as aesthetics,
stylistics, authorship (or artistry) identification.

Clearly there is far too little of the humanities which is readily
available electronically for anyone to do definitive studies at this
point. Perhaps for Greek this can now be done, but surely for many
other languages and time periods or even artistic media, the
available bodies of computer-readable material fall far short of
the requirements for doing humanistic research compared to what
could be done with the original materials. For example, for how
many authors can one locate the complete computer-readable works?
Look at the effort it would take to complete a computer version of
the Norton Guide to English Literature? And that is a minimal
requirement for undergraduate education--not advanced scholorship.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------25----
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 89 08:40:01 EDT
From: David Megginson <MEGGIN@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 3.179 new things under the sun? German Humanists? (86)

In response to Willard's note:

The problem I see with Humanities computing is that, most of the time,
we don't seem to be breaking new ground. Concordances, word counts, and
even parsing are old news in the computer world. As a matter of fact,
expert systems will soon be as old as first year undergraduates, and we
have barely started with them (the expert systems, that is).

We look ridiculous when we haul up some ancient technology, apply it to
some text, and call for kudos from the computing community. On the other
hand, if we were to work on a useful theoretical framework for applying
these tools to our various disciplines, rather than on the technology
itself, we would have much worth reporting. Of course, then we would
be back in our own disciplines where, perhaps, we belong.

David Megginson
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------47----
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 89 21:53 EST
Subject: re 3.179 humanities computing

Willard, to carry your example to its logical conclusion, we could argue
that there can be no such field as painting, because, after all, paints were
invented and produced by chemists... IN almost every field of products I know
about, the "end users" prove to be the most creative group, using things for
activities the inventors never dreamt of. The proper role of tool developers,
in my not so humble opinion, is to design tools that the users can customize
and evolve into something totally new.
In 25 years of computing, I've observed very small changes in "ease of use"
making tremendous difference in who gets into the act. For example, the visual
statistics package "Datadesk", by allowing one to make a collection of 3-d
plots in various windows, and then rotate them "live" opens up new vistas of
analysis. Most people who've never had a physically large screen with the
capacity to work in lots of places at once don't realize how powerful that can
be, and how human. Once we get background processing going on, you can launch
your workstation/assistant to "go fetch the full text behind this reference
while I continue over here and buzz me when you've retrieved it...".
The biggest changes I see are in interaction with other people , though.
The 5 people in the world in this one sub-speciality can compare notes and
conference , regardless of geographic diversity.
I'd argue (just did!) that humanists will use tools in new ways for new
approaches and that "humanities computing" will die about as fast as the
patent office. Au contraire, it looks to me like it is just starting to wake up
to an exciting new world of new ways to look and new windows to look through.
As Frank Drake, the radio-astronomer observed: every time scientists open up a
new window in the spectrum (radio, optical, x-ray, infrared, uv, etc.), they
see not just new aspects of old things, but totally new things, never before
imagined processes going on.
Similarly, radio astronomers figured out how to link up 2 or more small
and geographically separated telescopes to synthesize a larger aperture, which
also let them see new details never before seen, as resolution varies inversely
with aperture. My hunch is that we're on the verge of doing something similar
with people, connecting enough of them real-time over a broad enough range that
we will get some emergent properties and discover new joys of cooperative
observation that have never been possible before (you can't fit ten million
people around the water cooler.).
This forum, and thousands like it, are leading the way to new power to the
humanities, not to the "death" of humanities computing. Lead on, Willard!
== wade schuette, Cornell ==