3.190 Offline 24 entire (466)

Fri, 30 Jun 89 00:13:06 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 190. Friday, 30 Jun 1989.

Date: Tuesday, 27 June 1989 2123-EST
Subject: OFFLINE 24

[Bob Kraft has alerted me to the fact that my partial publication of
Offline 24 was a departure from my usual practice of sending out the
entire thing. Of this departure I now repent me. Be assured that I was
concerned only about the load of Humanist's mail at the time and did not
intend in any way to suggest that the contents were less worthy. In
fact, this is a fascinating issue, which here follows in its entirety.


<O F F L I N E 24>
by Robert A. Kraft


I write this as June rapidly draws to a close. Fresh
in memory is the combined international conference on
THE DYNAMIC TEXT held earlier this month in Toronto (see
further below). Not very far in the future is the
SBL/AAR/ASOR meeting, including its CARG (Computer
Assisted Research Group) activities. In between is a
papyrology conference in Cairo, Egypt, at which I plan
to present an update on some of the procedures and
results of our work on computer assisted identification
and restoration of papyri fragments. For recreation, I
have just finished a computer program to index the names
in a massive family genealogy file that I have been
developing. On a daily basis, incoming and outgoing
electronic mail takes up some of my time, and the more
traditional and regular chores of an academician's life,
including bibliographical searching of the Library
holdings, are also facilitated in various ways by
computerized activity.

The point is that in virtually every direction and
connection, computers and computing are part of the life
situation within which I operate. This access to such
enormous power no longer awes me as it once did. It is,
indeed, largely taken for granted and I wonder how life
ever could have functioned adequately otherwise! It is
both interesting and comforting to find that many
colleagues, students and acquaintances are having a
similar experience, at some level or another. Throughout
the University, textprocessing has become commonplace,
and its benefits obvious. Graduate students marvel that
anyone ever finished a dissertation in the pre-computer
age, as they exploit the technology to write, rewrite,
index, and print their scholarly efforts. A new set of
excuses can be heard from tardy undergraduates when the
course papers are due -- couldn't make the printer work,
or experienced a disk crash, or the dog chewed up the

When my department agreed in 1984 to require an
appropriate level of computer literacy from all graduate
students, we felt that it would become an unnecessary
rule, since it would automatically take care of itself
in the fairly near future. This has proved true, not
only because most students now enter with some computer
experience, but because we are able to provide new
levels of usage through the presence of "humanities
computing" facilities here at the University. What the
isolated person might only suspect or know of indirectly
can often be seen in action here, such as optical
scanning of texts and pictures, special printing
facilities, CD-ROM manipulation, data transfer to
optimize machine-specific software, graphics and video
coordination, and the like. And as is increasingly clear
from the banter on the HUMANIST electronic list (about
400 computing humanists linked together on the BITNET
academic network) and from the participation in
conferences that deal with humanities computing, a great
deal of activity is taking place throughout the world of
academia to make such facilities available more broadly.

<The Toronto DYNAMIC TEXT Conference>

THE DYNAMIC TEXT conference hosted by the Centre for
Computing in the Humanities at the University of Toronto
provided an excellent cross section of the current
situation. The conference was sponsored by two of the
leading international "computers and humanities" groups,
the American based ACH (Association for Computers and
the Humanities) which publishes the journal called CHum
(Computers and the Humanities), and the British based
ALLC (Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing)
which publishes LLC (Literary and Linguistic Computing).
Included among the "cooperating associations and
institutions" were not only several other "computers and
..." type groups (linguistics, history, bible,
conceptual/content analysis), but also a few of the
traditional professional associations (historical,
philological, philosophical, linguistic) along with a
research libraries organization. It would be interesting
to know whether other traditional professional societies
had been invited to cooperate, and what their responses
were. To my knowledge, neither SBL nor AAR was
approached, for example, despite their demonstrated
interest in such matters. As I will argue below, this
type of crossfertilization needs to be actively fostered
as general attitudes to computing become more positive.

Two booklets were produced in connection with the
conference, and copies may still be available from the
organizers: A Conference Guide edited by local host Ian
Lancashire (191 pages plus index), with an overview of
the program and abstracts of most of the presentations;
and a Software and Hardware Fair Guide edited by Willard
McCarty (131 pages plus index), with details about 74
planned exhibits (a few of them failed to materialize).
I have no intention of trying to summarize the variety
of activities that took place in this basically 4 day
conference (plus associated workshops and short
courses). My two graduate student assistants and I spent
much of the time showing off various "wares" in the
Exhibition room, but we also attended a smattering of
the program segments and it is clear that all three of
us had an enjoyable and rewarding time (and made many
useful contacts).

I would like to comment on a few of the issues that
were raised and/or reraised at or by the conference that
seem to me to impact on virtually all academics in one
way or another. Some of these have been mentioned in
previous OFFLINE columns, but are reasserting themselves
with new vigor and sometimes in new ways. My intent is
not primarily to report on the Toronto conference, but
to use it as a springboard to more general observations.

<Computing and the Roles of Centers, Libraries and Publishers>

In Toronto, I chaired a very interesting panel on
computer "archives" and related issues. For most of the
short history of computing and textual studies, archives
of electronic materials have been maintained by centers
and projects. Now the situation is changing rapidly --
very rapidly! Libraries, as the traditional custodians
of publicly available (mostly printed) information are
moving more aggressively to keep abreast of the new
electronic developments. Publishers, for whom the
invention of the printing press created an immense
market opportunity, are increasingly exploring ways in
which the new electronic technology can be harnessed to
their advantage. The development of storage and delivery
devices such as CD-ROM, which in many ways (not the
least of which is its "fixed" content) is more like a
book than are the more dynamic read/write media, or
largely controllable on-line access services (you can
see/use what is there, but can't easily obtain it as
such), provide an excellent point of contact between the
electronic developments and the more traditional modes
of publication and storage/access.

Roles are necessarily being reshaped -- and with them,
expectations, procedures, laws, interrelationships. In
many instances, the author with appropriate electronic
equipment no longer needs a separate "publisher" to
produce attractive printed copy, although questions
remain (if appropriate) regarding replication, publicity
and distribution. And as authors move more to primarily
electronic (rather than printed) publication, and/or as
users come to demand more material in electronic forms,
how will traditional publishing houses and libraries
respond? Who controls the quality of what is
"published"? Who keeps track of what version appeared
when, and whether any given version is "authorized"? How
do legal concepts such as "copyright" or "fair use"
apply, and how do they relate to economic issues such as
the treatment of expenses and of any income? A
futuristic treatment of how such issues could be handled
was provided at Toronto by a surprise visitor, Ted
Nelson, who spoke about his "Project Xanadu" and its
Hypertext System as described in his book LITERARY
MACHINES (edition 87.1), which is itself an example of a
new approach to publication in various forms (hard copy
privately and through a distributor, and also in
electronic form).

"The old order changes, yielding way to new." Many of
the same issues are relevant whether one refers to
future original productions, or to the attempt to
produce electronic copies of existing publications. New
procedures will necessarily be worked out for the
future; hopefully authors will be more conscious of
protecting their "ownership" rights and not simply give
them up pro forma to the new order of distributors, for
example. But with reference to works that are already
published in the old way, and for which electronic
versions are desired, the waters are considerably
muddied. It is not clear how traditional "copyright"
laws relate to such electronic materials, especially
when the original authors (Paul, Shakespeare, etc.)
whose writings are reissued under copyright are
themselves long removed from the jurisdiction of such
laws. If I take a standard copyrighted edition of such
an author, strip away all but the consecutive text
(without modern page numbers, introduction, notes,
etc.), and make it available electronically, do I
violate copyright? Have I produced a new edition that is
itself copyrightable in my name? Such questions will
only be answered legally by being tested in the courts
(as has happened with some legal materials), but that
prospect currently does not seem appealing to any of the
discussants (for understandable reasons!), and we may be
able to muddle through the situation by developing
agreements between the interested parties -- as has been
the situation thus far with the biblical and related
materials circulated by CCAT.

In many ways, the libraries are caught in the middle
on such discussions, and may help force solutions to be
found. If a traditional publisher produces an electronic
edition, as with the recent Oxford University Press
releases of the Oxford English Dictionary (CD-ROM, $950)
or of Shakespeare (diskettes, $300), the issues are
relatively clear and clean. But some works of
Shakespeare, encoded from editions no longer under
copyright, also have been available electronically for a
longer period of time, without benefit of any authorized
"protector" to be responsible for quality and to control
distribution. Should libraries attempt to locate and
acquire such "public domain" material as well? Until
very recently, prospective users were approaching the
computer centers for such information and tasks, with
mixed results. Growing interest and involvement of the
libraries should provide a relatively stabilizing effect
on the situation.

A major problem has been that it is not easy to
ascertain whether a text is available electronically,
and if so under what conditions. Lou Burnard at the
Oxford Text Archive and his counterparts at a few other
centers had managed to provide lists of materials that
were on deposit with them, but the long desired
inventory of machine readable texts (MRT) that had been
begun by Marianne Gaunt at the Rutgers Library was
stalled for several years from lack of adequate funding
and support. This situation is now changing radically,
as we learned at Toronto. The NEH has granted some
planning funds for the exploration of a consortial type
of Center for MRT in the Humanities, under the combined
sponsorship of Rutgers and Princeton Universities, and
the first major task will be completion of the
Inventory. This will be done in cooperation with other
groups and projects that had independently begun to move
toward the same goal. Once the inventory information is
in hand, and has become available on the standard
library networks, it will be much easier to sort out the
problems of how individual libraries can facilitate
access to the actual materials (e.g. from centralized
banks, through an "interlibrary loan" type system,
through direct purchase, etc.) and whose legal rights
may be involved.

<Computing and the Traditional Professional Societies>

Overall, the Toronto conference was a great success,
and all who were involved in making it so are to be
congratulated. There is, however, for me, an
uncomfortable aspect to such success. It breeds
enthusiasm, esprit de corps, commitment to the cause,
and all those normally desirable side effects. But at
the same time it raises the question of what should be
the primary focus of allegiance -- what is the function
of "computers and ..." organizations in relation to the
more traditional types of field oriented professional
groups. When the "old guard" left little room or
encouragement for serious computer related discussion at
professional society meetings, it made sense for
alternative fora to arise. But hasn't the current
situation become more receptive, so that inclusion of
computer assisted study in the traditional framework is
no longer a divisive issue? If so, should not scholarly
expertise of all types seek its primary focus and
expression in the recognized field that it represents?
This is not to deny the value of secondary affiliations
such as the "computers and ..." groups, or even the
possibility that the new technology may actually justify
the spawning of some new "fields" in humanities
(although I am hard pressed to imagine what, given the
"human" emphasis in my definition of "humanities"). But
the danger of expending our energies to perpetuate the
now comfortable and congenial "technocentric" situation,
among longtime friends and sympathizers, at the cost of
robbing our special fields of our newly acquired wisdom,
talents and leadership, leaves me ambivalent.

In the long run, computers are tools -- very powerful
tools, to be sure -- that we humanists use in the
pursuit and presentation of knowledge. The Fair Guide at
Toronto was even entitled "Tools for Humainsts" although
in the Introduction Willard McCarty refers in passing,
inviting this sort of discussion, to "the discipline [of
humanities computing], if it is one" (p. ii). Is there a
case to be made for developing departments of
"humanities computing," with attendant majors and
advanced degrees, side by side with the more traditional
departments? Should this become a self-perpetuating
"discipline" or better "field of specialization"
alongside the other humanities "fields" that it also
serves? At present, my inclination is to resist such a
development, and to urge that the rapidly growing body
of computing humanists not abandon the traditional
fields in favor of "computers and ..." contexts, but on
the contrary, aggressivly interact with the traditional
structures to forge a new and stronger synthesis.

To put it another way, the riches of the Toronto
exhibits deserve to be seen at the traditional
professional society meetings. Some of the presentations
made at the Toronto sessions deserve to be heard in the
more traditional settings. Conversely, the program
committees of the traditional professional societies
need to be conscious about insuring that computer
related approaches are welcome and encouraged at the
sessions. Otherwise, we are in danger of fostering the
development of two quite different levels of computer
literacy within any given academic field -- those who
write with their computers but don't know how to do much
more, and those who do much more but fail to communicate
it to or share it with the colleagues who, unlike years
ago, are now in a better position to appreciate it.
There is a very real sense in which the continued
flourishing of "computers and ..." groups could prove
counterproductive for the future of humanistic

This is not to say that a continuing forum for
technical discussions of humanistic computer
applications has no place. But I see its role as
supportive and complimentary, not as competitive. The
problem is, in its oversimplified form, two sided. The
traditional societies and journals seldom have taken an
actively positive attitude to the new developments. What
journals are reviewing general purpose software, or
electronic data? How many scholarly articles that make
careful and explicit use of computer technology appear
in those journals? Which societies sponsor hardware and
software fairs such as the one at Toronto? But on the
other side, to what extent are those who are especially
interested and talented in the computer assisted
applications pouring time and energies into helping the
traditional societies and journals cope with the new
situation? Do we volunteer to serve as program
coordinators and editors for relevant interests? Are
computer related articles being submitted to (or
rejected by) traditional journals? How can such articles
reach the wider audience of the less skilled and help to
make them more skilled if they appear mainly in the
"computers and ..." journals for the very skilled?

Examples of this paradoxical situation are not
difficult to find. Many presentations in ACH and ALLC
programs over the years, and articles in CHum and LLC,
have been very field specific as well as explicitly
computer oriented. To what extent has that research also
made its way into the traditional journals (with
appropriate rewriting, as necessary)?

The current issue of LLC (4.1, 1989) contains an
article by M. E. Davidson on "New Testament Word Order"
(19-28), the spinoff from an MA project at Queen's
University, Belfast. While it is clear that Davidson
used electronic data in researching the subject, it is
not an article on any aspect of computing -- indeed, its
use of computers is relatively trivial and incidental.
Davidson even prepared a control study from Epictetus
"by hand" since appropriate computer data was not
available for that author. Davidson's primary approach
is through statistical analysis, and his results
(whatever their validity) would be of interest to a
variety of people in biblical and classical studies as
well as in linguistics. I do not know whether the study
has been submitted to any traditional journals, but it
should be. It is an article on the Greek of the Gospel
of Luke and Paul's Romans, and should be used and
evaluated by experts in that material. It makes no
contribution to humanities computing as such, although
it peripherally relates to statistical linguistics.

The very next article in LLC deals with the problems
of using machine readable dictionaries of English. It is
more directly and explicitly related to the computer
aspects of linguistic research, addressing such problems
as ambiguity and coding of various entries in English
dictionary lists. It is an instructive study, and would
be of value to people interested in dictionary
construction in general, as well as to people who work
with computerized dictionaries. Surely such an article
has a place in the general scholarly literature for the
study of English (and other) lexicography as well as in
a journal read by people who must be concerned with
consistent electronic coding conventions, file
structures, and the like.

The more technical discussions in the computer
societies would be difficult to justify in traditional
periodicals and scholarly meetings, to be sure, although
the day may be coming when even that observation may
ring false. My point is that we need to seek actively to
incorporate, or sometimes reincorporate, the computer
assisted studies into the general framework of the
existing fields, where appropriate. I suspect that there
may already be a generation of computer society members
whose primary scholarly affiliation is in that
"interdisciplinary" context, and who have no significant
involvement with the more traditional professional
societies. While I can understand how that can happen, I
think we need to resist the inbreeding and tendency to
isolation that can result from overly successful
"computers and ..." approaches. Otherwise the old will
tend to atrophy, and the new will have inadequate
rooting and support.

<Computing and the Individual Academic>

Most of the presentations and exhibits at Toronto have
a direct application to the teaching and research of the
individual academic. The Introduction to the Fair Guide
provides a useful classification of the exhibits by type
of application, with the following main divisions:
computer assisted instruction (including various sight,
sound and text systems), databanks and databases (local
as well as online), special hardware systems (e.g. NeXT,
IBYCUS), machine assisted translation, scanning systems,
personal information management (e.g. bibliography),
philological and linguistic analysis, historical (and
archaeological) simulations, analysis of style and
meaning, search and retrieval systems, text editing and
textprocessing, data transfer utilities. There was
something for everyone, and these brief comments cannot
possibly do it all justice. In most instances, it was
not a preview of tomorrow but a sample of what is being
done today and a challenge to further infuse our
everyday academic activities with the fruits and
potential of this fabulous new technology.


Please send information, suggestions or queries
concerning OFFLINE to Robert A. Kraft, Box 36 College
Hall, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
19104-6303. Telephone (215) 898-5827. BITNET address:
KRAFT at PENNDRLS (no longer PENNDRLN). To request
printed information or materials from OFFLINE (or from
CCAT), please supply an appropriately sized,
self-addressed envelope or an address label. A complete
electronic file of OFFLINE columns is also available
upon request (for IBM/DOS, Mac, or IBYCUS).