3.779 supporting the humanists, cont. (269)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 23 Nov 89 17:59:11 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 779. Thursday, 23 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Thu, 23 Nov 89 08:21 EDT (25 lines)

(2) Date: Thu, 23 Nov 89 17:03:13 GMT (53 lines)
From: Donald Spaeth 041 339 8855 x6336 <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Humanities computing support

(3) Date: 23 November 1989 (38 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: a European view?

(4) Date: Thu, 23 Nov 89 09:45:57 EST (123 lines)
From: David.A.Bantz@mac.dartmouth.edu
Subject: Re: 3.776 supporting the humanists, cont. (237)

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 89 08:21 EDT

Michael Sperberg-McQueen's excellent comments are quite
to the point.

Just two questions from the view-point not of the employer but of the
potential employee:

1. Would the humanist who happens to be a computer whiz better seek
employment as a computer support outside academia--for her own
self-respect--and contribute to research as a private scholar? In
general, it is preferrable not to place oneself in a subservient role
where one might expect abusive treatment.

2. How can a humanist outside academia maintain links with scholarly
support--i.e. gain access to libraries, computers and institutional
affiliation? Or, putting the shoe on the other foot--in what ways can
universities provide support for extra-academically employed sholars?

S.R. (Sheldon Richmond)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------69----
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 89 17:03:13 GMT
From: Donald Spaeth 041 339 8855 x6336 <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Humanities computing support

I have not contributed to this debate previously because others have
said what I would have said: burnout is a serious problem; better to
hire a humanist who computes than someone with all the right technical
skills (skills can be learned); etc. I'd like to echo wholeheartedly
the comments made by Willard McCarty and Michael Sperberg-McQueen
advocating that research in the postholder's specialism be made part of
the duties of a humanities computing post.

My experience is not nearly as bleak as that described by Michael.
History departments at which I have computed have made me feel at home
and have treated me as an equal. If this is unusual, then I am pleased
to be so lucky. It is difficult to feel completely in touch with
colleagues in history departments because our work experiences differ so
much on a day-to-day basis. I do not have to give lectures, run
tutorials, mark essays and exams and attend department meetings. The
ebb and flow of the academic calendar affects me only indirectly, in
that students need my help more during the year, while academic staff
need it more in the vacations (when they finally have time to do their

Research (when I have time for it) is therefore all the more important
as a "shared experience". And there's little doubt that academic staff
are more likely to feel on equal terms with a computing colleague who
continues to do research. (Teaching also provides an added contact
point, but I find it harder to make time for teaching, which must be
done during the day, than research, which I can do at night if I can
keep awake!)

May I add that the need for computing service staff to do research is
not a new one. Computing Service staff are often Ph.D.s, more often in
science than the humanities, and this has long been true. These
degree-holders in chemistry, physics, geography, etc., have for the most
part given up their attempts to do research in their subject. What does
it say about humanists who gain computing support posts that they try to
continue their research? are they more stubborn, less able to face their
new status, more committed, or simply lucky in that humanities research
requires less lab equipment than the sciences?

One other thought: there is a (deceptively?) easy solution to the
burnout problem and to the issue of what background a humanities support
person should have. More than one should be hired, say, one humanist
and one technical expert. At the very least, the hiring of an operator
or technical assistant could be a great help.

Don Spaeth
CTI Centre for History
University of Glasgow
gkha13 @ cms.gla.ac.uk (JANET)
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 23 November 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: a European view?

So far in the discussion about the support of computing by academics we
have not heard from any Scandinavian, German, French, or Italian
Humanists. From what little I know of academic research institutes in
those countries, I conclude that their perspective would be an
interesting one. Let me try to indicate why.

It is my impression that the CNR in Italy, the CNRS in France, such
things as the Max Planck Institut and ZUMA in Germany, and the NAVFs
EDB-senter in Norway allow in a similar fashion for research by suitably
qualified although non-teaching academics. The place made for such
people intrigues me. It causes me to wonder if the Europeans do not have
a model that North Americans might imitate. I realize that the
institutional situation in N. America is quite different from those that
prevail in Europe, but models can be taken out of context and adapted.

I wonder further if centres for humanities computing now developing at
various places are not groping towards something like what I take to be
the typically European research institute. One might also cite the many
(often precariously funded) research projects that have sprung up in
universities across N. America. These very much depend on the (often
severely underpaid) labour of drifted Ph.D.s. They differ very much from
both the pure-research institutes, such as Max-Planck, and the service-
driven institutes, such as the Norwegian centre, but they are attempting
to maintain a kind of intellectual life on the periphery of the
university. At my university there has been talk of creating a
parallel stream to the teaching professoriate for the academic
employees of these projects. I don't know if tenure has entered into
the discussions, but I think release time for research has.

Informed commentary on the European model(s) would be very helpful.

Yours, Willard McCarty

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------128---
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 89 09:45:57 EST
From: David.A.Bantz@mac.dartmouth.edu
Subject: Re: 3.776 supporting the humanists, cont. (237)

Concerned that others will follow a recent posting in nearly perfectly
inverting the meaning of what I wrote, let me be as stark as possible:

Two relatively clear models of professional positions and careers exist
in (1) the computer centers' user support functions, and (2) the
teaching and research faculty. My scepticism was directed toward what I
regard as ill-conceived efforts to forge a melding of the two where [so
it seemed] people are expected to fill one position and be treated as
though they were in another inevitably producing professional
alienation. I hold, on the contrary, that neither model is adequate for
securing the full range of humanities computing support; instead a
distinctly new professional identification is appropriate which affords
a much wider range of activities than the usual emergency or
problem-driven computer support role, and provides personal and
professional rewards for those activities per se rather than based on
the those for full time teaching and research faculty.

- David Bantz, Dartmouth, dbantz@Dartmouth.edu


The earned reputation for burn out in ad hoc user services (pace several
contributors) is only secondarily based on disrespect from faculty, and
is a well-known phenomenon independent of having humanists or other
academics fill the positions. It has to do, I claim, with the mismatch
between the high level of expertise and breadth required to provide
assistance on a wide range of computing problems, and the lack of any
deep, creative, or self-selected involvement in projects afforded by ad
hoc problem solving. Making humanities computing depend on the user
services model is doubly inappropriate: in addition to the intrinsic
problems of such positions, making the rewards, career paths and daily
contacts depend on the professional computing support model practically
guarantees the (at least eventual) estrangement of the support position
from the concerns and goals of the humanities faculty supposedly

So I affirm that professional identification with the humanities rather
than the computing staf is desirable. But does that mean that
humanities computing support positions should be treated in all respects
like faculty positions; that is, that humanities computing folk should
be expected to publish regularly in the main line journals, keep up with
the discipline enough to teach a wide range of courses from introductory
to seminars; to maintain, in other words, full teaching and research
responsibilities? The suggestion seems preposterous to me: it simply
isn't feasible (or human) to ask that much of a single individual.

Several writers seem to propose a "compromise" in which the humanities
computing person recieves full credit analogous to that given tenured
faculty for a scaled down program of research and teaching. What
remains mysterious (to me) in this suggestion is any hint of how or why
a scaled down program is going to generate the same respect on the part
of others as the programs of the full time faculty, unless, once again,
we hold them to the same standards as regular faculty. One possible
response is to work toward integrating the humanities computing support
with the teaching and research role: so as a philosopher I might focus
my teaching on logic programming and formal models (a historian might
focus on database techniques and quantitative historiography...); I
might make of myself an expert in computer-assisted theorem proving,
develop software for teaching logic, and so on. This suggestion just
emphasizes to me the inherent conflicts in such a dual conception, for
the more I get involved in such pursuits in a genuinely professional
way, the more I will be seen as a specialist using humanities computing
to support my own disciplinary interests at the expense of broad based
support for the disciplines of the humanities; if I am conscientious
about limiting my involvement ('only during lunch hours'?), I do not
believe I can be credible in my discipline. (By the way, this is not a
purely theoretical problem; I have seen allegedly humanities computing
support organizations so closely tied to particular disciplines or
research strategies that they were written off by other disciplines.
Some emphases of effort in any particular support activity, with
possible perceived biases, are inevitable, but it seems foolish to
aggravate them by encouraging closer identification with one particular

I believe the full range of appropriate support for computing in the
humanities is such that we should forge a new professional identity for
people in such positions. Their professional rewards should come from
intrinsic aspects of the job - i.e., providing computing support to
specifically humanistic projects of various kinds - and not on a "side
line" modelled after the distictly different profession of teaching and
research faculty. So long as we continue to employ only the models of
computing center user services - totally demand driven ad hoc problem
solving for projects in which the support person has no vested interest
- and the regular faculty judged on the articulated expectations of the
various disciplines, neither the people in humanities computing
positions nor the faculty who need support will be well served. The
range of activties, which can provide personal and professional
satisfaction include, of course, a lot more than ad hoc problem solving:
research design, software development, project management, policy and
standards formulation, grantsmanship, software evaluation; several of
these leave scope for presentations at meetings or publication.


- Michael Sperberg-McQueen wrote that "Models should be sought in the
non-teaching faculty status of (some) librarians, in the professional
research staffs, and in the success of informal arrangements by which
computer centers recognize that they will have better consultants if
they allow them some time and support for work in their original
academic field." I agree. These are, I think, attempts to structure a
new professional identity which is what I have been advocating.

- Michael Sperberg-McQueen seemed to imply that humanists in computing
support positions and humanists who have moved out of academia are in
need of sympathy and gently chided me for not expressing it. Most of
the humanists or other academics I know who have moved out of the more
standard academic career path are quite satisfied thank you. They may
maintain a serious interest in their academic fields and even
participate occasionaly; however, I think most of them would find it
either amusing or insulting to have "sympathy" expressed. By and large
they are thriving in a different environment and seem more fulfilled
than most faculty. But, it's true, there are some who bemoan their fate
and harbor a desire to maintain their identity as academics. I do regret
their lack of fulfilment and their often bitter remonstrations; in some
cases good talent is wantonly wasted. Nevertheless, I can't imagine
being less help to these folks than suggesting that if they use their
lunch hours or somewhat more on scholarly pursuits that both the academy
their current employer "ought" to regard them as though teaching and
research faculty.