6.0007 Responses to Humanist's Birthday (2/117)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 13 May 1992 21:56:33 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0007. Wednesday, 13 May 1992.

(1) Date: 11 May 92 17:41:11 EST (70 lines)
Subject: Scholarly e-publishing symposium

(2) Date: Wed, 13 May 1992 07:39:17 -0400 (47 lines)
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: now we are 6

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 11 May 92 17:41:11 EST
Subject: Scholarly e-publishing symposium

The themes and concerns of the editorial birthday message for HUMANIST
remind me that I had meant to submit a few, purely personal, lines about a
recent meeting of interest. On 25-28 April, the Association of Research
Libraries, the American Mathematical Society, the American Association of
University Presses, and the National Science Foundation sponsored a symposium
in Washington, DC, for presses, learned societies, librarians, and others
interested in the future of scholarly electronic publication. Presenters from
a variety of e-zealot backgrounds sketched the recent past, the present, and
likely future developments. To my eye, of greatest interest were the
presentations from Dennis Egan of Bellcore, showing how hypertext searching
systems will make possible a better, faster, and more powerful access to
existing scholarly information systems; and from Dave Rodgers of the American
Math Society, showing the very advanced systems they are developing for
putting math journals on-line.

The most interesting discovery of the seminar was the gap that opened between
the e-zealot presenters (I was one of them) and the working publishers,
particularly the university presses. Both sides were surprised by the gap,
anxious about it, and frustrated. E-publication enterprises have been by and
large heuristic, subsidized, and university-centered, while the presses still
have to pay as they go, have little or not venture capital, and have a large
established base of commitments to traditional publishing. No global
resolution of the tension was possible at a symposium of this sort, but a
suggestion late in the symposium to work collaboratively to find ways to make
information about university press publications widely available on the
networks was regarded as a good first step. And I think in the long run that
the awareness reached on all sides of the nature and dimensions of the
problems that face us as we move from the frontier phase of e-world to a more
settled kind of community life (rather like the stage when the marshals and
the schoolmarms came to town) will be the most valuable product of such

Nevertheless, it remains impossible not to be excited about the speed and
scope of the coming transformations of scholarly communication. I have the odd
feeling that the real question is whether the changes will happen fast enough
to make a difference: in a world in which research libraries are already
buying 16% fewer scholarly monographs than they were just five years ago, the
pressures on traditional publication are intense and growing, and whether a
new system of communication satisfactory to producers, distributors, and
consumers of scholarly disocurse will be on-line soon enough seems to me a
real question.

Here is where I come back to the themes of the HUMANIST birthday message.
Neither humanities computing nor HUMANIST can imagine remaining unchanged
forever. We've all enjoyed the last five years of experiments, wild ideas, dud
ideas, and revolutions. What next? To judge by the speed with which I sign off
lists nowadays, which is equal to the speed with which new lists are invaded
by low quality discourse, we are already reaching for many of us a saturation
point in e-intake. The medium-term future belongs to those who can help us
manage our intake (the librarians of the future?), distinguishing useful from
less useful. But even in the short term, the interesting challenge is to see
how we can organize our electronic communication to emphasize a higher quality
of discourse, without losing the free and democratic spirit that has
distinguished e-world. How can we challenge each other to say fewer fatuous
things? How can we make e-world the locus of the highest quality scholarly
discourse, and in so doing make that discourse open to wider, deeper, and
richer audiences than ever?

Five good years of HUMANIST are the occasion for thanks, congratulations, and
warm fellow feeling all around; but you can't step in the same river twice.
What next?

Jim O'Donnell
Dept. of Classics and
Center for Computer Analysis of Texts
University of Pennsylvania
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------62----
Date: Wed, 13 May 1992 07:39:17 -0400
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: now we are 6

Elaine Brennan's birthday musings have come at a time when I could
actually reply, when one project has just been put into the folder and
the next is still impatiently awaiting attention. Her reflections
stir up old existential questions -- what is Humanist about? where is
it going? -- to which I don't think anyone has ever known the answer,
at least not precisely. Each time these questions have been asked in
public the answers have had to be somewhat different, and she has done
us all the favour of underscoring at least one of the significant
differences. With the delightfully wild growth of specialised
discussion groups, what is left for Humanist to do?

Let me offer my answer in the form of a question: even though we all
have sitting rooms of our own, and cafes in which to congregate, do we
therefore say that the piazza no longer serves a useful function? For
me the genius of Humanist has always been a genius of the piazza,
roaming around in its unstructured space in the evening, saying hello
to whomever happens to be there, engaging in conversations one did not
expect, picking up unusual gossip, discovering common interests -- in
other words, renewing the bonds that make a community function as such. A
serendipitous forum, occasionally a rough-and-tumble agora of argument.

Allow me to suggest again that my colleagues read Jaroslav Pelikan's
book, The Idea of the University, and in this context pay close
attention to what he says about the value of interdisciplinary
studies. It's also good to be reminded that the university is based
on, or could be based on, an idea.

With Elaine I think that we are all much busier than we used to be.
Perhaps it's time again for a refocussing of Humanist to make it seem
less like a clearing-house of information (how I hate that term
for what it suggests! -- you know, a vast, high-roofed old building
with countless tables set up on which are indiscriminately piled
heaps of miscellaneous stuff that beragged people are anxiously
sorting through) more like a piazza, a defined space. Which is not to
say that we are all rag-pickers, or that the contents of Humanist
could be compared to old clothing. I'm just trying to provoke us into
getting an idea of what we don't want.

A heated argument, yes, please.

Willard McCarty