6.0364 Rs: Humanities Computing? A Hobby? (6/214)

Fri, 20 Nov 1992 17:43:09 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0364. Friday, 20 Nov 1992.

(1) Date: Tue, 17 Nov 92 21:50:57 CST (35 lines)
From: Mark Olsen <mark@TIRA.UCHICAGO.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

(2) Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 08:10:13 PST (15 lines)
From: cbf@athena.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

(3) Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 10:46:43 -0500 (16 lines)
From: jdg@oz.plymouth.edu (Dr. Joel Goldfield)
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

(4) Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1992 08:53 EST (83 lines)
From: 00hfstahlke@BSUVAX1.BITNET
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

(5) Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 10:21:15 GMT (28 lines)
From: Donald A Spaeth <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

(6) Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1992 17:59:48 -0500 (37 lines)
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: humanities computing

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 92 21:50:57 CST
From: Mark Olsen <mark@TIRA.UCHICAGO.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

Humanities computing is a hobby largely because there has been a consistent
failure among the practitioners of humanities computing to rock the boat;
to produce results of sufficient interest, rigor and appeal to attract
a following among scholars who *do not* make extensive use of computers.
The notion that the failure of humanities computing to make a place for
itself is due to anyone other than ourselves is simply an excuse. I
have been calling for a serious re-thinking of the notions of textuality
that inform much of the work of humanities computing (since the vast
majority of such work is text, not image, oriented). The alleged advantages
of empiricism and verification of humanities computing have not resulted
in new interpretive strategies or in startling new conclusions. Rather,
the typical use of "text crunching" has been the production of rather
unreadible studies of the same old thing. Yet another study of author
X or text Y, without the saving graces of strong writing and imaginative
interpretation. Indeed, the alleged empiricism introduced
by humanities computing has been taken as a way to avoid theory rather
than as a way to engage the theoretical and linguistic turn taken in
literary and other textual studies. Humanities computing will be taken
as seriously as quantitative social, demographic and economic history,
for example, when the results of this effort provoke, stimulate and
inform our colleagues who aren't interested in using a computer for
anything more than wordprocessing. Until that time, we can be assured
that merely talking to ourselves will not result in the kind of
politico-intellectual clout that is required to establish departments,
chairs, or tenure track lines in humanities computing that Stephen
Clausing wants to see.

Mark Olsen
University of Chicago

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------24----
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 08:10:13 PST
From: cbf@athena.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

The humanities are undergoing a painful restructuring away from
traditional country/language departments toward something more like
the French sciences humaines. Humanities computing will come along
with that, but it won't happen easily, since most people see it as
an "adjunct discipline", something like paleography or descriptive
bibliography, useful, but not where the action's at. it's value is
instrumental rather than central. That is the perception and, for
most people, the reality at, as we say, this point in time.

Charles Faulhaber
UC Berkeley
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------24----
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 10:46:43 -0500
From: jdg@oz.plymouth.edu (Dr. Joel Goldfield)
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

Perhaps part of the problem in creating jobs in humanities computing is
in finding the faculty and administrators willing to establish the criteria
and tenure & promotion panels which will inevitably have to lend their
imprimatur to the hirings. And first, someone will have to conclusively
demonstrate the *need* to hire the HC faculty (assuring adequate enrollment
numbers, lack of attrition, graduate school fellowships for their students,
alumni contributions and fame for the original institution down the
line, etc.). Has anyone navigated this litany of objectives successfully yet?

Joel D. Goldfield
Plymouth State College (Univ. Sys. of NH)
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------93----
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1992 08:53 EST
From: 00hfstahlke@BSUVAX1.BITNET
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

I'm responding to Stephen Clausing's impassioned case for recognition
of computing in the humanities. As a linguist, I too have been
fighting that battle for more than half of my career, not so much with
other linguists as with fellow humanists in English departments, where
I have spent a good bit of my life. I'm delighted that Clausing has
raised the issue, even on this list, where we tend to assume that
computing in the humanities is of obvious validity, an assumption many
of our colleagues do not share, beyond, perhaps the use of a word
processor. I see several problems holding us back, problems that
don't exist in the sciences or, to some degree, in the fine arts.

The first is the dearth of discipline-specific tools that address
major research questions. Computing is so wedded with research in the
sciences and engineering that to attempt to engage seriously in those
disciplines without it is unthinkable. One doesn't even ask whether
there are significant discipline-specific applications for chemists or
high energy physicists. Most of my colleagues in English, however, will
hardly even use a concordance program, even though we've made them
available for years. Many faculty members in other humanities
departments won't use databases or spreadsheets even though their
subject matter would benefit in obvious ways by going beyond shelves
of card files. A lot of them won't even use e-mail, much less Bitnet
or Internet, and so are missing out on powerful research and
collaborative tools and opportunities.

However, one of the objections I hear from literature scholars in
particular is that the research they do doesn't benefit from tools
available. I have a colleague, for example, who is doing an extensive
edition of the letters of Harriet Beecher Stow, a task that he has
been using the computer for for years. All of his editing and now his
publishing is computer-based. But the computer doesn't do much for
his research, which still requires tracing names and places through
courthouse records and nineteenth century newspapers and periodicals,
a task for which a microfilm reader is still the technology of choice.
Similarly, scholars working on themes, plot structures, or social
influences find no tools that address their specific research

The problem is that much humanities research requires the study of
records that have not been digitized or the use of natural language,
the analysis of which is also beyond the reach of current
applications. This does not mean that we do not continue educating
our colleagues to use those tools that do work for them, including
bibliographic software, concordance programs, taggers and management
software for large text bases, as well as word processing,
spreadsheets, databases, communications, and desktop publishing, to
mention only the obvious.

A much more serious problem, however, is the lack of recognition given
to colleagues who make a serious effort to use computing to improve
their teaching and research. Whether they are writing CAI or managing
large corpora, serious users of computers in the humanities, or in
teaching in any discipline, rarely get rewarded for their efforts and
frequently get penalized. I'm sure we all have horror stories of the
bright junior colleague who didn't get tenure because the P&T
committee would not accept software development as a legitimate
scholarly pursuit. Until we address the reward systems we are all
familiar with, we won't see any but the most dedicated taking the risk
of venturing in to computing.

On this topic, I have started a discussion group in EDUCOM's working
group called Educational Uses of Information Technology (EUIT) that
will be continuing at the Snowmass meeting in August and at next
fall's EDUCOM meeting in Cincinnati. We are working towards
three objectives: surveying college and university reward systems as
to how the deal with uses of information technology, assembling and
disseminating a collection of case studies showing how institutions
have dealt with this problem, and publishing a list of currently
available ways of getting third-party, peer review of software. I
invite anyone interested in this topic to join in this discussion.

Herbert Stahlke
Professor of English
Associate Director
University Computing Services
Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306
Bitnet: 00hfstahlke@bsuvax1
Internet: 00hfstahlke@leo.bsuvc.bsu.edu
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------36----
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 10:21:15 GMT
From: Donald A Spaeth <GKHA13@CMS.GLASGOW.AC.UK>
Subject: Re: 6.0357 Humanities Computing: Merely a Hobby?

I agree with Stephen Clausing's views. Although there *are* occasionally
posts for humanities computing folk, they tend to be in computer centres
rather than subject specialisms. Humanities computing (and historical
computing) are now discrete fields, which should be accorded the
same status as Goethe or early modern English history. Appointment
committees wishing to introduce computing methods into their departmental
teaching cannot expect to do it with topical specialists who have done
a bit of word-processing and databases/statistics/concordancing in their
PhD thesis. They need specialists in humanities/literary/historical
computing. The current job squeeze makes this goal even harder to

I am not denying the important contributions of those tenured academics
who have supported computing in their departments. But many departments
do not have such people. It is also sadly true that computer/quantitative
experts are sometimes marginalised by their colleagues, but that is
another issue.

Donald Spaeth
Deputy Director
Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for History
with Archaeology and Art History
University of Glasgow
(6) --------------------------------------------------------------52----
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1992 17:59:48 -0500
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: humanities computing

Stephen Clausing's barely humorous, exasperated message on the
academic status of humanities computing deserves at least a grumble of
respect. Humanist itself was begun, back in 1987, with such
righteous frustrations as he expresses, although it did not in fact
charge the impregnable barrier -- and a good thing that it didn't, as
it probably would have died a wretch's death on the wrong side of the
wall. Evidence is that all is not terribly well in the fortified
city; at the same time, as Stephen suggests, computing humanists and
their students are certainly on to something that the masters of the
academy had better pay some attention to, and soon. Not that there
aren't many thrills left in Goethe or Ovid or Swift, but understanding
the perspectives computing opens up on these and all other subjects of
study is vital for all sorts of reasons, nicht wahr?

I think that we can spend much time not very profitably discussing
whether humanities computing is a "discipline" (whatever that is);
we could easily perish of exhaustion trying to persuade Immigration that our
credentials fit that criterion. My sense is that we need two things,
chicken and egg, at this juncture: (1) a convincing argument, with
supporting evidence, that humanities computing is intellectually worth
doing -- an argument based on criteria other than "productivity" and
the like; and (2) several tenured or tenure-stream appointments with
humanities computing as an explicit component. One possibility would
be an institute (dreamed of before) where paradigmatic research in
humanities computing, multidisciplinary, could be officially conducted,
as part of the job-description, in combination with teaching and collegial
(note that term) support of other faculty.

Indeed, hire Stephen Clausing!

Willard McCarty