7.0502 Computerization in academe (1/123)

Mon, 21 Feb 1994 22:41:59 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 7, No. 0502. Monday, 21 Feb 1994.

Date: Sun, 20 Feb 1994 11:41:36 -0500 (EST)
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: computerization in academe

Dear Colleagues:

The following review, which just appeared on Bryn Mawr Classical
Review, deserves wider circulation, so I append it here for your

Willard McCarty

Date: Sat, 19 Feb 94 17:33:46 -0500
From: bmr@ccat.sas.upenn.edu (Bryn Mawr Reviews)
Subject: BMR 94.2.16, J. Solomon, ed., Accessing Antiquity

Jon Solomon, ed. *Accessing Antiquity: The Computerization of
Classical Studies*. Tucson and London: The University of
Arizona Press, 1993. Pp. xii, 188. ISBN 0-8165-1390-2.
Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell -- University of Pennsylvania

The powers of memory are vastly over-rated. It is now eleven
years since I bought a computer, nine years since TLG announced
its CD, four years since I found the Internet, and I simply
cannot remember how we ever lived without these tools. What dark
hovels did we dwell in? What vast caverns of ignorance did we
patrol in search of elusive scraps of information that now leap
to our call and dance in serried ranks before us?
And with feebleness of memory comes lack of prophetic vision
as well. The transformation of our worlds by information
technology that looms before us beggars all description, but the
most timid ventures in projection are chided as unrealistic.
Thought-experiments help: imagine the transformation of the
world that this year's new *emeriti* have seen in their
lifetimes, from Coolidge to Clinton, and then imagine the
*acceleration* of that rate of change that we now see
extrapolated however conservatively you wish. Look carefully at
the next blue-haired nose-pierced fresher who comes into your
office and think that she could retire from a classics department
somewhere (if classics departments still there be) around the
time the ENIAC computer becomes the first hundred-year old
computer anywhere.
So how do we make sense of where we are? This volume stakets
out a precise piece of territory and does a good job. It
contains reports from the field from all the major American
projects applying information technology to datasets from
classical antiquity. There are natural delays in publication (at
one point I noticed a future tense speaking of something that
would happen in 1990), but all the projects are still very much
in business and on course.
So Ted Brunner writes with abundant detail of the outer
history of the TLG project and its relations with the American
Philological Association (APA), and includes a survey of APA-
related activities in a wide range of computer projects. (There
is a separate inner history of TLG which is not here.) Brunner's
colleague Luci Berkowitz has very little to say about computers
at all, but her piece is important nonetheless: it is an account
of the history, travails, and bibliographical adventures of that
part of the TLG operation that set out to define and identify the
extant corpus of Greek literature to be added to the database.
You would think that we knew c. 1970 what there was of Greek
literature to know: but it is astonishing to see how scrappy and
haphazard were our bibliographical resources. The Berkowitz-
edited Canon makes a quantum leap past what any other reference
source has ever been able to do.
Further articles outline other projects. John Oates writes of
the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri, Jocelyn Penny Small of
the computer index for the *Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae
Classicae*, Carolyn Koehler and Philippa Matheson of the AMPHORAS
project registering tens of thousands of Greek wine-jars, Dee
Clayman writes of the project to produce an electronic version of
*L'Annee Philologique*, and a group of authors who are well
accustomed by now to hearing of themselves as the "Perseus Gang"
outline the history of that project. A final essay by the
polymath Jay David Bolter is in quite a different vein,
discussing the theory and practice of the classicist's
traditional commentary and arguing that it already provides a
model for hypertextual access to information, one readily (more
or less) transferrable to the new information environment.
Bolter's article is the least well-assorted with the others,
addressing the substance of things we might do with the data
rather than describing ways of creating useful sets of them; his
books, notably *Writing Space*, have done similar things in
similar ways.
There are several audiences for this work. The most
important, perhaps, is posterity. This will be an extremely
valuable record, written by the people in the best position to
know, of where we came from and where we had gotten to by 1990.
The next audience will be individuals interested in humanities
computing outside classics who want to be briefed about what the
Greeks and Romans and the students thereof are up to. Among
classicists, the primary audience will be those who are already a
little bit smitten and eager to know more, while patient to sit
through discussions of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup
Language). For the approach is not proselytic but homiletic,
preaching to the choir or at least the congregation already in
the church. The subtitle alone will have an apotropaic effect on
those idling in the street outside wondering whether to come in.
Indeed, in two ways, this book is the last gasp of a phase of
classical scholarship that is now past. It belongs to the period
when "computerization" was something that the few did and the
many admired. There is hardly a mention anywhere here of network
access to information resources, for indeed it is just since 1990
that this possibility has suddenly opened up for serious
scholars. We ought to begin phasing out the word "computer" as
anything except a neutral descriptor for the glowing boxes that
we use for our work. This is no longer a business for hobbyists
or specialists. Rather, the combination of computers and the
wires and fibers linking them has created what should already be
seen as a new environment within which we *must* work if we are
to be taken seriously and (more importantly) one in which our
traditional expertise as manipulators of words and images becomes
the most important relevant skill. "Computer" skills per se fade
in importance. In this light, the Berkowitz piece in this volume
is in a way the most important precisely for the way it shows the
enhancement and transformation of traditional forms of scholarly
activity by the mere fact of assuming an electronic environment.
Soon enough we will tire of showing off all the neat tricks our
gadgets can do and discover that what we do with them will be
judged by the same standards that have been used for our books
and articles in the past. But at the same time, all will be
changed, changed utterly . . .