8.0436 The Future of Humanist (1/179)

Fri, 31 Mar 1995 04:50:51 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 8, No. 0436. Friday, 31 Mar 1995.

Date: Wed, 29 Mar 1995 21:39:20 -0500
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (Willard McCarty)
Subject: electing a new editor


As you will know, Elaine Brennan, current Editor of HUMANIST, has announced
her intention to step down as editor as soon as a new home for the seminar
can be found. The editorial Advisory Board of HUMANIST wishes to express
the profound gratitude of all its members to Elaine for her long and
faithful service. She has been at her virtual desk daily since Spring 1990,
when HUMANIST came to Brown University from Toronto. We all owe her a great

Our immediate task, then, is to find this new home. After some discussion,
the Advisory Board has decided to invite proposals and nominations from the
membership at large. Information about submission is given below. The
objective is to have HUMANIST under its new management by 7 May 1995, eight
years to the day since it began.

Up to now the job of editor has more or less included all tasks concerned
with the daily and other operations of HUMANIST. (After its move to Brown,
several people helped with such things as the biographies, but overall the
editor has shouldered the whole burden.) We think that under the new
dispensation the task may need to be divided into editorial, development,
and maintenance functions and that at least two, possibly three individuals
may be required to carry them out. Because of the medium, those involved
need not be at the same institution or even on the same continent, although
experience suggests that one locus for HUMANIST is strongly preferable.


The editor obviously plays the single most important role in the success of
HUMANIST. As in the past, he or she will be crucial to what HUMANIST becomes
and how well it responds to the developing needs of its complex, world-wide
community. The Advisory Board therefore particularly encourages proposals
centred on the editorship rather than the development, maintenance, or
background operations of the seminar.

The Advisory Board agrees unanimously that the core function of HUMANIST,
for which the editor is responsible, is discussion. The Web offers us an
attractive and flexible means of providing information as such, but nothing
we have yet seen allows us to think publicly about humanities computing as a
whole better than HUMANIST. One of the most important needs we see in the
field is for the level of discussion and thinking to be raised. This is of
course done in part by existing journals, but HUMANIST has demonstrated that
the online medium has an essential, irreplaceable role to play.

Like the ancient forum or modern piazza, HUMANIST also crucially unites its
community by providing, as an Advisory Board member commented, "ONE place
where humanities computing scholars can go, as a first step, to get...
top-level and current information... (even if that information is often just
pointers to other information sources)". Its broad focus ensures that the
methodological emphasis of the field, which is interdisciplinary by nature,
will be served in a way no other discussion group appears able to do. Thus
HUMANIST brings people together through the affinity of their ideas,
sometimes surprisingly. The editor's role in seeing and articulating the
potential for broad interest concealed within apparently specialized
problems is basic to the unifying function of the seminar. So is his or her
diplomatic abilities on occasion.

The new editor will have the opportunity for exerting strong influence on
humanities computing world-wide, both directly and by facilitating and
shaping the thoughts of others. Indeed, experience suggests that the most
helpful and long-lasting influence has more to do with the ability to
recognize good ideas when they emerge, from whatever source, than with a
pre-existing plan or programme of action, however cogent. Hence we think
that the new editor need not have experience moderating an online discussion
group, although that might help; more important are the rhetorical skills
and an active involvement in humanities computing.

Note that by "humanities computing" we mean here the intersection of
computing with scholarship in the traditional disciplines, not merely the
office or function that provides computing support to academics. HUMANIST is
not a technical help-desk. The editor should therefore be a scholar by
training, vocation, and practice, whatever his or her job-description may
be. At the same time, thorough familiarity with computing, preferably across
a wide range of disciplines, is essential. HUMANIST is also not merely a
forum for discussion of academic and scholarly issues. "The charisma of the
list," as another one of us commented during recent discussion, "has been
its synergy of the two [humanities and computing], with almost all of the
'computing' talk accessible to non-techies, and at least *most* all of other
'humanities' talk in one way or another tied to the specific conditions of
doing humanities in a post-Gutenberg
environment. Keeping that synergy is both the important thing and the
difficult thing." The editor's prime responsibility is to foster this synergy.

In practical terms, the editor's job consists of receiving messages, sorting
them according to stated or perceived subject, removing unwanted headers and
the like, sending them to the ListServ server, and occasionally intervening
in the discussion. He or she need not intervene frequently -- indeed, a
light touch is best -- but it is essential that HUMANIST have a definite
persona and a human will behind it.


The new management of HUMANIST should spend some energy on adapting current
technologies, such as the Web, to the information needs of its community as
well as to the running of HUMANIST itself. As much of the editor's task as
possible should be automated, and subscription, maintenance of biographies,
and the like considerably improved. Development might take place for a time,
then not be needed until new opportunities arise. Someone other than the
editor, however, should be continuously in charge of development to make
sure it happens when the need arises. Programming skills are required.

Development offers someone the chance to experiment with and perhaps to
improve the capabilities of the Internet.


The institutional home of HUMANIST must of course have the facilities to run
and maintain a ListServ list or similar device. The software maintainer
should be able quickly to pay attention to any problems that occur and to
help the others involved whenever the need arises. Although maintenance is a
relatively quiet function, the institution that houses HUMANIST benefits
considerably by having its name attached, through the e-mail address, to
every message HUMANIST sends out. Public honour to the institution is
therefore not a trivial return on the investment it must make.


Anyone intending to submit a proposal should write immediately to the
undersigned indicating as many of the details as possible. Only the formal
proposals will be considered by the Advisory Board, however.

Each submission should identify what roles are proposed and indicate
personal and institutional qualifications. Each submission should describe
the extent of the explicit institutional commitment, which we regard as a
necessary pre-condition to a successful future for HUMANIST. Development can
proceed more or less informally, but the editor must be able to commit time
to his or her work, and the maintenance of the list must be absolutely

Submissions should be sent to the undersigned by 14 April. I will circulate
them to the Advisory Board, which will choose a new editor and institutional
home for HUMANIST shortly thereafter.

Willard McCarty
Founding Editor of HUMANIST, 1987-90
Chair of the Advisory Board

The Advisory Board of HUMANIST

udaa400@BAY.CC.KCL.AC.UK Harold Short
randall_jones@BYU.EDU Randall Jones
jod@CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU James J ODonnell
kraft@CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU Bob Kraft
dgd@CS.BU.EDU David Durand
ide@CS.VASSAR.EDU Nancy Ide
sjd@EBT.COM Steve DeRose
s.rahtz@ELSEVIER.CO.UK Sebastion Rahtz
mccarty@EPAS.UTORONTO.CA (Willard McCarty)
jlmoure@FILOL.UBA.AR Jose Luis Moure
marcos@GARNET.BERKELEY.EDU Francisco A. Marcos-Marin
g.dixon@MANCHESTER.AC.UK Gordon Dixon
elaine@NETCOM.COM Elaine Brennan
u35395@UICVM.CC.UIC.EDU Michael Sperberg-McQueen
ide@UNIV-AIX.FR Nancy Ide
marchand@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU John Marchand
LOU@VAX.OX.AC.UK Lou Burnard
marilyn@VAX.OXFORD.AC.UK Marilyn Deegan
a79@VM.TAU.AC.IL David Sitman
marcos@VM1.SDI.UAM.ES Francisco A. Marcos-Marin
U47C2@WVNVM Patrick Conner
smason@YORKU.CA Steve Mason
hockey@ZODIAC.RUTGERS.EDU Susan Hockey

Willard McCarty, Centre for Computing in the Humanities (Toronto)
(416) 978-3974 voice (416) 978-6519 fax mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca