9.115 humanities computing & disciplinary boundaries

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Wed, 23 Aug 1995 19:20:46 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 115.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] Subject: humanities computing and the Internet
From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu>
Size: 60 lines
[2] Subject: Defining Disciplines
From: Maris Roze <maris@devry.com>
Size: 8 lines

From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu>
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 1995 09:26:19 -0400
Subject: humanities computing and the Internet

In response to Roy Flannagan in Humanist 9.113. Roy has given us Windows 95,
the communications business, Internet on Wall Street, text encoding and the
TEI, the story of the Tower of Babel (read in a rather unusual way), and the
Global Village. Flames? I think the wind generated by moving from item to
item would blow out any flame that might result from the annoyance of anyone
with a less agile mind. Perhaps a few tangential remarks are possible.

As the Internet-related stock trading climbs, is the signal-to-noise ratio
on the Internet falling? As with many other aspects of the Internet, it is
getting increasingly difficult to tell. The other day I received an e-mail
message from someone promoting the use of that medium in order to make
fantastic (lit., having the nature of a fantasy) amounts of money.
Netiquette, he asked? Why, yes, I've been bumped off many service providers'
machines, but, hey, who cares? There are so many of them these days, he
declared helpfully, you just find another and get back to business. So do
what I do, he said.

It's hard to know what sense to make out of McLuhan's term "global village".
We once had an international online community that felt like one -- when,
for example, I was mccarty@utorepas, like Alcuin of York (make the
appropriate adjustments). It remains to be seen whether the new Humanist
will operate in the same kind of village-like way. As a whole, though, the
sense of a special life in an isolated, global village is rapidly
disappearing under pressure from more aggressive "communities" with
pretensions to urban sprawl. O tempora, o mores! of course; one can always
complain. Those old-time Humanists with some memory left may recall,
however, that we hashed our way through the same sense of a vanishing
paradisal world several times as Humanist itself grew. Intermittently we had
to fight off those who were arguing for the triviality of Humanist by
pointing to what seemed a poor signal-to-noise ratio. I recall quoting the
anthropologist Jan Vansina, who cautioned that it is first necessary to
understand the character of a tradition before we begin worrying about the
truth value of what it transmits (see CHum 26: 213). When we cannot make
sense of a communications medium from its tenor, we should look at the
vehicle. A good example is the telephone.

The Tower of Babel story is tricky. As Roy well knows (having read his
Milton, and other people's Milton for a long time) it is one of the many
biblical stories of the Fall. The ziggurat, as we now know to call it, was
among other things an image of frightful oppression and evil ambition. I
don't think we want to attribute either to the TEI. Its desire (if I may
presume) is to provide an esperanto, a metalinguistic kit full of hope, with
perhaps the means for us to be more like our colleagues were before the
world's first highrise office building threatened world-dominion of a kind
we don't even want to think about but have to.

Perhaps this time the evil empire will succeed, using the designs invented
and perfected largely in academia -- which, however, began with a network
whose origins were in the U.S. military. (There are some saving ironies
left.) Certainly we are faced by serious problems because of what the
rapidly-developing communications media are doing to our already weakened
universities, changing the sociology of knowledge, and so affecting the
institution that has traditionally taken knowledge as its concern. Certainly
we need to pull together and at least be able to speak one language, when it
serves our purposes. But what are these?

Since the humanities are concerned directly with our humanity, and since our
current manifestations of humanity are affected by computing, does it not
follow that computing humanists have a great deal to talk about and do?

So what about the Internet? What's our role, now that it has become a
household word, commercially sexy, the means for Mr. Gates to double his
billions and for impudent little twerps to push unwelcome junk at us?


From: Maris Roze <maris@devry.com>
To: mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 1995 16:14:05 -0500
Subject: Defining Disciplines

Greetings Humanists:
On the subject of disciplinary boundaries, I'd be interested in some
views on the distinction between the humanities and the social sciences
as these relate to courses in history and to "interdisciplinary" offerings
in the area known as Science, Tecnology, and Society. How would we be
shaping history and STS courses, for example, if we wanted them to be
either humanities or social science offerings?
Sincerely, Maris Roze
Curriculum Coordinator for General Education, DeVRY Institutes