9.236 announcement about Humanist

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 17 Oct 1995 18:31:25 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 236.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (97=
Subject: announcement about Humanist

The following announcement will shortly be circulated to several discussion=
groups as part of a membership drive. You are welcome to forward it=20
yourself, but I would also appreciate comment on what it says.




Humanist: an electronic seminar for humanities computing

What is Humanist?

Humanist is an international electronic seminar devoted to all aspects of
humanities computing. Members use it to exchange information among
themselves, ask questions, make announcements, and volunteer information
they think will be useful to others. Its primary goal is to provide a
wide-ranging forum for discussion that will help advance our understanding
of the field and will foster the development of a community out of the many
individuals for whom computing is integral to the humanities.

Humanist is published by the Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities
(CETH, Princeton and Rutgers). Technical support is provided by Computing
and Information Technology (CIT, Princeton), and both CETH and CIT are
involved in software development. Its editor is Willard McCarty (Toronto).

A brief history.

Humanist began in May 1987 as a means of communication among a small group
of people concerned with the support of humanities computing. At the time
e-mail was relatively new among humanists and mechanisms such as ListServ
almost unknown. Humanist grew rapidly and, in response to the community it
helped to discover, developed quickly into a international,
interdisciplinary forum primarily distinguished by the quality of its
discussion. From the example of Humanist, many if not most of the current
online groups in the humanities were inspired.

For details of the early history, see =93HUMANIST: Lessons from a Global
Electronic Seminar=94, <t>Computers and the Humanities</t> 26 (1992): 205-2=

Whither Humanist?

Since the electronic world has grown radically in the last few years and
become part of what most humanists do, we must begin by asking if there is
any need for the seminar now that so many of its progeny and others populat=
the virtual world. Its members seem to think so, but to answer positively
obliges one then to face the more difficult question of what role remains
for it to play. However much people fondly remember the old Humanist, they
should remember accurately that it was always changing. Humanist must serve
an existing function or it is simply a waste of time for everyone.

The significant fact here is negative: despite the proliferation of
discussion groups for the conventional academic disciplines, none other has
arisen to serve humanities computing as such. This fact suggests a real
question for Humanists to consider: is there any need for humanities
computing as a distinct pursuit now that computing has penetrated the
conventional disciplines? Can we say about it what Ole Johan Dahl said abou=
computer science, that "=93One may wonder whether [it] is really a discipli=
of its own, or whether it is merely a set of loosely connected techniques
drawn together from different sources"=94 (in <t>Linguaggi nella societa\ e
nella tecnica</t>, Milano 1970, p. 371). If humanities computing is merely =
rag-bag collection of techniques, then why spend precious resources on it?
If it is not, then what forms its core? Answering the question requires tha=
we examine what we have been doing across the disciplines to see where the
common ground lies.

There are other (and, for some, more serious) questions the new Humanist ha=
to deal with. These arise out of the social and institutional setting in
which the new Humanist operates.=20

As Stanley Katz pointed out in his keynote speech at the recent ACH/ALLC
conference in Santa Barbara, computing is transforming how we think about
and organize learning. In consequence, we are beginning to see a shift in
the power to distribute knowledge, from universities into the commercial
sector, with its very different (and sometimes inimical) agendas. At the
same time, applications of the technology shed fresh light on ancient
problems. The mechanical efficiency of computers is the advertised benefit,
but the real revolution in thought has far more to do with the computer as
cognitive model and genuinely new means of scholarly research, teaching, an=
publication. The effects of this model are ubiquitous and powerful but
largely go unexamined, and imitation of older means still muddies the
waters. Our job in the academy is precisely to examine these effects,
discover what is new about computing, and so both improve the model and
refurbish our cultural heritage. The principal mandate this suggests for th=
new Humanist, then, is to put the job before the community most qualified t=
undertake it.

High-level scholarly discussion of computing in the humanities will address
one aspect of a much broader need. We in the academy have not done a good
job communicating our raison de^tre to the rest of the world =97 arguably
because so many of us do not ourselves know what it is. Within the
university, as outside it, fundamental questions are seldom asked, but our
fault is more serious because asking such questions is our principal
justification. The profound impact of computing on all aspects of modern
life provides therefore a great opportunity to engage in a long-overdue
re-examination of what universities do for the society of which they are a
part. Humanist cannot take on the whole of this re-examination, of course,
but it does have a role in it =97 potentially a crucial role.

How to join.

Humanist has a homepage on the WorldWideWeb, at the URL


where information is supplied about how to apply for membership, search the
archives, and manage one=92s subscription. The only requirement for members=
is that one complete the subscription form, giving some biographical
information as well as addresses and the like. Experience has shown that th=
=93Humanist biographies=94 furnish a valuable means of building the sense o=
community and introducing like-minded people to each other.=20

Willard McCarty
Editor, Humanist
October 1995