10.0600 disciplined training

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 16 Jan 1997 20:36:04 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 600.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: mgk3k@faraday.clas.virginia.edu (15)
Subject: Re: 10.0594 disciplined training

[2] From: Richard Giordano <Richard_Giordano@Brown.edu> (77)
Subject: Disciplined training

[3] From: "R.G. Siemens" <siemens@unixg.ubc.ca> (64)
Subject: Re: 10.0594 disciplined training // computing

[4] From: "Todd J. B. Blayone" <todd@cyberjunkie.com> (59)
Subject: Re: 10.0594 disciplined training

Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 20:57:51 -0500
From: mgk3k@faraday.clas.virginia.edu
Subject: Re: 10.0594 disciplined training

>He promises a "curriculum for second semester" with, I assume, tongue firmly
>in cheek.

Yes, tongue was in cheek, though I kicked myself moments after sending the
post for not adding "public relations" as a final item. The list comes out
of my own experiences at Virginia, where there is no official humanities
computing program (other than the American Studies M.A. Alan Howard
described) but where I've the good fortune to be surrounded by colleagues
with whom I can discuss both the minutiae of TEI and the metaphysics of
cyberspace. That combination of theory and practice (to vulgarize the terms
of what's at issue) is, I believe, vital to any humanities computing
program, whatever the actual structure of its coursework might be.


Matthew G. Kirschenbaum University of Virginia
mgk3k@virginia.edu Department of English
http://faraday.clas.virginia.edu/~mgk3k/ Electronic Text Center

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 1997 11:10:47 -0500
From: Richard Giordano <Richard_Giordano@Brown.edu>
Subject: Disciplined training


You write,

>I'm asking, what would your selection be,
>and how would you organise the topics into 3-5 courses a student could
>complete in a year?

I think that you're being a little old fashioned in thinking that the
delivery ofan MA program should be organized in 3-5 courses over the course
of a year. I've organized a Masters course at the University of
Manchester, and our students went through a series of short intensive
courses during the first semester. That is, we covered a lot of material
intensively. Then, still during the first semester, we took a couple of
weeks in seminars so that students can *begin* to reflect on what they were
taught. In the second semester, again students took intensive courses, but
longer in duration, and these built upon what they got in the first
semester. That is, students could begin to specialize in an area (or
areas) that were of most interest or importance to them. Then, as will all
masters in the UK, the students wrote a thesis that was the outcome of a
project. This allows them to do something individual, and to show not only
that they know the material, but also that they can put it all together
creatively, and to do something new.

There are three aspects that concerned me when putting the program together
(other than getting it through various committees at the University): (1)
being true to the discipline; (2) being true to the student; (3) being true
to the economy (broadly defined). That is, will the material be delivered
and understood in enough depth that we are not trivializing the subject?
Can a student learn both the fundamentals and then concentrate on aspects
of the work that is of most interest and relevance to him or her? Finally,
will my students get a job at the end of this and will their employers
think, "Geeze, they do some good work at Manchester"? I found through my
experience that it's not simply a list of courses or topics that makes a
degree program or even a rigid notion of what my students need to know.
Instead, I needed (1) an overarching philosophy of what I want to achieve
with the program and (2) a creative, sensitive and flexible way of putting
the pieces togethe in order to get there.

I think that the list provided to us from UVa makes a lot of sense (at
least to me), but what helps decide the order and structure and timing of
the material is the overarching philosophy or principle of what you want
the program to achieve and a means of getting there. This will come from
your close analysis of the state of the discipline (or, the state of play)
now, what is should be, what's missing, and a choice of means of getting to
where you want to be. This is a hard decision, believe me, and there is no
single answer to that question. (There shouldn't be, because if there
were, all degree programs would look alike.) It goes beyond a choice of
topocs that you want to cover. For instance, the delivery of the material
in itself helps to shape a student's awareness of the field as well as his
or her place within it. It also helps a student understand his or her
strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe one approach you can take is to think about who owns problems and who
owns solutions. You might say something like our information, teaching and
research needs are *not* our problems, and the ownership of the solutions
does *not* rest with us. We should have computer scientists come in and
work-up solutions for us. Give the problems to librarians and let them
worry about it. If a humanities student shows an interest in building
textual resources, tell him or her to go to library school. Well, what's
wrong with this picture? That should give you a start, at least in
describing a push.

But that is not enough. You need to describe a pull, as well. Where does
it appear that research and teaching in the humanities are heading? What
do we need, as far as information technology is concerned--its design,
deployment, configuration, evaluation of use--to get there? How does this
relate to the push that I outlined already?

But this, too, is not enough. Then you have to decide if what you're
describing is a goosed-up vocational program or something that is built
upon theory and research, and if the program you come up with has research
potential. This is important for a number of reasons. First, on the
ground will not have masters essays worth reading unless there is an
alement of research there. Second, without a research base, your program
will fall into a steady state and not move forward. Finally, I think
anyone would find it hard to get an MA program approved by a faculty unless
it had a research potential.

How do you see if there is a research potential? One approach may be to
ask yourself, "what don't we know, why don't we know it, and who cares

So, as you can see, the appeal for courses and then trying to fit them in a
rigid course structure is not, in my opinion, the way to put together a
graduate level program. It demands more systemic thinking that takes into
account the discipline, the student and the economy.

Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 20:53:55 -0800 (PST)
From: "R.G. Siemens" <siemens@unixg.ubc.ca>
Subject: Re: 10.0594 disciplined training // computing humanists

While I've been shamefully lurking for much of this discussion, thoughts
towards how we might consider training the next generation of computing
humanists lead me to considerations of how this generation of computing
humanists was trained.

Specifically, I think of people at various stages of their careers or
educations, and from various disciplines within what we define as the
'humanities', looking to the computer as a tool -- one which could assist in
various parts of their teaching, research, or other aspects of their
professional/educational life. What I find stunning, and positively so,
about this group of individuals is that each person took from HC (in
whatever incarnation they found it, depending when over the past 30 or so
years they first encountered it) that which they could make use of, or that
which they had the suspicion or inking they could employ gainfully; once
done, it has been my experience that they have contributed back the results
of their efforts -- be such results work that on the surface does not betray
a debt to computing humanism or that which makes a special point of such
display, perhaps pushing the boundaries of what we consider the work of the
computing humanist to be. It is the work of such individuals, combined with
general societal and institutional trends towards computerization, that
allow us today to consider even the idea of HC as a field; many of these
people, I know, are subscribers to this list, or have been involved with it
even more directly.

This understanding of mine, wrong though it may be (and yet I hope this is
not the case), leads me to respond to Matthew Kirschenbaum's earlier post .
.. . and I do so via the two posts of message 10.0594 on HUMANIST.

The 'virtual space' of which Alan B. Howard speaks sounds to be an excellent
example not only of what computing humanists can do towards integrating
"learning in the humanities and the new technologies" but also of what such
an implementation can return to HC as a discipline, by way of exemplifying
tangible service (assisting educational processes, giving students
marketable skills, &c.) and by way of the very process of "technologizing"
the other disciplines HC serves (in this case, American Studies).

Given what I see as [a] a history of computing humanists, from a variety of
disciplines, who have looked to HC for what it could bring to their own
discipline, [b] these same people, returning from their own individual
experiences results, tools, and the like that could be added to HC itself,
and [c] the 'traditional' operation of HC in relation to humanities
disciplines, as exemplified in Alan B. Howard's posting, as one 'serving'
the other (though I do not mean in the least to imply servitude), I wonder
if it is not improper to suggest that the curriculum for an advanced degree
in HC should involve also a significant grounding in one of, or a general
grounding in all, the fields to which HC has relevance. While Matthew
Kirschenbaum's list is indeed quite useful in its quantification of the
computing skills, and others, necessary for a well-rounded computing
humanist, I believe that, to it, should be added the skills expected in a
_humanist_ as well.

The ideal computing humanist, in my mind, who might be 'shaped' (if you
will) by a program such as that suggested earlier by Willard is this: a
humanist who brings to his or her specific discipline an understanding and
application of the computing tools which are relevant to it, and an open
mind to explore others which may be so as well.

Before selecting, then, from a list such as that which has been proposed, I
propose that we add to that list also the skills necessary to all humanities
disciplines; and, from that larger list, a reasonable MA program might be
best formed -- though, in application, this would require a significant
integration of an HC program into a larger humanities curriculum.

(This does not help, I know, the immediate concern that the original list be
fashioned into topics that could be gathered in a manageable number of
courses for a one year program; this in itself is an admirable goal, and one
worthy of much support as well.)

R.G. Siemens
siemens@unixg.ubc.ca, http://purl.oclc.org/NET/R_G_Siemens.htm
English, University of British Columbia
Editor, Early Modern Literary Studies, http://purl.oclc.org/emls/emlshome.html

Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 22:47:28 -0500
From: "Todd J. B. Blayone" <todd@cyberjunkie.com>
Subject: Re: 10.0594 disciplined training

> In Humanist 10.592, Matt Kirschenbaum helpfully lists the subject areas
> with which a well-trained computing humanist should have more than
> passing acquaintance, to wit:
> 1 text-encoding; digital image preparation and manipulation;
> 2 fundamentals of library science and information retrieval;

....[the remainder omitted]...

This is a fine list! Tastes much like what's on the menu at San
Francisco State University's *Multimedia Studies Program.* See:


IMHO, Matt's list wisely pushes the prospective humanities-computing
expert well beyond "humanities computing" (as usually defined and
practiced). I think this is a very good thing! There is not a great demand
for the "traditional" computing humanist. However, one who can master
a vast array of multimedia design/publishing skills (1, 4, 5, 8, 15, 16, 17
and 19) opens many windows of opportunity both inside and outside academia.
(O.k., mostly outside-- but is this a bad thing?)

Two related comments:

1) I would like to see this discussion include a frank analysis of
potential (academic and non-academic) employment opportunities.
(Significantly, Alan Howard recognizes that a graduate program should
prepare students for something in addition to a tenured, academic

2) I think we must broaden our perspective of education to include
home/distance/online learning. For example, what current, online resources
could help someone, who already has significant humanities training,
some of the new-media skills listed by Matt?



Todd J. B. Blayone / webRhetor
todd@cyberjunkie.com / webrhetor@bitsmart.com
757 Victoria Park Ave. #1609 - Toronto, ON - Canada - M4C 5N8