11.0319 core tools & skills

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 6 Oct 1997 08:03:58 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 319.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 03 Oct 1997 08:16:10 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: tools, skills

Hope Greenberg's reorientation of my question about core skills, in Humanist
11.317, is a good reminder of the problem with terms like "Information
Technology" (IT), which puts the technology too much in the foreground:
"information", as Regis Debray might point out, is both too abstract and far
too porous a term, so that one arrives at the "technology" without the
levening of human intelligence. As it were. "Humanities computing" does not
have that problem: it's more, as Ezra Pound might have said, like the
radical metaphor in haiku, where there is no copula -- not "this is that"
but "this that", leaving the reader to work out the identity. Humanities.
Computing. Humanities computing. Humanitiescomputing. Hcuommapnuittiinegs!

In any case, I take her point. We begin with the field of application --
almost. I say "almost" because long before we take up the question we've
been marinated in computing for years. But then most of us were soaked in
the humanities before that. By the time we take up the question, the two
have become one?

When I introduce humanities computing to students, I describe an idealised
form of the process of scholarship, from gathering materials for research to
the publication at the end, and match a form of the technology to each
stage. When I teach them, however, I find that I have to work tool-by-tool,
more or less in the order established by the above process, but modified for
practical reasons. (For example, we need to look at e-mail first thing, for
communication among members of the class, even though in the process this is
used everywhere; the Web similarly is used first and last, etc.) In the
introductory course, it seems to me that the skills must be in the
foreground -- the ABCs before the poetry -- though the latter must always be
shining through. The difference of this approach from that taken in the
usual sort of computing centre is that courses given by the latter are in my
experience fragmentary (literally in-coherent) and rootless because they do
not have any field of application, as in the humanities, or theoretical
approach, as in computer science, to give them the needed coherence.

In other words, I have found that an introductory curriculum in humanities
computing is a matter of apparent compromise, the deep structure coming from
the scholarly application, the surface structure from the practical
considerations of teaching these ABCs.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>