11.0455 evidence

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 11 Dec 1997 20:52:19 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 455.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Tue, 09 Dec 1997 20:57:44 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: seductive power of evidence


It's a joy to know that what one writes will be subjected to imaginative
scrutiny, read and reread like a lover's missive, or a poet's poem. All that
I thought I meant when I contributed that anecdote about the hybristic young
scholar with masses of evidence was how seductive they can be. I've spend
some years pouring with scrupulous care (I hope) over a large body of
evidence, and hold as personal heroes those who have done the same or better
with more, but I do wonder about what skills we are beginning badly to need
as the evidence mounts up. I wonder, for example, if anyone has done a
study, informal or otherwise, on the kinds of arguments we are now tending
to get in ancient Greek studies from those who have used the TLG, or those
in English from users of the Full-Text Poetry Database, or those in Dante
studies from beneficiaries of the Dartmouth Dante Database, and so forth.
Are there whole sections of the countryside devastated from the hybristic
exploits of mad tank-driving scholars?

Even if not, it seems to me that those of us fortunate enough to be teaching
humanities computing require a component in our courses that teaches
students how to deal with evidence. Not that this is uniquely a problem in
computer-assisted applications, but it is brought to the fore by the
evidence vending machine.

Northrop Frye used to say that with enough prose one could link any
statement with any other statement. With enough evidence at hand, I'm
thinking, one can get away with less specious reasoning by substituting a
few footnotes fat with references to this or that database.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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/>