12.0080 levels of involvement

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 22:34:17 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 80.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 21:41:22 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: levels of involvement

This is to draw your attention to one of the online events listed in the
NINCH extract from the Scout Report of 12 June 1998 (Humanist 12.79), the
Second International Harvard Conference on Internet and Society, at
<http://www.events.broadcast.com/edu/harvard/conference/>. RealPlayer is
required; if you don't have it and can run it, I recommend you acquire the
free player if only to see what this Harvard conference was about. Three
quite lengthy streaming videos are included. My intention here is not to
comment on the substance of what anyone in the conference said, rather to
step back imaginatively from the event and ask where we fit into such

By "we" here I mean ordinary computing humanists whose particular talents
are at the ground level where the research and applications of humanities
computing actually get done. Some of us do in fact appear on stage at events
such as the Harvard one, but for purposes of discussion I'm interested in us
thinking from the perspective of those whose primary competence is in in the
scholarly/technical detail rather than in the broad social issues. The
ordinary soldiers in the war of scholarship, the farm-hands in its
agriculture, the workers in its industry....

One reaction that people like "us" are likely to have to the Harvard event
and its kind is, after the thrill has died away, to feel that the action of
humanities computing has really moved out of our hands, that it no longer
lies in the specialist areas we inhabit, especially those that are concerned
with text-analysis and processing. In general it has become difficult in
recent years not to equate the measurable amount of interest in what one
does (class-size, qualtity of citations, etc.) with its value, and I suppose
that tendency is bound to increase as we focus more on reaching the public
if for no other reason than to secure our needed funding. We are apt, I
suppose, to feel as a result that the Harvard event and its kind are where
we now should be as a body of people if not as individuals.

I wonder if like electoral politics the more one ascends to positions of
power and influence the greater the distance from the very work that forms
the real basis of that power. While the Esther Dysons of the world are
making their fame by pronouncing on many matters we are better qualified to
know about, there is no one but us to do the research. This would suggest
that we should let those who would be media stars do their thing, not be
bothered by the utter fatuousness of so much of the performances and do what
we are best at doing.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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

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