12.0430 comments on various discussions

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 16 Feb 1999 20:01:26 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 430.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: "by way of Humanist <humanist@kcl.ac.uk>" (34)
Subject: Re: 12.0416 transforming the possibilities

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (53)
Subject: weaving meaning

[3] From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@acm.org> (69)
Subject: Re: 12.0410 culturally traumatic ideas

[4] From: <brownh@hartford-hwp.com>
Subject: Re: 12.0426 constructing meaning

Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 19:44:59 +0000
From: "by way of Humanist <humanist@kcl.ac.uk>"
Subject: Re: 12.0416 transforming the possibilities

Paleography is one thing as a tool for scholarship, another as a
topic of university-level teaching. For the beginner, a simple 16th
century text -- say, the last will and testament of an East Anglian
framer -- tends to require practically no knowledge whatever . What
the student needs is patience, taking the time to stare at the text,
experiencing the kick of suddenly recognizing words like "In the name
of God amen" or "of sound mind and remembrance" -- it is rather like
learning to ride a bicycle, in that perseverence and interest are the
key motives, knowledge is at the onset as good as irrelevant.

In my experience students can get remarkably excited after their
first hour of confrontation with a text the secretary hand of which
looked, at first blow, like Chinese, but gradually reveals itself to
be quite simple, but also speaking directly to today´s reader, who
may have similar questions about who is to get which cow or
straight-backed chair, except that in the 16th century it seems to be
the bedding that has to be accounted for with meticulous care. The
text itself offers a challenge, then, which motivates students who
would otherwise have little interest in history of the development of
writing systems. I would recommend the teaching of paleography as an
exhilirating experience, provided that the library has some of the
raw materials which the exercise requires.

Helmut Bonheim
Prof. Dr. Helmut Bonheim
President European Society for the Study of English (ESSE)
work: home:
Engl. Department
University of Cologne
Albertus Magnus Platz Klosterstr. 75
D-50923 Koeln D-50931 Koeln
Germany Germany

Secretary: +49-(0)221-470 5715
Tel: +49-(0)221-470 6209 Tel: +49(0)221-40 56 28
Fax: +49-(0)221-470 5109 Fax: +49(0)221-940 40 13

Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 19:46:52 +0000
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: weaving meaning


I want to take up Wenell's suggestion about refurbishing
textile/texture metaphors for explaining cultural interactions,
especially between the Europeans and the First Nations in the Americas. First
I want to digress to comment upon how certain map making conventions
generate the expression "up north". Interesting how this expression
endures despite the lay of watersheds and the direction of prevailing
winds. In some place called "Down North" the melting pots can be dye

Sadie Plant in her book Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New
Technoculture stretches draws upon Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Women's
Work: The First 20,000 Years to generate a gynocentric mythos :

There were other spin-offs from textiles too. The weaving of
complex designs demands far more than one pair of hands, and
textiles production tends to be communal, sociable work
allowing plenty of occasion for gossip and chat. Weaving was
already multimedia: singing, chanting, telling stories,
dancing, and playing games as they work, spinsters, weavers,
and needle-workers were literally networkers as well. It seems
that "the women of prehistoric Europe gathered at one
another's houses to spin, sew, weave, and have fellowship."

Plant goes on to suggest that "A piece of work so absorbing as a cloth
is saturated with the thoughts of the people who produced it, each of
whom can flash straight back to whatever they were thinking as the
worked. Like Proust's madelines [...]"

I don't quite know how archeologists can reconstruct the gender
relations of cultural activities such as weaving but I do know that
concerning the question of the culture and the body of the bearer of that
culture one can look to the adoption practices in antiquity and can draw upon
the work of John Boswell, The Kindess of Strangers. I do not know of
similar work for the First Nations of the Americas. Although I do
suspect readers of Humanist to be able to supply some references
concerning kinship patterns.

Somehow I cannot quite concur with Ms. Plant's assessment that the
woven and the weaving are one. The cloth may survive the smashing of
the loom. But how are we to read the weaving sans loom let alone
weave again?

However the vision that impels Ms. Plant is shared by others. One
thinks of Keren Rice and her team compiling dictionaries of a
Dene language for use in schools and communities. Professor Rice says
"People may question the cost of preserving a language that is spoken
by only 200 people, but you have to look at the cost of losing that
voice. Research shows that language is important to an individual's
identity and self-esteem. Language can heal a lot of social problems
because it instils a sense of pride and identity in a people. A
community feels good about itself when it stops feeling subordinate or

There is no single textile metaphor for restorative justice.

There is however room for metaphors of networks that value the trader
and the weaver: the circle of community and the adventure of seeking
new or forgotten tesserae.

remapping and rethreading,


Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 19:49:02 +0000
From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@acm.org>
Subject: Re: 12.0410 culturally traumatic ideas

Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Mon, 08 Feb 1999 20:46:18 +0000
> From: Frank Hubbard <6615hubbardf@vmsb.csd.mu.edu>
> >
> Readers of the New York TImes will be saying to themselves, "Now they've
> developed some software to grade those exams," as was announced last
> Wednesday. We scoring leaders go to Princeton next week to find out a
> little more about the software, but as far as we know now, it includes an
> array of pretty standard stuff, measures of length, sentence length, number
> of paragraphs, maybe syllables of selected vocab items, maybe some
> collocation stuff; it purports to measure ideas in some way as well. It's
> that last item that really has my attention. As I read people like John
> Searle and John Haugeland and Hubert Dreyfus, I find arguments that make me
> doubt I will find more than correlations between what the software measures
> and what human beings do, even if the score correlations really are in the
> 95% range as ETS is saying.
> I am strongly of two minds about this at least minimally traumatic
> development. If it speeds helpful response to testtakers, and makes a
> learning experience arise within an evaluation experience, I'm for it. If
> it pretends to be weighing the thinking of the testtakers, I'm doubtful.
> Even in the limited domains of the argument-analysis writing task on the
> GMAT, I don't want to say that the computer is reading the paper.
> Do others know what is likely to be included in the exam-scoring software?
> Or have opinions about what it likely can and cannot do?
> Frank Hubbard

I must respond, albeit carefully, as I worked on this project as a
consultant to ETS and signed a non-disclosure agreement which does not allow
me to go into as much detail as many would like. However, I can assure
Prof. Hubbard that no damage will be done with the automated scoring (known
as the e-rater). Those who know me will understand that anything smacking
of 'robots grading papers' -- as the New York Times so blithely described it
-- would not find me participating!

One interesting piece of evidence which might be helpful: in the old
scoring scheme, two human graders read each essay and those scores were
compared. When they disagreed, a third scorer was brought in to decide. In
the new scheme, one human scorer and the computer scoring system will be
used. If they disagree, a second human will make the final decision.
During the testing phase of this project, the results were quite
interesting! The results of scoring by one human and the computer agreed
more often than two human scorers did. When I heard that, I was convinced
that the system would be implemented -- and would produce useful results.

I spent six months in 1997 analyzing the results of the system to determine
the validity of the e-rater scoring scheme. I pored over many hundreds of
actual essays and the computer system results to evaluate the methodology.
I can assure you that the system will not replace human scorers completely
any time soon! Jill Burstein of ETS Research has presented several papers
on this system at the ANLP-97 and COLING-98, for those who want more details
about the techiques used.

By the way, one reason for not disclosing specifics about the system is that
ETS does not want students to be able to study the test in order to succeed.
In fact, I had to laugh at the NYT article (1/27/99, Education Section) when
it said, "Kaplan has issued a list of 'strategies' likely to impress its
[the 'robot's'] hardwired brain. These include stressing the importance of
making an outline before writing a test essay, using such transitional
phrases as 'therefore', 'since', and 'for example', and using plenty of
synonyms because 'the computer rewards a strong vocabulary'." Last I
heard there were a lot of English teachers across the country (myself
included) who would reward better essay structure, more complex sentences,
and "a strong vocabulary." I'm glad Kaplan has found something useful to

Mary Dee Harris

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D.                  512-477-7213
Language Technology, Inc.               512-477-7351 (fax)
2415 Griswold Lane                      mdharris@acm.org
Austin, TX 78703                        mdharris@cs.utexas.edu

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 19:49:24 +0000 From: "by way of Humanist <humanist@kcl.ac.uk>" <brownh@hartford-hwp.com> Subject: Re: 12.0426 constructing meaning


I work with Taino Native Americans (the folks who first met Columbus), and I can't help but respond because the issue of genetic pockets and identity is very germain to them.

They were supposed to have been exterminated in the 18th century, but in fact not entirely, and so just what has survived is an issue for them. Genetic studies are underway to distinguish their survivers in Cuba, Boriken, and elsewhere from the Spanish and African gene pool, but the results are likely to show that virtually everyone is a genetic hybrid. What African American in the US can deny white forebears, and yet to be Black is a real identity (hence the capitalization). It is an identity based more on shared present circumstances than genes inherited from Africa.

The issue is not reducable to genes, and never was in terms of tribal identity. Tribes, in either a cultural or social (genetic) sense are actively constructed and self-defined in response to some problem in their social environment that requires solidarity. Tradition (Urfather, genetic descent, tribal culture, etc), never much based on fact, serves as an ideology of togetherness.

The genetic distinction of Taino, or the local Pequot Native Americans for that matter, is often tenuous. The Pequots are actually Afro-Native-American-European. The Pequots have almost nothing left of their original culture, although they are descendents of Native Americans living in southern Connecticut. They have had to construct a culture and tribal identify for themselves based on generic Indian cultural traditions (including even a bit of Plains traditions!), and US social values (solidarity of people of Indian and African descent), and certain social ideals and novel customs. But so it has always been. Real (empirical) genetic distinction is a modern and racialist notion, I suspect.

Haines Brown

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