12.0469 basic problems

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 1 Mar 1999 22:19:50 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 469.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (49)
Subject: return to basic problems

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (34)
Subject: Method in Text Analysis

Date: Mon, 01 Mar 1999 22:19:23 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: return to basic problems

In Humanist 12.346 I suggested (echoing David Hilbert's 1900 address in
Paris, "Mathematische Probleme") that,

>one good way of understanding what our field is, in
>particular the quality of its intellectual integrity,
>would be to identify the basic scholarly problems with
>which it is engaged or should engage.

We didn't seem to get very far. Let me pose my problem again, but this time
take a different approach, namely to request identification by field of
application of the one problem with which we think the computer is most
likely to make a significant scholarly difference in, say, the next 20-30 years.

What would the problems be for

1. anthropology
2. archaeology
3. art history
4. classics
5. cultural studies
6. film studies
7. history
8. linguistics
9. literary studies (all modern languages)
10. music
11. pedagogy (including education)
12. philology
13. philosophy
14. religious studies (including biblical scholarship)
15. theatre studies

In his paper (online at
<http://aleph0.clarku.edu/~djoyce/hilbert/problems.html>, in translation)
Hilbert noted that, "It is difficult and often impossible to judge the value
of a problem correctly in advance; for the final award depends upon the gain
which science obtains from the problem. Nevertheless we can ask whether there
are general criteria which mark a good mathematical problem." He identified
two: the theory that formulates it must be clear and easily comprehended,
and it must be difficult enough to challenge us, yet not seem utterly
impossible to solve. That is, we need fundamental problems that will take us
forward, not confuse or confound us. What might these be?

We also need problems that do not simply belong to computer science, such as
automatic analysis of images to identify their contents, though there are
undoubtedly real problems for humanities computing involved in such an
effort. On the other side, we don't want problems that simply belong to one
of the non-technical disciplines, such as the identification of a painting
as a forgery.

Your suggestions please.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5081
<Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/>
maui gratia

Date: Mon, 01 Mar 1999 22:19:34 +0000
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Method in Text Analysis


I know it has been a couple of weeks since you issued a call for
feedback on your module on text analyis for first year students. It is
my hope that these few remarks might be pertinent to your enterprise.

It seems to me that by beginning with "genre" in the _Prior Knowldege_
section you are building upon the intuitive centre of humanities work:
the comparative moment. There is of course the comparison of parts of
a text with each other (notion of the score) and the comparison of
texts with other texts. It seems to me that your contextual overview
or snapshot implicitly favours text-text comparison. This leads me to
a question about the _Steps in the analysis_: are these really a set
of steps? or are they elements of a toolbox? I ask this because
someone interested in middle, beginnings and ends of a particular text
would perhaps favour concording and someone interested in comparing
different texts would derive more information from frequency lists
(unless those lists were generated with a view for a comparative
distribution over the parts of a text). The sophisticated reader would
be able to combine techniques in a variety of orders. I was wondering
if there is any way of introducing the call to recursive analysis
earlier. What happens if students move from concordance to frequency?
I suppose that it is like moving through skimming to an appreciation of the
statistical nature of the beast. Of course this consideration stems
from the way your method moves from genre to artefact. Are the
questions and approaches posed different for a class of texts than for
a single textual specimen? Not a grand question in itself but I do
think it has something to contribute to the fostering of
self-reflective modes of apprehension.

Thank you for the invitation to peer into your workshop. It has helped
me think about some the assumptions that I bring to classroom work
with and without computers -- especially in teaching recursive
searching on the WWW.

"structure, content, format"
-- not just nouns --

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