13.0031 humanities computing discussion

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 23 May 1999 06:31:23 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 31.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Elisabeth Burr <he229bu@unidui.uni-duisburg.de> (49)
Subject: Re: 13.0027 what for?

[2] From: Luigi M Bianchi <lbianchi@yorku.ca> (35)
Subject: Re: "We would know how we know what we know"

Date: Sun, 23 May 1999 06:31:22 +0100
From: Elisabeth Burr <he229bu@unidui.uni-duisburg.de>
Subject: Re: 13.0027 what for?

I would like to raise the point that Humanities
Computing as you propose it in your paper
should not be reserved to post graduates, because
it seems to me that we have to start earlier. Up to
now, our book centered disciplines have been based
on a book centered culture and we have learnt right
from the start to handle aspects of it. Although our
students now, in a way, grow up with computers,
their mind is formed in a way that doesn't help humanities
computing, i.e. it is either still printed text based or
not printed text based (because they don't even read).
Computers are conceived of as tools for writing or storing
and organising information, the Internet is conceived of as
a tool for looking up information.
The way of thinking we need in order to pose humanities
computing questions is something we have to teach. What
I notice in my odd computer based seminars is that I am
trying to apply computing to research from one moment to the
next without having the time nor the possibility to build
up the reflection about what we are trying to do, about what
is an electronic text, about what makes it different from other
text, why would we want to do what we do, and why do we do
it at all in Romance linguistics. I try to carry them through such
a seminar lasting just one semester hoping that the results will
show them what it is there for. This is not enough.
I get more and more the impression that either we base teaching
of Romance linguistics as much as possible on applied computing
which would mean, however, that we would have to reduce what,
up to now, we try to teach students about what is Romance lin-
guistics, about the history of a language, about research which has
been done, or we have to create BA courses which combine Romance
linguistics/studies with applied computing.
I would argue for the last. Students thus formed could then go on to
an MA (PhD) as you propose it. They would have the sort of insight
they need to integrate it with a much broader perspective.

PD Dr'in Elisabeth Burr
FB 3/Romanistik
Gerhard Mercator Universitaet-GH Duisburg
Geibelstrasse 41
47048 Duisburg
Tel.: +49 203 3791957
fax: +49 203 3793122
e-mail: Elisabeth.Burr@uni-duisburg.de
Editor of:

Date: Sun, 23 May 1999 06:31:50 +0100
From: Luigi M Bianchi <lbianchi@yorku.ca>
Subject: Re: "We would know how we know what we know"

Dear Colleagues,

I am surprised at the sparse negative reaction to Willard
McCarty's article [ http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/essays/know/ ]
against a background of silence.

Tito Orlandi's outburst
[ http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/essays/know/ ] seems to be more about
the disproportionate dominance of the English language in the
computing world than about the substance of McCarty's essay:

"What upsets me most [...] is the well-known phenomenon by which
our (Italian) milieu will soon accept ideas, preached in Italy for
years, only because they issue [now] from the Anglo-Saxon world."
[my translation.]

Orlandi is probably right in this regard, and perhaps McCarty
should have addressed more explicitly the question of language in his
discussion of the exchange of "knowledge instruments" in the "trading

Much more puzzling to me is the silent welcome with which
McCarty's article has been greeted. His reference to David Hilbert's
famous address is quite appropriate and timely, unless we subscribe
somehow to a purely natural, evolutionary theory (memetics?) of the
field. I think the problem may be that readers have confused the
intent of the article: it is not a "plan," but a strategy. As such,
McCarty has illustrated it with _examples_ from his own work, but he
has been quite explicit about the purpose of such illustrations:

"My intention is to provoke discussion among computing humanists
across the disciplines, so that they may ask, each of his or her own
speciality, what current problems are most productively susceptible
to computing."

I am indeed looking forward to such a debate.

Luigi M Bianchi


Luigi M Bianchi
Science and Technology Studies phone: +1-416-736-5213
Atkinson College, York University fax: +1-416-736-5766
4700 Keele St, Toronto, Ontario e-mail: lbianchi@yorku.ca
Canada M3J-1P3 http://www.yorku.ca/sts/

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