13.0045 humanities computing discussion

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 27 May 1999 21:17:23 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 45.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 21:24:05 +0100
From: Domenico Fiormonte <esit04@holyrood.ed.ac.uk>
Subject: "sfoghi" & humanities computing

I've read with attention Tito Orlandi's posting on
<http://RmCisadu.let.uniroma1.it/~orlandi/mccarty1.html>. It is often true
that the English speaking world gives little or superficial attention to
what's happening in other countries. Sadly, this is not just the case with
humanities computing. (Just think about the pathetic and discouraging
coverage of European news in British newspapers: they can't even spell
foreign names.) It is a general attitude produced by a complex political,
social and cultural situation. Two years ago I was personally involved in a
public debate (see: http://www.ed.ac.uk/~esit04/TALBOT7.htm) on the
unhealthy influence that the American model of higher education is having
on our universities; so in many ways I share Orlandi's concerns.

However, it is fair to say that if we can speak about an hegemony of
Anglo-saxon culture (read: scholarship) we have to describe it in terms of
at least an 'enlightened dictatorship'... As far as our field is
concerned, the Anglo-Saxon <i>Directoire</i> has always showed a reasonable
degree of interest in research, theories and applications coming from other
countries. I believe that scholarly journals (i.e. LLC or CHum),
associations and conferences have shown in the last ten years an
increasing (and genuine) interest in other cultural milieux. In this
respect, especially considering the relative weight of its investments in
IT, Italy has certainly not been underepresented.

One of the last selections of papers on humanities computing published in
the UK (Digital Demotic,
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/ohc/index.html) begins with a highly
regarded keynote address by Father Roberto Busa, and ends with a final note
by Richard Heseltine, who describes enthusiastically a distance learning
project led by an Italian economist, Umberto Sulpasso. What is more, all
three presentations given by Italian scholars at DRH '97 were included in
the selection. And there were more than fifty presentations at that conference.

But I'd to say more. Last year, I had the honour to organise an
international seminar where we invited many of the leading figures of HC.
The conference was an opportunity for Italian researchers -- and
especially for *young* researchers -- to show how rich and complex is our
country's involvement in humanities computing. The conference was a
success, and the audience, especially those who were not aware of the
research, was impressed by the breadth and originality of the Italians'
work. Among the speakers were Willard McCarty and Lou Burnard, who
contributed with their constant attention, care and intellectual respect to
the success of this gathering. I am deeply indebted to them and to Jon
Usher (another Anglo-saxon) who gave me the opportunity to organise this event.

Now I have a question for professor Orlandi. Would this event have been
possible in Italy? I don't mean of course the organisation of the event in
itself. You have organised a similar, much bigger conference in Rome on the
same topics. What I mean is, would have been possible in Italy (for example
in your Centre) for a 'dottorando' (Phd student) to get a 5000 pounds
grant, receive full administrative and logistic support from his/her
department, and, what more important, to have *freedom* in what to do
(themes and topics) and whom to invite?

So before speaking of the Anglo-Saxon hegemony, I would ask myself what we
are capable of doing in our respective countries, and what cultural, social
and political forces are at stake. What I will say here does not question
either the scholarship or the intellectual honesty of professor Orlandi (as
well as of other non-English speaking scholars!). But it raises questions
of how we all conceive, and indeed practice, scholarly work and conduct our
academic relationships.

I think that until we are capable of seeking recognition for our collective
efforts, rather than for our individual talent, the attention from the
international academic community will continue to be superficial and
erratic. International collaboration is essential, but before that we need
to work on common objectives and initiatives in our own countries.

The time is ripe for an International School of Humanities Computing, and
subsequently for an European Master. This (wishful thinking?) would be
possible only if we learn to coordinate our forces within our national
institutions. I'd really like to see these topics discussed in the next
session of Computers, Literature and Philology, that we are organising in
Rome next November (an official announcement will be issued very soon).
I'll do my best to convince invited speakers and local organisers to
dedicate a special session to this topic.

As for "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's", I want to reassure Tito
Orlandi. My friend and mentor Roberto Vacca
(http://www.ed.ac.uk/~esit04/vacca_1.htm) would put it this way: "I don't
care if others 'steal' my ideas. That means they are worth something.
Actually what worries me is when people don't care about them. Which means
they stink..."


1) Anglo-saxons must learn foreign languages;
2) others too;
3) everybody is expected to: a) produce theories *and* applications *and*
show substantial teaching records, if they want their scholarship (or
'primateship') be respected and acknowledged; 3.a) if they seek world-wide
recognition, they have to present their work in the lingua franca of our
times (English);
3.b) if they don't want to write or publish in English, they have to bear
(or enjoy, Italian being my first language) the burden, and stop complaining.

There are many languages in this world, and all of them are perfect and
dignified means of expression. Some languages are (politically) stronger,
some are weaker. Culture and advancement of knowledge have little to do
with success (not to mention happiness). But if it is success and 'mundane
recognition' that we are looking for, well, then "let's face the music, and

Personally, I am not very interested in that.

Domenico Fiormonte
University of Edinburgh
School of European Languages and Cultures
DHT, George Square - EH8 9XJ United Kingdom
Fax: 44+131-6506536

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