14.0358 multimedia, old methods, primitives

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 10/15/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 358.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
             Date: Sun, 15 Oct 2000 10:44:55 +0100
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: New Media & Old Methods
    Some stray thoughts about your recent posting on the place of
    multimedia in humanities computing...
    Does the field of "humanities computing" have always at least two sets of
    methods: one on the computing side and one on the humanities side?
    The didactic niche is one that in the North American academy has often
    been occupied by modern language departments offering service courses for
    language acquistion. Has anyone written a history of the language lab and
    its contribution to humanties computing?
    The separation between the liberal arts and the mechanical arts may be a
    very old occidental phenomenon influencing the biais for or against
    multimedia (iconoclastic debates rage on...)
    It is tempting to compare the uptake of multimedia in humanities computing
    to its uptake in in the scholarship of archeology, art history,
    musicology, theatre and film studies, museum studies, and other such
    disciplines. And map this against the very material conditions of the
    infrastructures (i.e. the availibilty of wired classrooms and labs as well
    as digital collections and online teaching & research resources).
    Finally, even if a superb infrastructure exists, it is no mean feat to
    attract and retain qualified people with the proper cross-disciplinary
    You ask, "Are we willing to exile the arts (which have
    a different relationship to method called technique) from the humanities
    in order to have a tidy "human science" paradigm?
    The metaphor of exile seems to assume that the arts were "in" at some
    point in time. I would like to read more on Humanist about how people
    construe a possible difference between "method" and "technique". I do
    recall some references on Humanist to Feyerabend by Willard
    Is this not all (institutional struggles aside) about the place of
    "experimentation" in the production of knowledge. The compositional
    exercises of imitation and translation (be it with reference to verbal,
    musical or pictorial modes or be it with cross-modal reference) were very
    much part of the Humanist culture that formed the cultural matrix out of
    which "science" developed.
    Back to primitives:
    if experimentation is the methodology,
    does the method require as primitives "states" and "durations"?
    I ask this because I am beginning to wonder if the challenge of new media
    (both multimedia and distributed objects in networked environments) is not
    to rethink the ancillary mathematics that accompany humanities computing.
    Is the field shifting or expanding from a concern with the sample space of
    statistics to the phase space of topology? And I know "concern" is not
    quite the correct word here. What I am attempting to describe is a tension
    between the desire to describe all possibilities and the desire to trace
    paths to local ontologies.... which of course opens an avenue to the
    constellation of cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence and the
    debates over cultural relativism.
    And it just might be the dillettante and the amateur that act as the
    "translators" between disciplines enabling those pleasant bumps that A.
    Koestler describes in _The Act of Creation_.  Interesting how the metaphor
    of "exile" induces the return of the prodigal.
    more mathematics for both the humanities and the arts !!! :)
    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
    Member of the Evelyn Letters Project

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