14.0421 hypertext research and the outsider

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 10/27/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 421.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
             Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2000 09:09:00 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: hypertext research and the outsider
    My energetic thanks to Einat Amitay, whose pointers have proven very
    valuable indeed. The two bibiographic search-engines, The Research Index
    <http://citeseer.nj.nec.com/> and the Computer Science Research Paper
    Search Engine <http://www.cora.jprc.com/>, are handy, and the pointers to
    individuals' collections of their own papers also, esp. Catherine
    Marshall's and Randy Trigg's; some of the others I'd found already. The
    strategy for locating free papers I'd worked out for myself and indeed
    teach much the same to my students -- no more than extensions of
    tried-and-true methods for sniffing out bibliographic traces. My point was
    that I'd discovered a sorry state of affairs, and I was making a case for
    doing something about it. Eventually I'll see to it that a beginner's
    HIGHLY selective bibliography gets posted somewhere, but meanwhile some
    (1) As Paul Evan Peters said, welcome to "the dawn of the meso-electronic
    period... "[A]fter all the appropriate slack has been cut, the best that
    can be said as far as I am concerned is that we are using crude tools with
    which we are having some uneven but very real success in fashioning crude
    but functional electronic artifacts.... To my way of thinking, we are
    clearly at the end of the period in which cheap stunts, brillant hacks, and
    acts of ignorance or desperation were the principal ways for creating
    useful and affordable network resources and services." (Keynote Address,
    Digital Libraries '94, <http://csdl.tamu.edu/csdl/DL94/peters.keynote.html>.
    (2) In that spirit I observe that MUCH more than high-powered and
    well-funded research is required to move beyond those "acts of ignorance or
    desperation" -- of which my complaint gives example. We need to
    *communicate* across disciplinary boundaries, not be satisfied with life
    inside walled compounds. I'm not talking here about developing some kind of
    common vocabulary or setting up yet another agency or special interest
    group; we already have the former (as the papers of Randy Trigg, Jim
    Rosenberg, Catherine Marshall et al. show) and too many of the latter. We
    simply (or not so simply) need to make our research openly available and
    organise it so that the intelligent outsider can understand what's
    happening. For this we do indeed have the tools. Do we have the will?
    (3) Bridging disciplinary cultures is indeed very difficult. From one
    perspective my complaint can be seen as the common experience of a person
    looking in on a discipline in which he has not been trained. It can be very
    difficult in fact for such a person to recognise that what goes on in the
    foreign discipline IS scholarship. Thus my difficulty? To someone like me
    published work is all, whatever the medium, however slowly it happens. Is
    it the case that in (non-mathematical) CS the software prototypes are
    primary, the papers actually quite secondary? If so, then is it more than a
    bit much for me to expect such effort to be put into openly accessible
    publication as in the humanities?
    For the sake of argument let's say that we have open access to what is now
    published in CS hypertext research. Further, let's say that the people in
    that area heed Randy Trigg's exhortations at
    <http://www.parc.xerox.com/spl/members/trigg/HT96-keynote/>, as follows:
     >First, we need to look hard at our own *history* to avoid reinventing old
     >wheels as well as repeating old errors.... Second, we need to look to
     >*neighboring fields* like the emerging "Digital Libraries" for
     >inspiration.... Finally, I suggest that hypermedia has an important
     >integrative contribution to make to activities like collaboration,
     >mobilization and volunteering that comprise the under-valued work of
     >*community-building* taking place on the web.
    (The explicit emphasis marks are mine, but he does call these
    exhortations.) Would it then be our job as computing humanists to form the
    two-way bridge between such an historically self-aware outward-looking
    discipline on the one hand and the humanities on the other?

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