14.0571 Happy Christmas & other solsticials

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 12/19/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 571.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
             Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 08:17:43 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: solsticials
    Dear colleagues:
    Writing that salutation I paused to wonder about the etymology of
    "colleague" and so discovered mirabile dictu I am addressing us together as
    the chosen (L. collega, "one chosen along with another, a partner in
    office, etc." OED, L&S). Quite a haphazard election, if I may say so --
    which those elected here below should keep in mind.... In any case we are
    by whatever bumpings of atoms here yet again, at the darkest, quietest time
    of the year, on the verge of Christmas, Hanukkah and other solsticial
    celebrations. In my house the tree is up and decorated with white glittery
    balls and glass icicles (sent over the ocean by my mom), tinsel and
    cotton-wool (from the local Woolworth's, for the snow that in the drizzle
    of London is only mythical). Cards have been posted, late as usual. And as
    usual the upcoming holidays will mean hiatus here and there for Humanist,
    when it is not seemly for me to be at my computer, or (more like) I'm too
    stuffed to move or too charmed by the lights on the tree or otherwise
    devoted to celebrations.
    That it should seem so strange not to be connected is as remarkable as the
    pundits have observed, or more so. For someone, once an Oregonian, who for
    years envisioned his future as increasingly more rural and less connected
    (so much less as not to know these terms) this ordinary can indeed appear
    very strange. And it's getting more so. In my current research I've been
    using online publications as a primary resource. (This especially since my
    institution purchased rights to the ACM Digital Library, which is a fine
    thing, which in a better world would be free.) I've noticed not a few times
    a rising irritation at not finding what I need online, at the thought that
    I'll actually have to go, physically, to a library to find a referenced
    article or book. Let me rush to put this irritation in personal context: I
    love libraries, I derive great pleasure from using them, I prefer reading
    from the printed page, the British Library is less than an hour's tube ride
    away, my College library is a minute's walk from my office. And yet.... the
    printed page, however close at hand, is across a divide.
    In this research I've been paying particular attention to what I call
    "artefactual studies", i.e. close analyses of printed artefacts that ask
    how they work, either in the course of discussing or speculating about an
    electronic form or from a cognate perspective. There are surprisingly,
    shockingly few of these. On the technical side I think of Darrell Raymond
    and Wm. Tompa's 1988 article, "Hypertext and the Oxford English
    Dictionary", in Communications of the ACM 37.7: 871-9, or Steve DeRose and
    Andries Van Dam's 1999 article, "Document structure and markup in the FRESS
    hypertext system", in Markup Languages 1: 7-32. On the non-technical side
    are, for example, Steven Fraade's book, From Tradition to Commentary: Torah
    and its Interpretation in the Midrash Sifre to Deuteronomy (1991) or, more
    obviously, Jerry  McGann's 1997 piece, "Imagning what you don't know: the
    theoretical goals of the Rosetti Archive". Looking across that divide I
    speak of, at our printed artefacts as models of knowing, enabled thus to
    ask exactly how they work as implementations of a particular technology,
    transforms our view of them, as McGann points out. DeRose and Van Dam
    briefly show how much is lost in systems development by not paying
    attention to the subtle complexities we are thus able to see.
    To see our familiar printed things as unfamiliar, with uncrusted-over eyes,
    is hard work but, it seems to me, absolutely central at this incunabular
    juncture. I would be most grateful for any pointers to such work or
    comments on it. This, it seems to me, is our work.
    Now to the wrapping up of a few gifts before I make for central London (ho,
    ho, ho..., jolly but less rotund and not quite as obvious). From tomorrow
    evening until a week hence Humanist will be less often published but no
    less cared for when a lull in the celebrations permit. I wish for you the
    same priority and as much joy in it.
    The gray sea and the long black land;
    And the yellow half-moon large and low;
    And the startled little waves that leap
    In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
    As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
    And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
    Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
    Three fields to cross tilla farm appears;
    A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
    And blue spurt of a lighted match,
    And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
    Than the two hearts beating each to each!
           --Robert Browning, "Meeting at Night"
    Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
    Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/

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