16.113 publication & recognition of software & systems?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Thu Jul 04 2002 - 03:22:12 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 113.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Thu, 04 Jul 2002 08:17:04 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
             Subject: publication & recognition of software & systems

    The historian of technology Michael S Mahoney (Princeton) notes in "Issues
    in the history of computing" a number of historiographical problems that
    fields like ours present. Among these is the difficulty of recovering what
    we might roughly call the intellectual content of their primary artifacts
    -- the difficulty of reading them, if you will. In "We Would Know What They
    Thought When They Did It", R. W. Hamming argues that for such artifactual
    fields of work the traditional historian's focus on evidence produces a
    systematically biased result. We can demonstrate this, he says, because
    some of us are old enough to remember that for which there is no other
    evidence than unrecorded anecdote or even an inchoate sense that something
    important happened at a particular time. (Writing the history of something
    recent thus has rather interesting problems of its own.) Furthermore, he
    argues, those of us in practically orientated fields want a different sort
    of history, and thus his title. He calls for the participants, those who
    are making the history of computing now, to write things down.

    My question is somewhat different though closely related. In building a new
    academic field one has to establish it in the eyes of others as academic.
    In the humanities this is done largely through refereed publication, as we
    all know. Since for humanities computing a large part of the intellectual
    work is, as in computer science, manifested in crafted objects, how do we
    publish these objects such that their intellectual value may be judged? Of
    course one can write *about* them in ordinary academic prose, but clearly
    that is not good enough: any writings about will to some degree suffer from
    reductive translation. Since Michael Polanyi's work on tacit knowledge
    (brought into mainstream history & philosophy of science by Thomas Kuhn),
    we have known better than to think that (as it were) the mind of an
    artifact can be separated from its body.

    My question is an immediately practical one: how do we behave in a
    recognizably and responsibly academic way with respect to our intellectual


    Works referenced.

    Hamming, R. W. 1980. "We Would Know What They Thought When They Did It". In
    A History of Computing in the Twentieth Century: A Collection of Essays.
    Ed. N. Metropolis, J. Howlett and Gian-Carlo Rota. New York: Academic
    Press. 3-9.
    Kuhn, Thomas S. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd edn.
    Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (see p. 43).
    Mahoney, Michael S. 1996. "Issues in the History of Computing". In History
    of Programming Languages II. Ed. Thomas J. Bergin and Rick G. Gibson. New
    York: ACM Press. 772-81. http://www.princeton.edu/~mike/computing.html
    (viewed 3/7/02).
    Polanyi, M.1958. Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post-Critical Philosophy.
    London: Routledge.
    -----. 1966. The Tacit Dimension. New York: Doubleday and Company.

    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/,
    willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk, w.mccarty@btinternet.com

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