16.641 the consumptive humanities?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Apr 28 2003 - 02:40:57 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 641.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 07:33:46 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: consumptive humanities

    The following question I owe to Prof. Dr. Manfred Thaller, Historisch-
    Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung (roughly, as he says,
    "humanities computer science"), at the University of Cologne. See
    http://www.hki.uni-koeln.de/ for details of his department. The question I
    ask arose out of discussions with him -- but the articulation of it is
    mine, so please hold me responsible!

    The question is basically this: if we trapped by being users rather than
    also creators of our tools, what do we do about getting out of the trap?
    One can argue with some justification that easily available, user-friendly
    tools (such as MS Access) have resulted in a degrading effect on the
    humanities by imposing on us models of data and data-processing that are
    significantly inadequate to our needs as researchers. The conclusion that
    would appear to follow is that we should be working at a rather lower level
    than we usually do. Hence the need for a "humanities computer science".

    It's rather hard to argue against the proposition that as scholars we
    should avoid the mind-set of the mere consumer whenever possible. Indeed,
    we are trained to poke hard and deep at any resource that we use unless it
    comes from hands we trust already. (I do not examine the Oxford Latin
    Dictionary rigorously before use, for example, but I do take care with
    anything I find online until assured that it is from trustworthy hands.)
    But to what degree can we -- and can we afford to -- understand enough to
    find the limitations in tools most of us take as basic? At some point a
    devotion to acquiring that understanding and following it up takes over,
    and concern for the humanities disappears. Another kind of degrading
    effect, with which we are quite familiar, becomes the problem.



    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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