16.646 consumptive humanities

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Apr 30 2003 - 01:58:12 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 646.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: Matt Kirschenbaum (10)
             Subject: Re: 16.642 consumptive humanities

       [2] From: "Liz Walter" <eawalter@email.arizona.edu> (16)
             Subject: RE: 16.642 consumptive humanities

       [3] From: Patrick Sahle <sahle@uni-koeln.de> (45)
             Subject: Re: 16.642 consumptive humanities

       [4] From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay@uga.edu> (40)
             Subject: Re: 16.641 the consumptive humanities?

       [5] From: "Aimée Morrison"
    <aimee.morrison@ualberta.ca> (48)
             Subject: RE: 16.641 the consumptive humanities?

             Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 06:49:22 +0100
             From: Matt Kirschenbaum <mgk3k@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU>
             Subject: Re: 16.642 consumptive humanities

    Perhaps what we need is a catalog or database of homegrown tools that
    have been developed by members of this community. In my experience, a
    number of projects have developed tools or widgets that have either been
    expressly offered up for re-use by others, or which could be repurposed
    with only very modest effort--but it's still relatively rare to see that
    kind of borrowing and cross-fertilization. Here are examples of the sort
    of tools I have in mind:




             Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 06:50:44 +0100
             From: "Liz Walter" <eawalter@email.arizona.edu>
             Subject: RE: 16.642 consumptive humanities

    I have to agree that XML is the way to go in humanities computing.
    Microsoft has two tools which will help the budding XML builder.
    1)XSD Inference Utility -"By using the Microsoft.XSDInference.Infer class, a
    developer can easily infer a schema for an instance document. The inferred
    schema can be refined with related document instances so that it can be used
    to describe and validate a whole class of XML documents."
    2)XML Diff - "By using the XMLDiff class, the programmer is able to
    determine if the two files are in fact different based on the conditions
    that are important to their application. The programmer is able to ignore
    changes that are only superficial (for example, different prefixes for same
    namespace). XMLPatch then provides the ability to update the original XML by
    applying only the changes that matter to the original XML."

             Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 06:51:45 +0100
             From: Patrick Sahle <sahle@uni-koeln.de>
             Subject: Re: 16.642 consumptive humanities

    > Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2003 07:03:26 +0100
    > From: "Bonnett, John" <John.Bonnett@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca>
    > >
    >Dear Willard,
    >If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that efforts by
    >humanities scholars to transcend the limitations of their tools, by
    >learning to program, will inevitably result in an abandonment of the
    >humanities discipline that gave rise to the effort in the first place.
    >I fail to see how such a conclusion follows. Why would learning a
    >computer language lead to such an outcome, while presumably learning
    >a human language, from Coptic to Croatian, would not?
    >Best wishes,
    >John Bonnett
    >National Research Council of Canada

    I didn't read Willard that way. But now I'm tempted to agree to his point
    of view as described by John. Learning to program - to some extend -
    inevitably means to adopt a certain view (which stands behind those
    languages), which is not a humanities-like one -- unless there would be a
    humanities based programming language we could learn and use/implement for
    our special needs.

    1.: I am just kiddin'
    2.: Are we back into the logical circle (as seen by John) with that?
    (Shifting from one language to another doesn't change the discipline:
    philology. But shifting from speach to calculation does)
    3.: Mr. Thaller: Can (at least) programming languages be theory-free? If
    not: do they adopt a certain subject-specific (e.g. natural sciences-) view?
    4.: Maybe in the end: Is there something like a comprehensive "logic" which
    maybe isn't discipline-specific but meta-disciplinary? Is there a
    meta-discipline? Where do the boderlines begin?

    Best regards,

    Patrick Sahle
    Universitt zu Kln
    Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung
    Kerpener Str. 30

    Privat: Blankenheimer Strasse 19
    50937 Kln
    0049 - (0)221 - 2805695

             Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 06:53:17 +0100
             From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay@uga.edu>
             Subject: Re: 16.641 the consumptive humanities?

    On Mon, Apr 28, 2003 at 07:40:57AM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group (by way
    of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
    > 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.

    I have delved deeper than most into the gory details of programming
    and software design, and I must say that I am not familiar with the
    degrading effect you describe. The technology is forever leading me
    back to the fundamental questions of humanistic inquiry.

    I was led into humanities computing because I began to realize that
    teaching computers to read and manipulate text amounted to the
    instantiation of a critical reading strategy; that code was the
    narrative specification of an idea about the text; and that the
    apparently unhumanistic details of engineering put forth powerful
    metaphors for rhetoric and the hermeneutical process. As a result,
    in my own research, building things has become almost inextricable
    from theorizing abouthem. I am forever encouraging my students to
    take off their gloves and get deep into the machine. The fact that
    I am teaching humanists schooled in the habits of mind requisite for
    humanistic study makes wholesale abandonment a fairly rare event.

    I cannot believe that I am an anomaly -- my anecdotal experience
    from working with others on this list would suggest that the
    experience is, in fact, quite common. But perhaps we are speaking
    of a less decisive degradation. There can be no question that
    "going deep into the machine" takes many years of fairly intense
    training. There may not be time (in the life of most graduate
    students) to go deep into the machine *and* the cultural artifacts
    which prompted that going, but, like most scholarly projects, this
    is a lifetime (rather than merely a curricular) endeavor for which
    one surely has world enough and time.


    Stephen Ramsay
    Assistant Professor
    Department of English
    University of Georgia
    email: sramsay@uga.edu
    web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/
    PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11

    --[5]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2003 06:53:54 +0100 From: "Aimée Morrison" <aimee.morrison@ualberta.ca> Subject: RE: 16.641 the consumptive humanities?

    greetings, all.

    willard, you've raised the great debate about how 'expert' we need to be to do our humanities computing in as nuanced and careful a manner as we do our more straightforwardly humanistic work. ahh, the great question of mastery. but i think you might have begun to answer it with your subsequent musing on 'trust.' 'trust,' you suggest, is a key factor in our relationship to our tools, humanistic or computational, and i want to pick up on that.

    [pardon me if i indulge in the second person construction -- i'm trying to think this through using a particular example, and willard, bravely as usual, seems to have volunteered.]

    the oxford latin dictionary you trust: you are happy to be, simply, a user of this resource. we may well chafe at the idea that to use this resource in the pursuit of research is 'simple,' or 'simplistic.' after all, a certain expert knowledge is required to unlock from it its secrets. do not underestimate the learning that goes into proper dictionary use. still, this is a limited or directed literacy: to interrogate the nature of its bindings (materialist study of the book notwithstanding) in this instance is counterproductive to the task at hand, most tasks at humanist hand, presumably some sort of scholarship in which precise latin is necessary. the dictionary is a necessary tool to the job at hand, as a hammer to a nail, it is as instrumental as it is vital -- and it is largely invisible as itself.

    surely, to write one's own dictionary in this case would be overkill.

    and thus, i think, (for example), with microsoft access for the relational database, or even microsoft word. i've written a text editor of my own, and let me tell you, it didn't get my essays written any faster or better. along with another respondent, i'm tickled pink at any humanist who can wrap their minds around relational databasing as *concept*, and acquire a sort of minimal competence with an IDE. this is not a trivial affair. i recently lost a week of my life trying to build a simple little database of organ music citations -- and that was using access.

    surely, to write my own relational database without this help would be overkill.

    so i ask: why are some of our research resources trustworthy and other are not? another related question: why trust book-tools more than computing tools? is this a matter of some sort of will to technical power? an overcompensation for an inequal geekishness/bookisness balance in our training? a matter of corporate versus academic provenance? *who* and *what* do we trust, and *why*?

    i'm looking forward to the rest of this conversation.

    thanks, aimée [ <- i hope my name comes out right ...]

    . ++++++++++++++++++++++++ Aimée Morrison Office: 3-66 Humanities Ctr. PhD Candidate, Dept. of English Phone: (780) 492-2432 University of Alberta Fax: (780) 492-8102 T6G 2E5 Email: ahm@ualberta.ca

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." -- Hunter S. Thompson

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