18.336 questions for the community

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 2004 06:46:22 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 336.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 05 Nov 2004 06:33:34 +0000
         From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: academia electronica

Dear Humanists,

I've been doing some research for a paper, and would appreciate your
feedback on some questions I have for the community. These questions
are intended not only for people interested in humanities computing
but also for those who find that currently available electronic
resources (including weblogs as discussion tools, for example) are
*not* useful to them. If you wish to pass this on to colleagues who
would be amenable to answering, I'd very much appreciate it; they are
welcome to respond to me directly at vika--wordsend-org (substitute
all dashes with appropriate punctuation). The questions aren't in any
particular order and do not have a unifying agenda; I'm trying to
tackle a series of different issues.

Disclosure: if some of the questions seem to imply a hidden agenda or
a presumed correct answer, that is not my intention. My premise is
rather uncontroversial (or is it?): the use of technology to
communicate and collaborate in the humanities is spreading, but
slowly. Too slowly, in my view, especially amongst the many humanists
who still don't view the network or computing as a useful tool. I
want to find out why, what makes people tick with regard to various
forms of available communication, what puts them off. There are easy
general answers -- not enough time in the day, learning curve doesn't
make a particular technology worth it, the tenuous relationship of
work performed on the network to tenure reviews, etc. I'd like to get
some more personal and specific answers that aren't covered by the
above, or even ones that contradict the above.

1. Do you use a personal weblog for your work?
    1a. If yes, and you have reasons beyond the obvious (place to put my
thoughts, get feedback, treat it as personal workshop), what are they?
   How important is the aesthetics of your weblog to you? How important
is the functionality (diversity and substance of tools your weblog
uses to allow/encourage participation from readers)? Whose needs are
primary in considering the aesthetics and functionality of your blog:
yours, or the audience's?
    1b. If no _and you otherwise use computers and the internet a lot
for work_, why not weblog? ("can't be bothered to learn how" is
perfectly valid, as is any other reasoning)

2. Do you read others' academic weblogs?
    2a. If yes, how important is the blog's aesthetic feel? (If the
text is hard on your eyes, are you more likely to skip large swathes
of it, regardless of your level of interest in the author's thoughts,
or do you persevere?) How important is its functionality? (Do you use
a syndication feed aggregator? When a particular feed chokes, do you
contact the blog's author and alert them? Are you more or less likely
to read a weblog that doesn't allow for comments?)
    2b. If no, is there a reason for it other than lack of time?

3. Do you see generations in the evolution of humanities computing?
Are there things, issues, tools that you consider to be tacit
knowledge in the field generally, useful in *any* application of
computing to *any* humanities subject? If you were introducing an
interested colleague or student to humanities computing as a field,
would you present any set of concepts and/or skills as tacit knowledge
that they should acquire? What are a few items you would include in
this set?

4. Do you see apprenticeship as gaining any ground in humanities
computing? If so, why aren't we calling it apprenticeship? Is
"research assistant" always "apprentice"? If you said yes to question
3 above, what do you see as the general trends of interaction between
generations of humanities computing scholars, including students?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Vika Zafrin
Director, Virtual Humanities Lab
Brown University Box 1942
Providence, RI 02912 USA
Received on Fri Nov 05 2004 - 01:56:11 EST

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