18.534 material culture of humanities computing?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 09:46:47 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 534.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 09:37:51 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: material culture of humanities computing

I'd appreciate some help thinking through what seems to me a central
problem of humanities computing -- its material culture, and how this comes
to be communicated and known.

Many of us spend our time crafting objects of knowledge -- "epistemic
things", as they've been called in science studies. The literature on this
topic is current and growing, e.g. Lorraine Daston, ed., Biographies of
Scientific Objects (Chicago, 2000); Hans-Joerg Rheinberger, Toward a
History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube
(Stanford, 1997). This literature is related to the wider topic of material
culture, whose discussion is much older. But so far consideration of
software objects is minimal. Michael Mahoney has discussed the
historiographic problem for computing and for technology. I think we need
to take up this topic and consider it from our own perspective -- for
political as well as intellectual reasons.

Let's take the normal case for the field: collaborative design,
construction and publication of a digital tool or resource in the
humanities. It seems quite clear to me that the resulting object is an
epistemic thing, product of intellectual work and so a piece of research,
and that it needs to be considered along with all the other products that
universities identify as their central work. It also seems clear to me that
at its achievable best, collaborative work involving humanities computing
is inseparably so -- that in those cases it is misleading if not entirely
false to talk about techie bits as opposed to scholarly bits. Nevertheless,
the partial detachment of means from ends that makes humanities computing
possible and that is implicit in computing more generally requires that in
reflecting on these objects we extract the specifically humanities
computing aspects of them. Furthermore, for the field to progress as well
as possible, such reflection, in the form of written prose, is imperative.



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Received on Fri Jan 28 2005 - 04:55:21 EST

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