18.615 Computers and the Humanities 1966-2004

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 5 Mar 2005 09:20:56 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 615.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

Dear colleagues:

Many of you will have seen the editors' statement in CHum 38.4 (2004) that
after 38 years of continuous publication the journal is being terminated
and that a new journal, Language Resources and Evaluation, is to replace
it. After a brief chronology of the field, from Joseph Raben's founding act
in 1966 to now, they conclude with the following statement:

"For most of its history, the diversity of disciplines and methodologies
represented in CHum's articles enabled cross-fertilization of ideas which
was highly valued by the community. However, as computer use in the
humanities has come to span an increasingly broad range of activities, and
as computational methodologies evolve and become more sophisticated and
specialized, it has become more and more difficult to retain that diversity
and at the same time provide enough articles relevant to a particular area
of interest." (p. iii)

Possibly a reader constrained by circumstance or inclination to know only
the output and outlook of CHum in recent years would be untroubled by the
mixture of nostalgia, faint regret and all-to-eager acquiescence to the
supposed inevitable that accompanies, like a fleeting aroma, the brisk turn
to the pastures new of Language Resources and Evaluation. Otherwise, I
suspect, the reaction will be astonishment in proportion to the reader's
awareness of what has been happening throughout humanities computing
world-wide. The irony couldn't be sharper. CHum's astonishing denial of a
future for humanities computing comes in the same year as the Blackwell's
Companion to Digital Humanities. In that same year, and more so in this
one, CHum's sister journal, Literary and Linguistic Computing, has remained
several issues behind in its ability to publish the high-quality, refereed
articles CHum's editors profess to be unable to find. One suspects, from
these and many other sources of evidence, that their difficulty lies elsewhere.

Reading chronologically through CHum from the beginning is a salutory
experience, especially for the first 25 years or so. One gains enormous
admiration and respect for Raben's pioneering efforts, for the
combination of energy, determination, deep insight and, above all, vision.
CHum's current editors are quite right that humanities computing has
developed to a remarkable extent since then, but the early history of the
journal demonstrates without question that any evolutionary tale of growth
from narrow beginnings to a broad and diversified present is badly wrong.
If anything, the development of CHum since then suggests rather the
opposite -- a narrowing down from the breadth of humanistic interests,
across the full range of disciplines, to a sharp focus on material often
closer to computational linguistics than anything else -- and often too
technical for all but the specialist to read. This narrowing does not
reflect the field. Witness, again, the Blackwell's Companion, which puts
between two covers a much deepened, considerably more sophisticated survey
of approximately the same territory that Raben and his colleagues stumbled
upon back in 1966.

Fortunately humanities computing is now robust enough to survive the demise
of CHum. If, as I like to say, "computers and the humanities" denotes an
historical phase of doubtful juxtaposition, "computing in the humanities" a
transitional phase of incorporation and "humanities computing" the state of
full and healthy assimilation, then it is indeed time for CHum to be going.
At the same time it is not good for such a healthy and vigorous field to
have only one major international journal. There is not just room for
another to be started. We should regard starting *at least* one new journal
as a project of highest priority for the next two to three years. There can
be no doubt that already sufficient submissions of sufficiently
high-quality work exist to support at least two such journals.

CHum may be gone, but the intellectual spirit that created and sustained it
for so many years is more vigorous than ever. Thank you, Joe.


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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street | London
WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||
willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Sat Mar 05 2005 - 04:36:33 EST

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