18.675 effects of discovery

From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_KCL.AC.UK>
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 2005 16:27:14 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 675.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Pat Galloway <galloway_at_ischool.utexas.edu> (5)
         Subject: Re: 18.674 effects of discovery?

   [2] From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com> (53)
         Subject: Re: [humanist] 18.674 effects of discovery?

         Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 06:00:15 +0100
         From: Pat Galloway <galloway_at_ischool.utexas.edu>
         Subject: Re: 18.674 effects of discovery?

Well, of course. This is happening in archival science, where what once
seemed real theory is now seen (in the light of digital objects) as
paper-centric practice. This is a pretty Goedelian observation overall...
Pat Galloway
School of Information
University of Texas-Austin

         Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 06:01:49 +0100
         From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: [humanist] 18.674 effects of discovery?

Hi Willard,

You write:

> My question is this: in what sense, if at all, can we say that because of
> computing we are now with respect to our artifacts of study in much the
> same analytical situation? Is it plausible that we might be?

With regard to literary studies (but perhaps this is more generally
applicable), yes, I think it is. Further, it seems that our situation
isn't the first time since the Renaissance that this has happened. It
was through one of your posts, I think, that I discovered Michael
Mahoney's writing about Henry Ford and his approach to machines.* It
makes sense Ford's innovative approach-cum-business-model** came so
late in the industrial revolution: machines themselves seemed to give
him ideas. First they had to be constructed, then they (and his own
powers of observation) informed Ford of the utilitarian possibilities.

Classification systems are utilitarian, yet literary studies have been
historically based largely on emotional response. (Wonder if I'm
opening up a can of worms with that one. I take it as a given, but
don't actually know whether there's a consensus with regard to
objectivity in literary criticism.) Now that we have computation
available, we're finding it useful to look at larger bodies of
artifacts than before. Some corpora are bound to include artifacts
originally created in different mediums, and new classification
schemes are bound to arise from this.

* http://www.princeton.edu/~mike/brevard.htm and other writings linked
from his home page
** If I understand it correctly, it can be summarized as putting
together tinkering with machines on one hand, and an awareness of who
will use your product, how and why on the other.

> If so, is
> there evidence that our folkcritical ideas (e.g. about literary genres,
> historical events, prosopographical patterns or musical sequences),
> confronting the much larger array of source material than has been possible
> before, show themselves to be inadequate and thus force us to think in
> terms of altogether different structures?

I think it's a matter of individual approach and of time. Eventually,
yes, the fields of humanities are bound to be forced to think in
different structures. But before that happens, humanities computing
must become a more substantial presence in the daily lives of
individual researchers. This is part of the reason for which I'm so
excited for the VHL* texts to show people our code (any day now) and
let them look at it, think about it, play with it. Insights will
surely arise out of that process, and will lead to new ways of
thinking: we've already proven it to ourselves on a small scale, it
just has to propagate.

*See URL below.


Vika Zafrin
Director, Virtual Humanities Lab
Brown University Box 1942
Providence, RI 02912 USA
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Received on Mon Apr 04 2005 - 11:27:13 EDT

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