18.749 beyond being dubious and gloomy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 07:10:16 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 749.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca> (108)
         Subject: On becoming "T-Shaped" Computing Humanists

   [2] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com> (126)
         Subject: Re: 18.743 beyond being dubious and gloomy

         Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 06:58:12 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: On becoming "T-Shaped" Computing Humanists

There exists an interesting case study that pertains to the discussion of
becoming a "polymath" and the ideas and importance of developing "go-to"
people for expertise in the particulars of a discipline.

McKinsey & Company:Managing Knowledge and Learning in Bartlett, C.,
Ghoshal, S. & Birkinshaw, J. _Transnational Management: texts, cases and
readings in cross-border management_ pps. 484.

Broadly, the issue is that McKinsey found so much success and so much
demand for their consultation services that their consultants became
"generalists" to the point that they were often not very helpful in
addressing particular client needs. The solution was a knowledge
management system, that involved encouraging consultants to publish, posted
journals and a metaphor that described the goal of "t-shaped"
consultation. Meaning that the consultant should have a good general
understanding of all areas of management, but at the same time develop an
expertise in one. That way, when the company had a "go-to" person for each

This, of course, goes back to an earlier topic that addressed the idea of
disciplinarity and my argument that "expertise" should have more to do with
the "expert" than it does with the "expertise." In practical terms, it
reminds me that as a library intern, I would tell many graduate students in
interdisciplinary courses to forgo the database for a while -- hit the
encyclopedias to find the "experts" in the field and then steal citiations
until they have a good understanding of what the "classic" writers
are. Then you use the database to fill in the gaps.

So, going back to the dubious journal problem -- I don't think we can stop
this problem, but we can develop communities that can understand the "whos"
of humanities computing, and advise others of the same.

Ryan. ..

Quoting "Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>)" <willard_at_LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 743.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2005 07:10:07 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> Vika Zafrin, in Humanist 18.741, extracts and highlights Alexandre
> Enkerli's point that humanities computing appears to require the impossible
> from us: that we all become omni-competent polymaths. As a field defined by
> its interdisciplinary perspective on all the humanities, given mandate to
> converse intelligently with them all and to engage with their work on a
> rather deep level, his point seems inescapable. A very few of us may like
> to have a go at being Leibniz (a polymath if there ever was one), but even
> if a few (*very* few) emerge from the attempt with reputations intact, the
> model is clearly not sustainable. We don't want a field with one or two
> wizards in it -- snake-oil salesmen more like -- and everyone else hiding
> behind rocks. A far better way forward, I think, is the one Vika talks
> about. We can, and perhaps should, rail against the blinkered view of the
> world that disciplinary specialization enforces, but the practical question
> remains: what do we, can we, do about the situation?
> The only response that makes sense to me might be called the Braveheart
> solution -- minus the gory ending, and with all in the ragtag crowd
> bravehearts. (A pause while you envision the scene....) It seems to me that
> we need to move our idea of competence from the individual to the group and
> that this actually can be done by making conversations, such as this one
> and many others on Humanist, a top priority in our professional lives. Of
> course one cannot put into one's c.v. something like the following....
> 2005. "being Leibniz or talking about it?". Humanist 18.745, replying to
> Humanist 18.741 and replied to by Humanist 18.749, 753, 761.
> For one thing, the contribution could be utter tripe. Rather, time spent
> like this is, in the idiom of the day, an investment in our common future.
> But perhaps more significantly, this move toward the group -- by autonomous
> individuals, bravehearts all -- can be made by changing how we regard our
> publications, and so how we use the mechanisms of publication. The core
> idea is not to make Humanist like Critical Inquiry, even less like one of
> the books by one of its distinguished authors, rather to make our articles
> and books more like Humanist. To write them, with all our strength, as
> competently as we are able, but to regard them as contributions to a long
> conversation ("Of shoes -- and ships -- and ceiling wax -- / Of cabbages --
> and kings -- / And why the sea is boiling hot -- / And whether pigs have
> wings"). Not like monuments against time.
> The poem does go on, I know:
> >"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
> >"Before we have our chat;
> >For some of us are out of breath,
> >And all of us are fat!"
> >"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
> >They thanked him much for that.
> and, you may recall the Oysters get eaten! But then, time is short, contra
> the Carpenter's patience.
> Too utopian?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> [NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend]
> 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/

Ryan Deschamps
MLIS/MPA Expected 2005

         Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 06:58:59 +0100
         From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com>
         Subject: Re: 18.743 beyond being dubious and gloomy

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

I almost answered your latest post replying to Vika, as I had almost
replied to Vika, but then decided to forbear. Mainly because I didn't want
to sound snarky. You write, "The core idea is not to make Humanist like
Critical Inquiry, even less like one of the books by one of its
distinguished authors, rather to make our articles and books more like
Humanist." I nod appreciatively; and yet the controversialist in my brain
wants to reply, "What, you want to cooperate, collaborate, exchange with
others with other backgrounds and disciplinary perspectives? And remind me
again, what's stopping you?" See, in some worlds this Utopia is already
happening. They're not perfect worlds (which one is, on this earth?), but
if you go to a venue like Extreme Markup Languages I think you'll find
exactly that kind of community of curious and open-minded intellectuals.
Whether academic or not, these are all people who value such a community's
"collective polymathia" enough to make sometimes extraordinary efforts and
sacrifices to be a part of it. Nor do I have any doubt that this kind of
thing is also happening elsewhere. (Actually -- I happen to know it's
happening in your corner too. Maybe I should regard your exhortations as
that of a coach shouting at us to do more, when we are already running
faster and leaping higher than anyone ever has ... but we sure do sound
unsatisfied don't we?)

Then I come across a HUMANIST post referring to an article in ACM Ubiquity,
wherein I discover that the main problem facing companies in the IT sector
is (surprise!) employee retention. That is, contrary to the notion that
this Brave New World is one where workers are interchangeable parts,
commodities to be switched in and out as soon as an offshore vendor offers
replacement units at a better price point, it turns out that our
complicated machines are all stitched and held together with threads and
glue of human know-how. And know-how is a most precious stuff, whose great
price is due to the fact that no one has yet figured out how to automate
its ongoing maintenance ("human resource management" systems
notwithstanding), to say nothing of its production.

So, in that article Tadwalkar and Sen write

>What DO employees want?
>The basic simple truth is every human being needs to be valued. Whether an

>employee or a friend or a family member 97 when a contribution is made 97

>recognition is what one seeks. And fairness is what one demands. Thus,
>when a member of the corporate family is putting in nine hours a day 97 he

>has some expectation that supersedes the salary cheque at the end of the
>month. He wants to belong 97 and to know that he matters and actually makes
>a difference. He needs that umbilical cord of connection to the
>organization 97 to communicate and be communicated with 97 and to know that
>his ideas thoughts and creativity do matter.

In other words, the IT industry is founded and sustained by human culture,
and by particular cultures' respective abilities to make room for and
nurture their members (whether that be at the level of the team, the
corporation, the department, professional society or what have you).

This strikes me as echoing the gloomy doubt you want to go beyond. In the
smaller world of "Humanities Computing" we also rediscover how important is
the human element: our most plaintive laments are not concerned with the
progress of our research, but with those less tangible problems of how and
with whom we communicate. (Ten years ago we wanted to know how to make our
SGML into HTML, and how to participate in meaningful dialogue with our
non-computing peers. We are no longer asking the first question.)
"Recognition is what one seeks. And fairness is what one demands."
Likewise, consider what is happening as many of our electronic projects
begin to show their age, and we find (as is also being discovered in
industry) that non-proprietary encoding standards such as XML and HTML are
not in themselves enough to guarantee an online project's accessibility in
perpetuity, if (say) we have to move it to a new server, while the original
architect is long gone and never did leave very good notes. What do we have
to fall back on in such a case besides human know-how? (And why didn't we
treat her better when we had her?) Consequently we discover that our
problems, and their remedies, are not so new and different. Far from making
  the human element obsolete, these complicated machines depend on it.

If this comes as news to us, I submit that it's not because we don't
understand and recognize how deeply enmeshed in each other are society and
technology. Rather, I think the blind spot is much closer to home, in that
humanities disciplines have long been constituted, and structured
institutionally (as has been observed many times on HUMANIST), as preserves
for solitary scholars, while our work shows more than ever how dependent we
are on the various talents of many. Accordingly, nominal and actual
qualifications for the work are at variance, and incentives and rewards go
badly out of synch with what we actually need from each other (with fake
conference papers and fake conferences at which to deliver them being a
result). If we can resolve *that* stress, it will ease many of our pains
along with it.

So I applaud your "Braveheart solution", and acknowledge that we have
nothing to lose but our shackles and chains. On the other hand, I protest,
all around us (if we only look) we see the will, ingenuity, know-how. The
siege may be long, but Everyman-as-hero is already standing with us.


Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
    Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
Received on Thu Apr 28 2005 - 02:34:50 EDT

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