19.069 COCH/COSH brief report

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 3 Jun 2005 07:11:08 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 69.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005 07:04:10 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: COCH/COSH brief report

Dear colleagues,

Recently I attended the 2005 conference of the national Canadian
organization for humanities computing, the Consortium for Computers in the
Humanities / le Consortium pour ordinateurs en sciences humaines, at the
University of Western Ontario, London, Ont., http://www.coch-cosh.ca/. My
sole purpose here is to report, albeit impressionistically, on the high
quality of the work being done by its members and the intellectual vigour
of the community they form. Together with the new academic positions
established in the field, across the country from New Brunswick to British
Columbia, the evidence is impressive. Much has happened in humanities
computing in Canada since I left, in 1996.

What struck me most forcibly was that at this conference genuine questions
at the intersection of computing with the humanities were being asked, and
asked well. Just a few of these from my notes.

What happens to a text-based discipline, such as history, when topographic
and numerical modelling become mainstream -- when we notice that our
critical discourse has all along referred to numbers and spaces but not
dealt systematically with how conclusions from them have been formed? What
happens when imaging can no longer be avoided, and those without visual
imaginations (like me) can acquire the prosthetic equivalent? What happens
to the interrelations of scholars, especially in areas directly related to
the country in which they work, not just when distance is no longer such a
problem but when they learn to exercise the various modes of communication
differentially? Collaboration, of machines and minds, resolves into a large
selection of collaborative strategies. What then happens to the questions
they pursue? The new forms of representation, narration and interrogation
result in a rising emphasis on reasoning conjecturally, by the devising of
counterfactuals. These can, of course, be merely foolish, but carefully
done, they can also give the past back to itself, allowing us better to
place ourselves in this or that past moment, when all the possibilities of
what was then the future were unrealized. Such a boost to better
historiography is quite a gift.

One could try for an explanation of the growing strength in Canada by
referring to the emphasis on communication across what Northrop Frye called
"this almost one-dimensional country". I do think there's something to the
dimensionality imposed by the geography of a place and to the qualities of
imagination that each dimensionality fosters. Consider, in contrast, Europe
and Australia, the latter e.g. as David Malouf has considered in his Boyer
Lectures (1998, http://www.abc.net.au/rn/boyers/index/BoyersChronoIdx.htm).
But I wouldn't want to press that to the point of becoming a determinism.
One could speak about some national character or other, with all the usual
caveats, eh? But until we understand a great deal more about how such
rather blurry concepts can be made to do some useful work, I think the
responsibility for what's happening in Canada will have to be borne by the
individuals working there, young and not so young. Good show!

Watch that space.


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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 Fri Jun 03 2005 - 02:17:56 EDT

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