19.723 the digital humanities and the digital arts

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 06:59:13 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 723.
       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> (37)
         Subject: Re: 19.721 why the (digital) humanities need the
                 (digital) arts

   [2] From: Geoffrey Rockwell <georock_at_mcmaster.ca> (35)
         Subject: Research/Creation in the Arts

   [3] From: "Matt Kirschenbaum" <mkirschenbaum_at_gmail.com> (54)
         Subject: Liu and Tabbi at Maryland

   [4] From: sramsay_at_uga.edu (55)
         Subject: Re: 19.718 the arts of humanities computing, the
                 criticism of software

         Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 06:16:45 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.721 why the (digital) humanities need the
(digital) arts


The discussion of the importance of digital arts and digital humanities is
coinciding with a discussion I am having among community groups about how to
effectively translate a project or community "experience" to the digital world.


It highlights a problem for the community development world that wants
conversations to happen at a local level and at the same time be available to a
global community. It seems to me that documentation of a project or success
story is not enough, to complete the community engagement process. I should
point out that this discussion is occuring in both digital and non-digital
forms, and by providing the link above, I am only giving the visitor a glimpse
into what is going on in our lunch and coffee meetings.

My argument is that design team ought to begin with the humanitarian
"experience" and work into their computing ways of emulating that experience
with the experience of "surfing the web."

  From a humanist perspective, the analogy I like to use is that of _the
Symposium_. Plato cannot offer us his own real-life experience of drinking,
carousing and coming to agreement with with Socrates on the issue of love, so
he does his best to make the reading of _the Symposium_ emulate the experience
of philosophy.

Examples of this would include -- using the "dialogue" form to
indicate multiple
understanding, making Socrates go second-last, using framed narrative to
suggest Socrates' speech has life beyond the party, having Alcibiades affirm in
action what Socrates spoke in theory and so-on. In a way, the action and
details of the symposium are a way of turning the reader toward a philosophical
epiphany, much like the epiphany that probably happened during Plato's many
conversations with Socrates.

So, in conclusion -- with digital artists, humanities computing have the
opportunity not only to bring great philosophy to the world, but also great
"epiphanies." These epiphanies, in turn could create the motivation for users
of well-designed sites to seek epiphanies from whereever those sorts of things
come in the real world. There may be other things digital artists can help
humanists emulate as well -- things like "belonging," or "achievement/success"
or "knowing" or "happiness" -- which, in a sense, are the sorts of things great
texts try to do.

Ryan. . .

Ryan Deschamps

         Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 06:16:24 +0100
         From: Geoffrey Rockwell <georock_at_mcmaster.ca>
         Subject: Research/Creation in the Arts

Dear Willard,

Two comments on the arts of computing.

1. I think a place to start with the critique of software is with the
critique of entertainment software rather than utilitarian software.
Computer games, for example, lend themselves more easily to the
traditions of critique we know. This is not a new idea, games studies
and new media colleagues have been doing that for at least a decade.
That is not to say that the critique of utilitarian software isn't
also interesting, but it is often constrained by the patterns of
consumption of such software. People don't buy a word processor
because they think of it as an aesthetic object and therefore it will
be harder to engage them in such discussions. (Having written that I
realize that often I am swayed by the design of laptops and
software ... perhaps "productivity" software is more of a fashion
industry than I think.)

2. An interesting thread that has institutional support in the UK and
Canada is the idea of Research/Creation as a hybrid form of practice
that integrates social science/humanities research practices with
arts creative practices. SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada) has run two rounds of their pilot
Research/Creation Grants in the Fine Arts. (http://www.sshrc.ca/web/
apply/program_descriptions/fine_arts_e.asp) This is aimed at
university artists (including curators, dance faculty, theatre
faculty, architecture faculty, and music faculty) whose practices
don't fit either the mandate of traditional SSHRC programs or the
programs for "pure" artists. I take it that the idea of Research/
Creation was borrowed from the Arts and Humanities Research Council
of the UK which now seems to be using the wording "practice-led
research". My point is that there seems to be an emerging hybrid area
where creative practices and interpretative practices are woven
together in interesting ways. I can think of examples, but I haven't
seen a good discussion yet of this. (I have ordered Brenda Laurel's
edited book "Design Research: Methods and Perspectives" in the hopes
that it will provide some ideas.)


Geoffrey Rockwell

         Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 06:17:54 +0100
         From: "Matt Kirschenbaum" <mkirschenbaum_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Liu and Tabbi at Maryland

[Apropos of the thread on digital humanities and digital art; anyone
in the area is welcome . . . MGK]

Following a very successful day of discussion on the digital
humanities MITH hosted earlier this semester with Johanna Drucker and
Jerome McGann, please join us for a morning of discussion on
electronic literature. In preparation for the Electronic Literature
Organization's impending move to MITH (www.eliterature.org), two of
the ELO's directors, ALAN LIU (Professor of English, University of
California Santa Barbara) and JOE TABBI (Professor of English,
University of Illinois Chicago) will visit to present talks on the
preservation and collecting of electronic literature, as well as a new
curriculum (at Santa Barbara) to support its teaching.

The talks will take place from 9:30-12:00 on Friday, April 28 in the
McKeldin Special Events room (#6137). The schedule will be as follows:

* ALAN LIU, "Preserving Electronic Literature" (9:30-10:00)

* JOSEPH TABBI, "The Directory of Electronic Literature" (10:00-10:30)

* Discussion with Liu and Tabbi (10:30-11:00)

* Break (11:00-11:15)

* ALAN LIU, "The University of California Transliteracies Project:
Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of
Online Reading" (11:15-12:00)

ALAN LIU, Professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, is one of the most
accomplished theorists in the digital humanities today. He is the
initiator of numerous digital projects, including the Voice of the
Shuttle (http://vos.ucsb.edu/index.asp), the earliest and still the
largest humanities portal on the Web. His most recent book is _The
Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information_
(University of Chicago Press, 2004). JOE TABBI, Professor of English
at University of Illinois Chicago, is the author most recently of
_Cognitive Fictions_ (University of Minnesota Press, 2002) and is the
founding editor of _ebr_ or the _electronic book review_
(http://www.electronicbookreview.com/), which has evolved into an
essential hub for writing and scholarship on new media and electronic

Coming up @MITH, *Tuesday* May 2, 11:00-12:00 : A discussion with
SCOTT McCLOUD, internationally renowned author of _Understanding
Comics_ and _Reinventing Comics_. The discussion is an opportunity to
meet him and discuss his work in a roundtable setting. McCloud will
give the English department's Petrou Lecture that afternoon, at 3:30
in SQH 1120, entitled "Comics as Storytelling." (This is the second of
a two-part Petrou lecture series on New Media Storytelling--author and
artist Shelley Jackson visited earlier in the semester.)

View MITH's complete Spring Speakers Schedule here:


Contact: Neil Fraistat, Acting Director, MITH (www.mith.umd.edu,
mith_at_umd.edu, 5-5896).

Matthew Kirschenbaum
Assistant Professor of English
Acting Associate Director,
Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH)
University of Maryland
301-405-8505 or 301-314-7111 (fax)
         Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 06:17:23 +0100
         From: sramsay_at_uga.edu
         Subject: Re: 19.718 the arts of humanities computing, the 
criticism of software
On Wed, Apr 19, 2006 at 06:52:28AM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group
(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
  > How to do it? Criticism means a critical language in which to
  > interpret, with which to communicate. Software is language-like, but
  > so is poetry, which (as Northrop Frye has pointed out) is as dumb as
  > statues, needs criticism as much as they do. We have critical
  > languages for poetry and statues; we know how to talk them into
  > meaning for us. But what is the critical language of software? Some
  > say it has to be a mathematical language, though we don't yet have
  > the mathematics. What do the makers say?
This reminds of something Willard wrote in an article a few years
ago, in which he urged us to "ask in the context of computing what
can (and must) be known of our artefacts, how we know what we know
about them and how new knowledge is made."
It seems to me that there are several registers at which we might
speak of software.  Much work has been devoted to the analysis of
digital interfaces, and that is certainly one way to construct a
language (perhaps one that tries to do for digital interfaces what
Christopher Alexander's *A Pattern Language* did for architecture, and
later for object-oriented design).
Software engineering is another register, and it has its own
critical vocabulary (as well as competing schools).
There is a mathematical language that underlies computation, though
"mathematics" is too broad a term.  "Discrete mathematics" comes
closer to the mark, though I don't think it's a critical vocabulary
in the way that these others are.  It describes the ways and means
of discrete structures, and it lies at the root of computation,
but it's a descriptive vocabulary.  One does not reason about
algorithms in the same way that one reasons about a work of art (or
even the "design" of a system).
What fascinates me, though, is the way all software development and
design converges upon certain fundamental structures and methods.  I
can think of few things in computing that are more beautiful than
the eval loop in Lisp, the quicksort algorithm, the Boids algorithm
from AL . . .  And in my teaching, I find myself wanting to go
beyond the particulars of languages, operating systems, interfaces,
and frameworks into these fundamental matters.  But how does one
approach these as a humanist?
Perhaps this is a non-question (or worse, a category error), but I
suspect there might be a critical vocabulary for software that can
exist alongside the more practical vocabularies of how to do x in
polynomial time.
After all, most of the terms we use to describe, say, English
prosody, are descriptive in nature.  How, then, does this vocabulary
(dumb as statues) arrange itself into critical discourse?  What's
the difference between pointing to enjambment or metonymy and doing
literary criticism?
Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Georgia
email: sramsay_at_uga.edu
web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
Received on Fri Apr 21 2006 - 02:18:58 EDT

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