21.325 pigeonholes (or cages)

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 07:35:03 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 325.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "richard frank" <richard.frank_at_utoronto.ca> (76)
         Subject: RE: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

   [2] From: "Anna Bentkowska" <anna.bentkowska_at_kcl.ac.uk> (12)
         Subject: RE: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

   [3] From: "Tannenbaum, Robert S." <rst_at_email.uky.edu> (30)
         Subject: Re: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

   [4] From: Matt Jensen <mattj_at_newsblip.com> (22)
         Subject: Re: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

         Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 07:26:03 +0000
         From: "richard frank" <richard.frank_at_utoronto.ca>
         Subject: RE: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

While working well outside the profession, (though in the commercial
peripheries of such tasks i.e. marketing research) --
I've always thought of digital humanities as being something like:

"The synthesis of natural and artificial intelligence for the purposes of
mining and modeling the archives of human thought".

This of course is broad enough to mean whatever you want it to mean, but
certaintly sounds more attractive then "using computers to crunch subjective

Rick Frank
CEO, Dufferin Research

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Humanist Discussion Group
> [mailto:humanist_at_Princeton.EDU] On Behalf Of Humanist
> Discussion Group (by way of Willard
> McCarty<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>)
> Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:29 AM
> To: humanist_at_Princeton.EDU
> >
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 323.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/hum
> anist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2007 07:10:07 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> Subject: the Pigeonhole Problem
> Yesterday I spent a delightful and enlightening time talking to an IT
> instructor and an historian in a local public school about
> establishing a relationship between this school and my department.
> The IT instructor confirmed my sense that students in the UK system
> (which streams its students rather narrowly) tend simply to go from
> their major subject in school straight into the corresponding
> department in university. They choose what they know, and they know
> what to choose by the familiar label which each subject carries. So,
> he pointed out, the digital humanities needs a pigeonhole, and the
> pigeonhole requires its tag. The historian asked me to tell him what
> "digital humanities" signifies in at most two sentences. I came up
> with one: "It trains students to think with and against the
> computer". What would be your sentence?
> The problem with our kind, or with my kind of our kind, is our love
> for complexity, for difficulty, for problems challenging enough to
> give us the cognitive exercise we crave. As David Hilbert said in his
> famous lecture of 1900, we need problems "difficult in order to
> entice us, yet not completely inaccessible, lest it mock at our
> efforts". But he also quoted some "old French mathematician": "A
> mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have
> made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you
> meet on the street." The latter is the real challenge. Indeed, I'd
> say that you can't rest until you can explain the subject you teach,
> and/or in which you do your research, to schoolboys and girls. Name
> that pigeonhole!
> The lamentable fact is not that students need it but that our
> colleagues do also, and many of them lost their curiosity many years
> ago. The blinkering effect of disciplinary training is a hard lesson
> to learn. But perhaps if we get our pigeonhole appealingly labelled,
> the path which students beat to our door will lead blinkered
> colleagues from what they can see to what they cannot.
> Name that pigeonhole!
> Yours,
> WM
> Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
> Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
> http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum
> (Fludd 1617, p. 26).

         Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 07:26:48 +0000
         From: "Anna Bentkowska" <anna.bentkowska_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: RE: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

Dear Willard,

I think a cage rather than a pigeonhole is needed to address this problem.

The label, Digital Humanities, is a dinosaur. It was introduced by those who
remember how research was conducted in the pre-digital era. The dinosaur
needs to return where it belongs. I'm not surprised the label is meaningless
to most students. Equally meaningless are titles such as 'New Media Readers'
by MIT etc. that include pre-Turing authors. Once we realise the dinosaur is
extinct, we may happily return to the healthy old-fashioned subject
taxonomies, and start afresh with the HUMANITIES (rather than Digital
Humanities), ART HISTORY (rather than Digital Art History), etc.

Anna Bentkowska-Kafel
An analogue/digital art historian

         Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 07:27:35 +0000
         From: "Tannenbaum, Robert S." <rst_at_email.uky.edu>
         Subject: Re: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem


Although I am no longer deeply involved in humanities computing, I am
almost daily involved in using my computer to assist me in my studies
and teaching of Civil Liberties. Here is my "pigeonhole" sentence:

Humanities computing trains students to use the power of computing to
enable inquiries in the humanities that by hand and brain alone would
be too difficult or time-consuming to be feasible, thus opening major
new vistas on our disciplines and ourselves.



Robert S. Tannenbaum, Ed.D.

Associate Director, Undergraduate
Studies http://www.uky.edu/eureka
Undergraduate Studies
Kaleidoscope http://www.uky.edu/kaleidoscope
                            114 Bowman Hall
Principal Investigator,
AMSTEMM http://www.uky.edu/AMSTEMM
     University of Kentucky
(859) 257 -
5644 (voice)
                                       Lexington, KY 40506-0059
(859) 257 - 8734 (fax)
http://www.uky.edu/~rst (home page)
rst_at_uky.edu (e-mail)

I have no illusions that my pacifist views are going to prevail, none
at all. But every great change in expanding the dimensions of human
freedom has come from very small original beginnings: somebody said
"no." -- Steve Cary (1916 - 2002)

         Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 07:28:28 +0000
         From: Matt Jensen <mattj_at_newsblip.com>
         Subject: Re: 21.323 the Pigeonhole Problem

>The historian asked me to tell him what "digital humanities"
>signifies in at most two sentences.

Two sentences?

1. When you want to browse for a book, isn't Amazon much better than a
paper-based card catalog?

2. Now imagine having other tools, as powerful as Amazon, that help us
with actually *using* the book; reading, interpreting, and
understanding it.

That's a rough draft. I think such exercises in crafting an elevator
pitch are very important.

By the way, this challenge reminds me of a question that's popular in
job interviews at Google. "Explain a database in three sentences to
your eight-year-old nephew." If you put that phrase into Google, you
will find suggested answers from many people. For example: "A database
is a way of organizing information. It's like a genie who knows where
every toy in your room is. Instead of hunting for certain toys
yourself and searching the whole room, you can ask the genie to find
all your toy soldiers, or only X-Men action figures, or only race cars
-- anything you want."

Matt Jensen
Received on Wed Oct 31 2007 - 02:58:38 EST

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