21.422 what product

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2007 09:58:56 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 422.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2007 09:30:06 +0000
         From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com>
         Subject: Re: 21.348 what product?

Dear Willard,

About a month ago, you wrote:
>In a local discussions during the last couple of days, the question
>of what we think students get from studying our subject was raised --
>the hopping-up-and-down question in another form. One context was the
>questioning of external examiners, who in this instance came from
>various disciplines to consider our postgraduate students'
>performance and our assessment of it. The difficulty for them (none
>of whom was from the digital humanities) was in part understanding
>what sort of expectations we could possibly have of the students. A
>more serious because more immediate and prior questioning then took
>place amongst us. Apart from teaching certain practical skills, with
>what sort of cognitive equipment can we say we are equipping them?
>Increasingly, at least in the UK, one not only has to state the
>"learning outcomes", one has to have some way of demonstrating that
>these are at least occasionally realised.
>If one reflects on the fact that MA-level training takes place, in a
>full-time programme, over a single year, what can one hope to
>accomplish? Given no prior exposure to the digital humanities (often
>the case for postgraduates), what would you suppose to be reasonable
>educational goals?

Imagine, for a moment, that the human race had somehow made the
planet unlivable. (I know: this is a stretch.) A combination of
climate instability and poisoning of the biosphere is making land and
ocean uninhabitable. Fortunately for us, however, scientific advances
and technical breakthroughs have combined to make it possible for
humanity to begin colonizing space. On the moon and in orbit, and in
increasingly far-flung missions to other planetary systems, we are
learning to harvest energy and matter from available scrap, dust and
ambient radiation, and create for ourselves livable ecosystems for
hundreds and thousands of people, plants, and creatures of every
description. The engineering of these systems is demanding and
precarious, complex beyond the understanding even of their
originators, and requiring as much art as science. But it is
succeeding to the point where entire generations are now being born
and brought up in other worlds off-earth. Electrical mechanics,
nuclear physics, metallurgy, biology and biochemistry, and sometimes
plumbing (except relying on acceleration as much as on gravity), are
all required for the development and maintenance of these systems.

In such a world, does someone ask whether learning electricity or
metallurgy or biochemistry or astrophysics is really worthwhile, and
not just for their practicality but for themselves -- not just what
they are today, but also what they can be tomorrow?

And when you hire an econautical engineer for your Mars mission, do
you want one for whom your ship is the first microbiosphere, or one
who has helped to build, cultivate and pilot a few in school?

Having imagined this, can you offer an argument for why we should not
suppose we are already in this predicament ... except that the toxins
besetting us include ignorance, hatred and war, and we don't have the
option of retreating into space? Is there any work more vital and
urgent than understanding, developing and building a sustainable
information ecosystem in which the most inclusive possible science,
economy, culture and diplomacy of the future can flourish?

With all best wishes for the holidays,

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 Tue Dec 18 2007 - 05:10:55 EST

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