5.0122 Rs: Disappearance of Humanities Computing - 2 (4/158)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 5 Jun 91 16:13:33 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0122. Wednesday, 5 Jun 1991.

(1) Date: Wed, 5 Jun 1991 07:26 EST (75 lines)
From: Prof Norm Coombs <NRCGSH@RITVAX>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(2) Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 10:12:25 EDT (23 lines)
From: Maurizio Lana <LANA@ITOCISI>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(3) Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 11:36:41 EDT (37 lines)
From: Stephen Clausing <SCLAUS@YALEVM>
Subject: Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(4) Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 09:08:25 MST (23 lines)
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 1991 07:26 EST
From: Prof Norm Coombs <NRCGSH@RITVAX>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

Willard asks whether computing humanists are a vanishing breed. In his
discussion, as usual, he raises several thought-provoking questions. In
short, my answer would be "no".

Computing humanists stand at the intersecting point of two disciplines.
Many academic fields have explored such territory previously. It is
always a "no man's land". There is sniping from both sides. That is
the unavoidable price to be paid. However, it also carries its
benefits. Such a person can bring innovative and creative insights into
the cross-discipline and more can bring new ideas into either of the two
disciplines. Being in a position to have unique insights is , for met
at least, exciting. I find it a way to keep a youthful viewpoint on
both academics and life. If I remember my sociology, such persons are
referred to as "the marginal man". This term must have been adapted by
now to compensate for gender, probably marginal persons. Sociology
talked about the peculiar stresses such persons face, but it also
explained that, while they feel at home no where, they also feel at
home, in part at least, in many places.

My impression is that other such marginal fields have come and gone in
popularity and that is normal. A previous dean of mine knew nothing
about computers and felt extremely ashamed and guilty. I was always in
an advantageous relationship with her. I guess I should have been
cynical enough to have exploited it, but I didn't. It did mean she
never hassled me, however.

I think that the computing humanist needs to prepare for a change in
roles. Computing is changing. Two years ago, at the EDUCOM conference,
all the speakers, including the CEOs of several major computer
corporations agreed that no big discovery in computers was on the
horizon but that the big shift was coming in networking and its role in
computing. This fall the EDUCOM conference is being structured around
high speed networking as a major theme.

Those of us using Humanist and other network facilities are already
living in the network world of the future. Many computer users are tied
tightly either to the university mainframe or their desktop. Network
access to global information on almost an instantaneous basis is going
to be a driving force in the computer world for the rest of this decade.
How can that impact computing and the humanities?

I have a bundle of ideas but may well be off the mark. Research in many
fields will increasingly happen with the desktop connected to a network
and utilizing databases anywhere from Toronto, to Oxford, to .......
well who knows? This research will be accessible to both faculty and
students. Classrooms will become connected via local nets to the same
system. I can see a teacher being a kind of guide to information rather
than being a god on the mount speaking forth informational truths. This
will not make us into high tech librarians. Research is always much
more about what question to ask and what to do with the answers you get
than it has been about how to find a book in the stacks. Instead of
spending our time rehearsing the past or describing a classic novel,
we'll talk about underlying analytical questions and tools. We'll then
show hands-on uses of these intellectual tools by probing networked
information and analyzing what comes back.

The next step in humanities computing is not how to do quantitative work
on a text or do desktop publishing of your own research. It will be
finding how to explore such a quantity of global information that we run
the risk of drowning if we cannot approach it with sharpened
intellectual tools. Yes, computing in the humanities may be less sexy
today. Everyone has their word processor and everyone thinks they too
are a computing humanist which is to say the term has no meaning or
value. If I am correct, however, someone is going to have to break
ground in connecting our handy personal research assistant, (desktop
computer) to a world of information which is only now being born.

Norman Coombs
Rochester INstitute of Technology

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------30----
Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 10:12:25 EDT
From: Maurizio Lana <LANA@ITOCISI>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

Any time I read messages from Willard McCarty, I think that he has
something ve ry clever to say, very interesting.

I strongly agree with his statements 3 (completely new 'products' are
coming, n ot simply mimicking their traditional, paper form) and 5
(vanishing barriers be tween faculty and staff).

I think, anyway, that people like Willard and we HUMANISTs won't
disappear: in the same way one need at every step more RAM to be able to
do what he wants. In other words: there will always be more experienced
people helping and advicing the ones less experienced. Perhaps, it will
be more interesting: you won't hav e to explain that one must use KEYB
IT to actually get an italian keyboard layo ut working, and will discuss
about the best method to focus onto some literary problem.

Maurizio Lana
CISI - University of Turin - Via S. Ottavio 20 - 10124 Torino - Italy
Strada del Lauro 47 - 10132 Torino - Italy
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 11:36:41 EDT
From: Stephen Clausing <SCLAUS@YALEVM>
Subject: Humanities Computing Disappearing?

As usual, Willard gave an insightful accounting of the current state of
Humanities Computing. Yes, I think this field is disappearing, but I
also agree that the hand wringing can get very tiresome, therefore let
me propose some concrete action to remedy the situation. First, a
little more complaining: I just spent the last year applying to 53
positions in foreign languages without any positive results. To be
sure, I came close to one job, but that university ended up hiring a
person with no programming skills. The person did, however, have an
extensive background in education and administration. It is clear that
few universities are interested in Humanities Computing as a faculty
position and the exceptions are looking for "traditional" people to
manage the existing software. In my case, I have already been appointed
to a lecturer position in the CS dept. here at Yale to help develop a
program of Humanities Computing, but note that such a position is
low-payed, without any prestige, and worst of all, liable to be cut at
any time. Without wishing to sound arrogant, if this can happen to me,
given my record, there is little hope for employment in this area. In
fact, I couldn't bring myself to look at the April MLA job list.
Basically, I just gave up.

So much for my own hand wringing. What should be done? I believe
Humanist needs to take a more active role in the fate of its untenured
members. Part of the problem of Humanities Computing is that it is
invisible to most members of Academia. Our colleagues do not read
Humanist and do not concern themselves with computers beyond simple word
processing. Quite simply, candidates applying for jobs need letters of
support from the Humanist community. They need phone calls to chairman
on their behalf. They need people at the local university lobbying for
their cause. What I am saying is that we have to make ourselves heard.
We have to become "political". We have to make our colleagues
understand that we exist and our field is important. The alternative is
that we will not exist, and we will not be important. Thus
ends today's tirade.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------29----
Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 09:08:25 MST
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

I don't think there is any such thing as Humanities Computing (capitals
added), any more than there is any such thing as Humanities Pencils.
Computers are tools. Sure, they get put to different uses in
different areas, but so does any tool - why should computers be viewed
as qualitatively different? Shall we then have Art Computing and
Science Computing and Physical Education Computing and so on?

Most humanists at my campus know how to do basic word processing and
little else. We are trying very hard to move them into the world
of electronic communications to supplement the word processing. But
very few of them have any intrinsic interest in computers - they never
did, and they are unlikely to change. So I don't see any historical
movement from a pre-occupation with the technology to indifference.

Sorry, Willard; I just don't see anything significant here.

Historian, Data Center Associate
Boise State University DUSKNOX@IDBSU.IDBSU.EDU