9.255 humanities & software

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Wed, 25 Oct 1995 21:44:50 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 255.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: flannagan@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu (30)
Subject: thoughts on software

[2] From: "Malcolm Hayward, English, IUP, Indiana PA (9)
Subject: Re: 9.252 humanities computing software

[3] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca> (48)
Subject: humanities computing software

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 07:24:20 -0400
From: flannagan@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu
Subject: thoughts on software

Ohio University Electronic Communication
From: Roy Flannagan Dept: English
FLANNAGAN Tel No: 614 593-2829

....The project at UVa
sounds promising, but the graphic model of drawing circles around
patches of text bothers me a little, as do "note-pad" interfaces: it's
messy enough on paper when one is grading student themes, and it varies
from copy-editor to copy-editor. I like hot-keys linked to
definitions, still images, video-clips, sound-bites. I would like to
see every word in the text linked to the largest of OED databases (for
Renaissance English poetry at least) and linked to a database of Ian's
Lancashire's Renaissance dictionaries, and linked to a specific
database of allusions, so that one could get the whole passage alluded
to, if it were an allusion to Ovid, in Latin and English from the Loeb
edition, or in Golding's or Sandys's translation, with notes. A
biblical allusion, ultimately, would have the passage under discussion
in the Vulgate's Latin, plus Greek, Aramaic, Chaldaic, whatever. The
layers get deeper and deeper, and I am talking about depth of meaning
as compared with deep BS.

Another type of layering might be built on associations within the
works of the same author which might again be linked to allusions. On
the SHAKSPER list, someone just made the very poignant connection
between Shylock's famous "Hath a Jew eyes" speech and that of Emilia's
quiet but eloquent defense of wives with bad husbands, which itself
might echo Medea's in Euripides's play.

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 12:11:52 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Malcolm Hayward, English, IUP, Indiana PA 15705"
Subject: Re: 9.252 humanities computing software

Thinking about the possibilities of layered text: one of my
projects for the upcoming year is designing a translation course
(masters level, housed in the English department). Maybe someone
has mentioned translation in this context? I haven't read all the
messages on layered text--but as I visualize it, layered text might
be a really interesting way to display a source text and a translation,
or a source and multiple translations. Or a text, translation, and
intermediary commentary. Problem is, I don't have a real clear idea
of what that layered text would actually LOOK like on a screen.
Malcolm Hayward

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 21:32:30 -0400
From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: humanities computing software

It is encouraging to see such interest in how we might mirror in software,
with more precision than so far, how we think about text. The meditation in
which I was engaged the other day (when reading a vividly metaphorical
passage from Antonio Damasio's book on neuropsychiatry) involved quite a
vivid visual image of transparent or semi-transparent layers over the
text-layer. What I realised then was how important visualizations can be to
help bring together in the mind what one is thinking. Nothing shockingly new
in that, but I suppose that truths don't wear out, we just forget about them
temporarily. In any case, with proper use of such layers and perhaps colour,
one could demonstrate visually the density of some textual phenomena --
better, more accurately than a 2-dimensional piece of paper will allow.

I'm glad to hear about IATH's super software, but on checking out the URL
that John Merritt Unsworth provided, to
I find that it is for the X-windows environment, which effectively stops
me cold. Sure, I can get to an X-environment, but not on my home machine,
where all my important work (such as it is) is done. So I for one would
encourage IATH to develop its tools on more commonplace equipment. Yes, I
had the same complaint for Xerox's NoteCards, a brilliant piece of work
that (I hear) inspired HyperCard. Pity that the majority of people who
could have put it to excellent use have never seen it, perhaps never even
heard of it.

In other words, I am advocating here what a good friend has called the
"garden-variety humanist" approach to software development. Let us aim our
development at the ordinary scholar. It is from him or her that we will get
the most useful intelligence about where to direct computing.

R. B. Hardy's remark, that "I find the layering idea fascinating, for it
seems to me to represent something of the way my mind works when I muse
and meander over possibilities, both real life and in the fiction I
write" points to what the whole exercise is about. I keep recalling the
title of Vannevar Bush's article, "As we may think", though I sometimes
mis-remember it, "How we may think". Mary Dee Harris noted cogently that
"Software design essentially defines how we think about the concepts of
computing!... So we need to discuss the concepts of humanities research
in order to evaluate and propose humanities software. The software
interface determines the way we use (and think about) the processing,
which is really backwards from the way we as scholars would want it to
be." In other words, we return again through software to the essential
meta-problems of research in the humanities -- and social sciences.

Allow me to observe, however, that never before had I ever thought about a
layered structure for notes, just as I never used 3x5 cards for research
until I began to simulate them on the computer. So, I guess it is a return
that is not a return, and at the point that Eliot's Four Quartets threaten
to surface and force me into straight quotation, I must exit!


Willard McCarty, Centre for Computing in the Humanities
Departments of Classical Studies and Italian Studies (Toronto)
(416) 978-3974 voice (416) 978-6519 fax mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca