15.001 HAPPY now we are 14 BIRTHDAY

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Mon May 07 2001 - 04:13:04 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 1.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Mon, 07 May 2001 09:08:31 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: 14

    Dear colleagues:

    A recurrent complaint on Humanist used to be visited upon newcomers who
    would ask questions the older members thought had already been delt with.
    At some point in a discussion following upon such a complaint, one of us
    observed that repetition is a device characteristic of oral cultures, a
    means of maintaining group memory, and that online discussion groups behave
    in several respects like them. Whether that is good anthropology,
    repetition seems necessary here, since people come and go, and for those of
    us who stay much happens in a year and we are apt to forget. Thus my
    apology comes with the sunrise over London.

    Every year at this time custom is, some will remember independently, for me
    to celebrate the birthday of Humanist (b. 7 May 1987) by writing whatever
    comes to mind of a corporately self-reflective nature. We're 14 years old
    now, a venerable age in this medium, like everything else somewhere between
    coming into being and going out of it, "like the swift flight of a single
    sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a
    winter's day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a
    comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or
    snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall
    and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter
    storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the
    wintry world from which he came." Thus a councillor to Edwin, King of
    Northumbria, in 627, encouraging him to convert to Christianity while he
    can (Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation II.13). So, let us
    pass the mead and tell some more stories!

    I do listen to the stories we tell and think we have every reason to be
    cheered when looking up from our plates and cups to take account of the
    feasting. A fair bit of what happens here is of course reporting on the
    newsy bits -- jobs, conferences, publications, project updates -- as a scan
    through vol 14 will show. My impression is of a steady-state, but there are

    The number of adverts for jobs more or less in humanities computing has,
    for example, increased steadily: by my rough count of messages, some
    advertising more than one job, in the 5 years since 1996 (when I got mine
    here) from 14 to 28, 30, then 40 for the last 2 years. Others, major
    academic appointments, are cooking, as yet unadvertised. Diversification
    outside the academy is a very interesting phenomenon. See Humanist 14.0832,
    "job-seeker help at ACH/ALLC", our upcoming professional conference at NYU
    in June, <http://www.nyu.edu/its/humanities/ach_allc2001/>. (Be there or be
    square.) Indeed, we are rapidly reaching the point at which there are not
    enough qualified applicants for advertised jobs in the field -- which
    suggests more than a little urgency to our efforts in (post)graduate
    training. But that, too, is happening. I note with great interest the
    amount of attention being paid to MA programmes at ACH/ALLC
    (<http://www.nyu.edu/its/humanities/ach_allc2001/program.html>), sessions
    4A on 14/6, "MA Programmes for Humanities Computing and Digital Media", and
    9A on 16/6, "A Masters Degree in Digital Humanities at the University of
    Virginia". Mazel tov! But of course much more is needed, including
    discussion here about what we want to go into our programmes, which I
    suspect remains too narrowly conceived. (Like philosophy or history I think
    we can lay claim to a piece of *everything* :-)

    Evident on Humanist and at ACH/ALLC is the rapid increase in attention to
    computing the visual. Some of us are now making our way professionally,
    even in traditionally word-only disciplines, with primary attention to the
    visual -- or should we say, the artefactual? Is the buzz coming from seeing
    as such, or from a more complete realisation of the physically embodied
    nature of knowledge? We simply cannot get away from the need to cast our
    interdisciplinary net as widely as the mind will stretch -- in this case to
    the mind/body problem in the philosophy of mind and the soul/body problem
    in the history of religion, as well as the form/content problem in lots of
    different places.

    Then there's my very own flavour of the month, the ongoing hypertext
    debate, e.g. continuing in this first batch of postings for vol. 15 from a
    thread running in recent days in Humanist 14.0817, 822, 827 by Michael
    Sperberg-McQueen, Patrick Durusau, Fotis Janidis, Adrian Miles and myself.
    The question is, what's new about hypertext? This, it turns out, is a hard
    question, and thanks to Patrick's relentless nothing-moreism assertions in
    principle won't wash. Of course there's a fair bit of rubbish-removal
    needed around a topic so vexed by the evangelistic groupies, but beyond the
    clearing of throats it does seem to me that we're getting down once again
    to the intellectual nitty-gritty that I cannot help but think lies at our
    centre. My recent attempt to wrap my mind around hypertext research (see
    the of course always out-of-date
    <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/essays/achallc2000/hyperbib.html>) tells me
    we have a great deal of interdisciplinary bibliographic trawling and
    synthesising to do, but also that we're onto a vein of rich intellectual
    ore. One of course hopes for eye-opening insights in discussions like this
    one, but even if particular sets of eyes aren't opened by it, at least the
    vigorous debate serves as memorable caution that there's more to the matter
    than we've realised so far.

    "What is required", Alan Kay wrote in 1991, "is a kind of guerilla warfare,
    not to stamp out new media (or old) but to create a parallel consciousness
    about media -- one that gently whispers the debits and credits of any
    representation and points the way to the 'food'" ("Computers, Networks and
    Education." Scientific American 265.3, p. 141). We shall not cease from
    mental fight &c. -- which late one Monday night months ago I heard some old
    men, very far into their cups, singing in my local. To paraphrase a famous
    haiku in the Anglo-Saxon mode, "Slowly, o sparrow, fly through through the

    Enough. The day progresses. I must check on the progress of a particular
    debate in my inner hall, at some point attend to a rosemary bush that is
    really getting out of hand and see to the removal of a wine-stain on my
    carpet. So, allow me leave to wish you all well and to extend hearty
    gratitude for your part in this wonderful, long conversation.

    Happy birthday!


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